Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer from coast to coast.
Summertime in Miami is when locals reclaim their city. But the problem with living in a city that was developed around tourism is that it can feel, at times, as though everything is geared toward the people who only spend a few days here. The implications can be serious, such as new housing that’s marketed for wealthy out-of-towners (or people looking for a convenient way to launder money). Meanwhile, the locals are priced out, struggling to find an affordable place to live before their homes are demolished and replaced by luxury condos. Most effects are smaller, albeit annoying in their own ways: commutes punctuated by drivers in rental cars not sure of where they’re going; or simple shopping excursions turned into all-day affairs due to the throngs of tourists.
Many people who live in tourist destinations may experience the same frustrations, but I feel that Miami has its own particular problems. In the early 20th century, Miami was unofficially known as a Fairyland, alluding to the idea that this was a place where you could suspend social rules and behave however you liked. While this never formed part of the city’s official narrative, there was a general understanding that authorities would turn a blind eye to bad behavior as long as you were spending money. During the 1920s, the police would hold off on vice raids during tourist season, and Jim Crow laws were bent to include wealthy Cuban tourists. That reputation has persisted to this day: Especially in the warmer months, Miami attracts visitors who want a break from following the rules.
And that leads me to one of the most frustrating parts about living and working in Miami. We give away the months with the best weather to people who don’t even live here. In fact, the end of tourist season coincides with the beginning of hurricane season when temperatures soar into the upper 90s, monsoon-like thunderstorms happen almost every afternoon, and the humidity makes it so unbearable that you refuse to spend more than a few minutes outdoors.
But there is a reward for us locals who tolerate unruly tourists and scorching summers: tropical fruit!
Miamians know that despite the many problems we face living and working in the Magic City, one taste of a sweet local mango or a whiff of a juicy lychee emerging from its brittle red armor can remind us of why we choose to stay here. These culinary joys require, however, a trip off the beaten path to find. About an hour south of the clubs and beaches for which Miami is so (in)famous sits a little slice of an older, quieter part of the city.
Homestead and Redland comprise Miami’s agricultural area and are unofficially known as the United States’ tropical fruit basket. This is the only place in the continental U.S. where you can find produce like jackfruit, and a drive through this part of town will lead you through longan groves, fields of dragon fruit plants, and farm stands where you can sample things like sapodilla, black sapote, and egg fruit.
So, let me take you on a day trip through one of the country’s most interesting food destinations and a top reason to visit Miami in the summer. Make sure to wear sunblock and bring a lot of cold water with you—you’re going to need it.
The best place to start a tropical fruit tour through southern Miami is Fruit & Spice Park, which serves as an introduction to the many species of edible flora that exist in South Florida. The park was founded in 1944 by a local woman named Mary Calkins Heinlein in order to advertise the area’s potential for tropical agriculture. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated this part of Miami, and the park was nearly destroyed. Through intensive replanting, however, Fruit & Spice Park was able to reclaim its former glory and is now an attraction for those who love botany and agriculture or are just curious to see how their favorite fruit grows.
The park is open year round, but summer is the best time to see the widest variety of fruit on the trees. It’s best to come here when the park first opens for two very important reasons: avoiding the afternoon heat and having first pick of the fruit that falls to the ground. You aren’t allowed to pick anything from the trees here, but any fallen fruit is fair game. You also can’t take anything with you. However, you can bring almost anything you want to enjoy the fruit within the confines of the park.
If you visit during mango season (which is at its peak in June), you may encounter families sitting on the grass, slicing different varietals of the fruit they’ve gathered from under the dozens of trees from around the world. Besides mangos, there is also an entire section of the park devoted to different species of bananas and includes a small shaded station where you can sample some of them. In case you aren’t sure how to eat some of the fruit or can’t seem to find anything that hasn’t already been attacked by bugs and other wildlife, the visitor center usually has a selection of in-season fruit to sample.
