Things to do: Welcome to Westchester
We are pleased to introduce Ashley Martinez as our new editorial fellow. Ashley graduated in May from the University of Miami School of Communication, and for her first writing assignment, we asked her to tell us what’s awesome about her Miami neighborhood. Welcome, Ashley, and for the rest of you in The New Tropic family, welcome to Westchester.
Alright, let’s get something out of the way: Westchester gets a bad rep. Though not as trendy as sultry South Beach or hipstery Wynwood, this little suburb is home to some classic Miami institutions. This area is located between SW 40 Street and Calle Ocho, or Eighth Street, and stretches from the Palmetto Expressway to SW 117 Avenue. The 2010 Census noted 85 percent of Westchester’s population is Hispanic, which has filled the area with quaint Cuban restaurants, bakeries and family-owned spots.
Westchester is full of great places to eat and hang out, if you know where to look. So, here are some spots to explore when you’re looking for something away from the tired tourist hustle.
Grab a bite
Frankie’s Pizza: the mom and pop pizza joint
For more than 60 years, Frankie’s has been making fresh pizza from scratch on Bird Road. Handmade and piping hot, their unique pie is served in squares, allowing for a satisfying crunch in each bite. The joint is small, so take your pizza to go or head around the back for some picnic-style seating.
Arbetter’s Hot Dogs: the homey hot dog hut
The humble hot dog is the star of the show at Arbetter’s, a local favorite for its no-frills food and attitude. Small tables and a counter make for a cozy dining experience at this family-owned 50-year-old restaurant. Come prepared because it’s cash only, but expect their chili dogs, corn dogs and a mound of cheese fries to be pure comfort.
La Carreta: the traditional Cuban restaurant
More than just a hub of authentic Cuban cuisine, La Carreta is the heartbeat of Westchester. The cafecitos aren’t the only thing brewing here, because whenever a big event happens – from the latest news about Cuba to the Miami Heat winning a national title – this is the go-to spot for celebrating, discussing and catching up with friends.
Bird Bowl: the family-friendly night out
Go old school and enjoy some time at this classic bowling alley, complete with café, arcade, billiards room and a bar. It’s been around for 59 years and features specials every night of the week, like Thursday Ladies’ Night and weekend Twilight specials.
Florida International University: The college in town
Located on 107 avenue, FIU is home to the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, which offers rotating exhibitions, tours and opening receptions. The university always has events going on, so check out a play by the theater department, cheer on the home-town team at a football game (it’s no secret they need it) or spend the night star-gazing during a Star Party at the Stocker Astroscience Center.
Book Barn Book Exchange: the bountiful book shop
At this mom and pop shop, books fill every nook and cranny and shelves are stacked from the floor to the ceiling. With a trove of used $1 books to the latest best sellers, there’s a reason Miami New Times named it the best bookstore in 2014. Just as it was when it opened in the ’70s, it has no computers or cash registers, and patrons love the thrill of sifting through an overflowing box to find an unexpected read.
Tropical Park: the great outdoors
For the nature lover, Tropical Park is the place to visit. More than lush, open spaces, this park is home to a track, equestrian center, baseball fields, basketball courts, a boxing ring, tennis courts, soccer fields, playgrounds and a lake complete with kayaks rentals. This spot also features a farmer’s market on Saturdays and programming like Jazzercise throughout the week.
Bird Road Art District: the up and coming art walk
Though technically a few blocks outside of the area, this burgeoning art district is home to artists and a series of galleries and studios. It began as a slew of warehouse by a railroad track, which attracted artists in the ’80s. Today its monthly walk, which was recognized as the best art walk in 2011 by Miami New Times, brings together artists, collectors and visitors to enjoy all forms of art set against the industrial landscape.
Bonus points if you spot any of these landmarks:
Welcome to Westchester
This little sign means you’ve made it.
Affectionately dubbed “the whale,” the Baptist church Primera Iglesia Bautista de Coral Park is a prominent Westchester fixture.
When you see the red and yellow tent, expect delicious, fresh-squeezed juice and Cuban food by the pound.
This article originally appeared in The New Tropic May 28, 2015.