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Locals to Know: Ryan Pfeffer of The Infatuation talks Miami restaurants and culture

It’s an impressive feat to serve as a culture editor in a major international city. Ryan Pfeffer has the rare distinction of having done it thrice. The Infatuation Miami editor has spent much of the last decade covering the cutting edge of Miami culture, continuously writing with wit, empathy, and a deep appreciation for the things that make Miami, well, Miami.

Ryan was nice enough to talk to The New Tropic about his newest projects, his history with the Magic City, and what folks can do to help preserve local institutions.

The New Tropic: What neighborhood do you live in?

Ryan Pfeffer: MiMo.

What’s your history of living and working in Miami?

I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale and have lived/worked in Miami for just over seven years now as a writer and editor. I’m currently the editor of The Infatuation Miami, where I write about (and eat a lot of) food in Miami. Before that, I was an associate editor at Time Out Miami. Before that, I was the music editor at Miami New Times. And before that, I was a big adult baby who thought $600 rent was expensive. 

What changes have you witnessed in Miami over the course of covering the city as a culture writer?

There is some serious talent and creativity in this city — but that’s always been true. The big Miami struggle has always been: Do those creative/talented people have opportunities to succeed in Miami? Can they afford to open a restaurant? Will they have enough stage time to hone their voices? We’re still very much fighting that fight, but we are making progress. I think there are more people in Miami than ever who are interested in cultivating culture. And I feel optimistic when I see the work being done by III Points, Villain Theater, Sweat Records, The Rhythm Foundation, and too many more people and places to name here.

What’s your favorite Miami moment, whether for the city as a whole or just you personally?

Over the years, I’ve had some really weird interactions with celebrities like DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, even Kim Kardashian. But ya know what? None of them compare to the time I got to spend hours talking to Mac Klein (owner of Mac’s Club Deuce) in his tiny back office. I was interviewing him for an Oral History of Mac’s. He was 100 (!!) years old at the time, a couple of months away from turning 101, and still coming into work every day. He was so generous with his time and gave me a graduate-level course in dive bar wisdom. He had such wonderful advice about living a happy life.

Mac passed away a year later. I remember my boss at the time, the illustrious Charles Strouse, made me call Mac’s to confirm a cause of death. “How’d he pass?” I asked, and there was a moment of silence before the bartender replied, “…He was 101,” and hung up.

What challenges have you faced as a food writer during the pandemic?

Before the pandemic, I used to eat out six to seven times a week. When the pandemic happened, that obviously became impossible. Also, how do you critique a restaurant at a time like this? So we made some changes. We removed numerical ratings from our website and tried to give our audience information relevant to the current moment: takeout, outdoor dining, and restaurant news. But my big goal throughout the pandemic isn’t that much different than my pre-pandemic goal: to find great, important Miami restaurants and tell people about them. I’ve, thankfully, still been able to do that with places like Itamae, Rosie’s, and a lot more exciting local concepts you can see over on our website.

How did The Infatuation Miami go about compiling its list of local Black-owned restaurants? And are there any spots that deserve particular shout-outs or any details you want to emphasize?

Every Infatuation city made this list after the police killing of George Floyd and we realized we could all be doing more to support Black communities. We’ve been steadily updating the list since. I recently added somewhere around 30 additional spots to kick off Black History Month. And I’m sure I missed places too, so I’m encouraging people to send me an email if they know of any restaurant they don’t see on the guide. Rather than single out any one restaurant from the list, I hope people do their best to support as many as possible. I’m sure we could all use an excuse to mix up our usual takeout routine anyway.

Ryan Pfeffer: Lover of manatees and champion of quality Miami cuisine. || 🎨: @nicolespencah 

If you could place a billboard in the middle of Downtown, what would you say on it?

Stop building stupid condos and don’t you dare touch the Olympia Theater.

What steps can readers take to support Miami’s local food scene and preserve our favorite spots?

A lot of people think Miami is completely back to normal, but that is not the case at all. Restaurants had the hardest year of their lives and continue to struggle every day. Don’t be fooled by all the hyped-up new openings in Miami right now. Restaurants are still closing at an alarming rate. Simply put: they need money, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get anywhere near enough from the government, so it’s up to the community to support them. And supporting them doesn’t mean you have to go dine inside. You can order takeout (directly from the restaurant, not on an app), buy merch, a gift card, or simply get loud about your favorite spot on your own social media. Every little bit helps right now.

What Miami news story do people need to be paying more attention to?

We need to think more critically about this “big tech” invasion of Miami. There are pretty clear and recent examples of what big tech can do to a city. Look at San Francisco; more specifically, look at the rent prices in San Francisco. The fact is, inviting more super-wealthy people to Miami only further widens the already massive income disparity our city struggles with. These are real and valid concerns. And right now, Francis Suarez and Daniella Levine Cava seem less interested in addressing those concerns and more into being Twitter buds with Elon Musk. That’s not good. At least, not good for Miami’s middle and lower class. The folks on Hibiscus Island will be just fine regardless.

What local business do you think deserves a shoutout (and why)?

I’ve really been impressed by the restaurant Jaguar Sun throughout the entire pandemic. From very early on, they moved their whole operation outside, created an entirely new menu, and always had safely at the top of mind. Their outdoor pop-up dinners have been so damn lovely, every single time. They’re not easy to pull off either, and no one’s getting rich off of them. They’re just in it for the genuine love of hospitality. And I’ve really appreciated that.

What’s a project you’re working on (big or small) and how can New Tropic readers help you with it?

My project is always to find and discover great restaurants. I don’t care if they’re new or old, in Downtown or Doral. The best way people can help me is by sending a DM to our Instagram page with restaurant suggestions. I love getting those, and I always add them to my list of places to check out. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! That’s where we show off all our new guides and reviews.

 You can learn more about Ryan, The Infatuation Miami’s mission, his cat Potato, and even hear his thoughts on manatees by checking out The New Tropic’s video interview with him on Instagram.