Fruit & Spice Park is aware of how it teases its visitors with its no-picking policies, but it doesn’t let you leave without some valuable information. In keeping with the founder’s objective of promoting local agriculture, the staff give visitors a guide to local farms and produce markets where they can purchase the fruit they saw in the park.
One of the newer phenomena in this part of Miami is the proliferation of Southeast Asian produce farms. I first learned about one called Khemara Farms, and I thought it was an outlier. However, as I was reading through reviews of this farm, I noticed some reviewers making comparisons to others in the area, and this piqued my curiosity.
Miami isn’t really known for having a significant Asian population, which is quite a shame because the climate is conducive to growing all sorts of traditional produce. Apparently, some Thai and Vietnamese families have taken advantage of this and have purchased land in Homestead and Redland to grow all manner of fruit, vegetables, and herbs. There are enough Southeast Asian farmers in this part of town that the area is now home to an impressive Thai Buddhist temple and a Vietnamese one, as well.
As I researched these farms to find the best ones, I noticed that many Asian families would travel from other states to Miami for the opportunity to buy boxes of their favorite fruits to take back home with them. The license plates of the cars you’ll find parked in front of Vietnamese Fresh Fruits (also known as Vườn Trái Cây Chị Trinh and Vietnamese Fruit Garden) confirm this.
On my last visit, mothers and aunties were sifting through piles of sapodillas while the kids roamed through longan groves and the men chatted while sipping freshly pressed sugarcane juice. Visitors are free to walk around the property, which includes a section for Vietnamese herbs and a small pen that houses Muscovy ducks. By the time I arrived, most of the fruit had already been sold (most online reviews recommend arriving early for access to the best selection). Fortunately, I knew of another place where I’d be sure to still find great local tropical fruit.
This flea and farmers market used to be known as Bargaintown Flea Market. While the new name may imply that it has cleaned up to appeal to a more patrician clientele, I’m happy to report that it hasn’t lost any of its down-home charm.
Before Southeast Asians began to make Homestead and Redland their home, Mexicans were perhaps the most important immigrant community in this area. For most of my life, the southernmost reaches of Miami-Dade County were where locals would come for the best tacos. Visiting this market is like visiting an open-air market in Mexico. You can find stalls selling tortilla presses, cowboy boots, and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
I typically make a beeline for the covered produce section where local Mexican and Central American farmers have set up stalls. In the summer you can find bins of passion fruit, local mangos, lychees, rambutan, nopal cactus, tomatillos, and fresh chiles. There is also a vendor selling locally made Latin American dairy products, including queso fresco and cultured cream.
The chief attraction here, though, is the food. Toward the southern end of this sprawling market is a row of food trucks and covered dining areas blaring banda music. It can be a daunting task to choose the right vendor, especially when waitresses are all but dragging you to a picnic table with claims that they sell the absolute best food in the market. My advice is to plant yourself where you see the most diners and order a selection of meats served on handmade tortillas. Wash it down with a refreshing agua fresca, but make sure to save room for a shaved ice or cups of sliced local mango seasoned with lime, salt, and chile. Don’t get too carried away, though, because you will want to make sure you have enough of an appetite to sample a local take on a Florida classic at the next stop.
Key lime pie is the Sunshine State’s official dessert. If you’re visiting Florida, you can get a decent slice of pie almost anywhere, including at our favorite local grocery store, Publix. If you’re looking for the best Key lime pie, however, you should definitely make the trek to Sweet Delights. This miniscule bakery is located in a nondescript strip mall, shares space with a nail salon, and is unlike any bakery I have been to. It’s more like a Key lime pie salon. There’s a sitting area right when you walk through the door. Just take a seat and Debra, the owner, will greet you and ask if it’s your first time. If it is your first time, she’ll flash one of her infectious smiles before dashing into the kitchen and returning with a tray of samples.
While her traditional Key lime pie is exemplary, you cannot leave Sweet Delights without trying one of her specialty pies made with local tropical fruit. They are all on the tray she graciously hands you, and she gives you plenty of time to sample each one, swoon over their flavors and textures, and come back to reality.
