Stepping into agua Spa at Mondrian South Beach is like stepping into a canvas: white walls surround white furniture upon white floors. The heat and bustle of the outside world disperses into 4,000 square feet of wide-open spaces. Then a splash of color catches the eye and it becomes apparent that Dutch designer Marcel Wanders didn't leave his canvas bare at all. Speckled throughout are surprisingly fun accents—plants, leaf-green tiles, and entire rooms soaked in lipstick red.
But relaxation is the key at agua Spa. Inside six private rooms, guests enjoy a range of services, from revitalizing facials that use chardonnay grape peels to detoxifying body scrubs with a touch of lavender. And many of these treatments rely on SJAL products—a line used by only a handful of spas across the nation. Yet the certified aestheticians don't just stop at the surface. To ease away worries that the IRS won't believe your dog ate your tax forms, therapists work through nine massage modalities, including their signature Swe-Thai: a blend of Swedish soft strokes and Thai-style joint stretching. Afterwards, guests can head into the adjoining 4.5-star Mondrian South Beach hotel for a dip in the pool.
Bongos Cuban Café is known for its delectable food—the eatery won the Pat LaFrieda award for Best Lechon at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival Swine & Wine Event in 2013. It's also known for its famous mojitos made with fresh mint and sugarcane. At Bongos Cuban Café, the energy of Old Havana pulses through the air with Latin music and aromas of authentic Cuban dishes. Vaca Frita with grilled onions, Ropa Vieja, Arroz con pollo, and Paella with fresh scallops, lobster, chorizo, chicken, and mussels are a few specialties.
At Forty Four Cafe, chefs create a daily spread of Latin American street fare and fresh-baked French pastries. Each morning, chefs set to work to layer bread with ham, mustard, and pickles for Cuban sandwiches, stuff yucas for yuca rellena, and create savory empanadas. On the sweeter side, they create both French and Latin American desserts. Fresh, flaky croissants can be paired with a wealth of toppings, and guava tarts showcase the flavors of the tropics without dousing baked goods in every scent of sunscreen.
At least when viewed through the lens of nostalgia, 1957 was something of a Golden Age. Hollywood stars were capturing America's imagination with their on-screen performances and jet-setting lifestyles. Ernest Hemingway had returned to Cuba to finish his memoir, A Moveable Feast, and Havana's rum bars were buzzing with talk of revolution. Built as an homage to that bygone era, Miami's Havana 1957 has all the prerequisite features one might expect: art-deco decor, stiff cocktails, and, of course, authentic Cuban cuisine.
Here, chef Juan Luis Rosales roasts whole chickens in thick Cuban gravy, plating each succulent bird with white rice, black beans, and a side of sweet plantains. He also charbroils flank steaks and other traditional dishes to pair with more than 70 varieties of rum from around the world. The bartenders mix these rums into mojitos or just serve them the classy way?on the rocks, with an accompanying silly straw.
Though Chef Douglas Rodriguez's take on Latin cuisine is contemporary, he's no newcomer to the restaurant scene. SunPost Weekly credits him with propelling award-winning eateries including Wet Paint Cafe, the original Yuca, and Patria in New York to star status. At De Rodriguez Cuba, adjacent to the five-star Hilton's Bentley Beach Club, the executive chef channels his decorated career into a menu of Havana-inspired dishes and signature ceviches crafted from sustainable seafood. He steeps lobster, shrimp, and crab in the tangy notes of coconut milk, lime, and ginger for the thai coconut seafood ceviche and tops the popular vaca frita entree with avocado and tomato chimichurri. Complemented by Cuban cocktails or a sip from the large wine list, the dishes evoke images of the islands.
The eatery's decor also contributes Caribbean character, stealing the spotlight in a Miami Beach magazine piece. According to the article, "guests can sit poolside or in the lovely dining salon facing the sea," or they can set up shop at the 25-foot ceviche bar in a space "that's all dark woods and serene white curtains." Scattered palm trees and large green lounge chairs border one side of the pool, the other bank crowded with crimson-trimmed tan couches that melt seamlessly into the open dining room. The sweet notes of live music fill the age-worn slats above the bar, beside which an aquarium teems with fish like the fridge of a hibernating bear.