TAP TAP: A TOUCH OF HAITIAN CULTURE IN SOUTH BEACH
Now that Miami has become a globally-acclaimed dining destination dominated by celebrity chefs and imported, big-name restaurant brands, not much attention is paid to the city’s rich culinary heritage — born of its extraordinary multiculturalism.
Only a relative handful of local eateries — among them legendary seafood emporium Joe’s Stone Crab and local Italian favorite Osteria del Teatro — are well-known enough to feed the growing passion many travelers have for “going where the locals go” to enjoy indigenous homegrown fare.
By that simple standard, perhaps no place in Miami is more celebrated or cherished than Tap Tap, a longstanding Haitian restaurant beloved by Haitians, other locals of all stripes, and well-informed visitors. Its name comes from the uniquely colorful, funky taxicabs that navigate the crowded streets of the Caribbean island’s cities.
A local cultural landmark
Part restaurant, part art gallery and cultural center, Tap Tap, founded in 1994 by Haitian documentary filmmaker Katherine Kean, features authentic Haitian “home cooking” and a dazzling collection of culturally interpretive art by some of the island’s most acclaimed masters, who flew to Miami to leave their unique and indelible marks on an establishment that would eventually be recognized as a genuine local institution.
In the main dining room, two murals by Wilfrid Daleus loom on opposite walls. One is of a family outside their modest home; the other is of a bustling produce market. In another room, a pair of large portraits by Jude “Papa” Loko-Thegenus humanize two of the most powerful saints in voodoo culture, Ezili Danto and Ezili Freda. In the rear of the restaurant, a “Rara Room” is painted from wall to wall and ceiling to tables and chairs with vivid, joyful images of the Rara festival that takes place in Haiti each spring.
For good measure, an angel stares down from the bar, where you can play dominoes with a Haitian cab driver or European tourist and sip a spectacular mojito — often hailed as the best in a mojito-crazed metropolis — made with aged Barbancourt rum.
Tap Tap also regularly features live music that is as authentic and vibrant as its food.
While it’s a neat thing that Tap Tap showcases Haitian art, music and culture, the most significant thing about the place is its consistently excellent rendering of simple and classic food from the small island nation that shares Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.
Night after night, Tap Tap turns out reasonably-priced Haitian fare so authentic it could be served, without complaint, on any family dinner table from Port-au-Prince to Petionville, and even into the rural countryside. Based on fresh fruits and vegetables to accompany seafood, chicken, beef or goat, Haitian cuisine highlights the ubiquitous and often subtle influence of the Scotch Bonnet pepper.
A tasty menu of authentic dishes
For starters, Tap Tap offers a wonderfully rich pumpkin soup, malanga fritters served with a watercress dipping sauce, or a spicy conch ceviche.
The house salad is simply crafted from mango, watercress, carrots and mixed greens.
Main dishes include Kabrit Nan Sos (Boer goat stew), Poul Nan Sos (stewed free range chicken), Griyo (marinated, lightly fried Berkshire pork chunks), Kribish Kreyol O Kokoye (shrimp in Creole or coconut sauce), and Pwason Gwosel (poached whole yellowtail snapper with a Scotch Bonnet-lime sauce). The house specialty can also be ordered fried or pan seared.
Best of all is Tap Tap’s reasonable prices — in a city infamous for its too-often overpriced and over-hyped food.
Beyond its excellent menu, in terms of its carefully-protected legacy, Tap Tap is a widely-respected symbol of Haitian culture that generates a lot of pride in the local Haitian community. It provides an authentic experience of Haitian food, music and culture. And thereby provides a unique and memorable experience for adventurous visitors.
Tap Tap is located at 819 5th Street, Miami Beach. It’s open daily for lunch and dinner from noon until 11 p.m. For more information, call (305) 672–2898 or visit TapTapMiamiBeach.com.
John Buchanan is founder and Editor of TravelzineMiami.com, the #1 independent source of information on the best hotels, restaurants, attractions and things to do in Miami.