You can easily get stuffed with all the samples she gives you, and you may ask yourself how she can afford to give away so much food. But Debra is confident in her skills, so you are almost guaranteed to buy at least one pie before leaving. My husband and I walked away with four. Her guava key lime pie is a favorite, and many locals rave about her pie made with mamey, a tropical fruit with an intensely sweet flavor and creamy mouthfeel. However, if you’re visiting in June, you must try her lychee key lime pie made with fruit she sources from local farmers. In fact, the farmer had stopped in to buy a slice when I was visiting last.
Make sure to bring a freezer bag with you so you can safely transport your confection back home, although I won’t blame you if you eat it all before you get back to the northern parts of Miami.
If you tell any Miamian in the know that you’re going on a trip to Homestead, they’ll most likely suggest that you stop by Robert Is Here. This bustling produce stand has been around for decades, and you can still find the original owner, Robert, ringing up customers. There’s a funny story behind the name of this business, too: When he was a small child, Robert’s parents told him to sell produce by the side of the road, but he was unable to make a single sale, claiming that potential customers were unable to see him because he was so small. To remedy this problem, his parents painted a large sign that read “Robert Is Here,” and a local institution was born.
Robert Is Here sources high-quality local produce, and as such, you can expect to pay a little more for it here. Robert makes sure to indicate the exact varietal of any given fruit, making it easy for connoisseurs to find bargains on their favorites. Additionally, this produce stand sells segments of larger, rarer fruit like mamey, guanabana, and jackfruit. This allows neophytes the opportunity to sample these delicacies without having to invest a lot of money in something they aren’t sure they will like.
I always make it a point to stock up on local honey here too. There are varieties you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the country. Avocado honey is dark and rich like molasses, while lychee/longan honey bears sophisticated floral notes. One of the more interesting honeys, however, comes from bees who feast on nectar from mangrove blossoms. This particular honey has hints of sea salt in addition to warm caramel notes.
However, many locals visit Robert Is Here for one item in particular: a milkshake. This fruit stand is famous for its shakes and smoothies made from seasonal local fruit. In the summer, this can include intensely sweet local varietals of mango, lychees, guava, and mamey. You may also encounter black sapote shakes, which taste like chocolate pudding, or canistel shakes, which taste like egg custard.
Your tropical fruit adventure through southern Miami could end at Robert Is Here, and I can assure you that you’d return home satisfied. However, ending this trip with a glass of wine can be a nice way to close out your day, especially when that wine is unique to Miami. Schnebly Redland’s Winery specializes in tropical fruit wines. Wine snobs may balk at the idea of a mango or guava wine, but I insist that no other wine pairs as perfectly with a hot Miami afternoon as one of this winery’s creations.
I am very sensitive to the tannins and acidity in grape wines. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to taste anything but sawdust and vinegar (you can judge me; I’m used to it). While I occasionally will sip on a glass, it’s rarely something I seek out. This is why I love tropical fruit wines and why I recommend them to anyone who says they’re not a “wine person.” They aren’t as harsh as many grape wines, and they’re very fun to drink; plus, they pair well with almost anything. And for those who fear these will be syrupy sweet, they’re actually closer to rieslings and other similar German and Alsatian wines than they are to cordials. I won’t claim that everyone will fall in love with these wines, but they are worth a try, especially while you’re already here. (They make much better gifts, too, than the tired coconut patties and factory-made, imported rum cakes you find at the airport.)
Even though I have my favorites, I always go for a tasting, which includes a souvenir wine glass you can keep. Schnebly makes a red and a white guava wine, which one acquaintance claimed tastes just like a Cuban pastry. The mango wine is surprisingly not as sweet as one would think. But if you prefer something drier, I recommend the avocado wine. I am still in awe as to how they could make a wine from this fruit, but they’ve managed to craft one that’s crisp, refreshing, and just a little bit rich.
If you don’t like wine, the winery also has an attached brewery called Miami Brewing Company, where you can sample a wheat beer made with local mangos.
Have dinner at the restaurant, if you’d like, then hit the road with your tropical fruit stash.