Doral's Dragonfly Is a Bug You'll Want to Catch and Keep

Depending on where you live, eating the region's best Asian cuisine can require a pilgrimage. Some folks haul north for Korean barbecue at Lauderhill's Gabose. Others head south for fragrant pho and cha gio at Pho Thang between Pinecrest and Cutler Bay. Many steal away from work for Japanese Market's sashimi and nigiri.

If braving traffic and burning gas is your thing, add Doral's sprawling Dragonfly Izakaya & Fish Market, which opened in April, to your list of restaurants to commute to. The Japanese small-plates spot is part of an ambitious, billion-dollar effort by developers Codina Partners and Lennar Commercial to turn the western enclave from one of wide roads, housing developments, and strip malls into a trendy village. Judging by the unmitigated lack of parking on a recent Saturday evening, their plan is working. At the moment, a pair of apartment towers is the only nearby housing, so few will have the luxury of strolling to dinner.

Once inside Dragonfly, the third location for the Gainesville-based ownership group, it's easy to see why the place is packed – even at 10 p.m. There's a veritable wonderland of Asian bric-a-brac. A towering six-pack of Japanese lanterns guards the passage from the fish market (which a worker tells me will begin operating later this month) into the crimson-and-charcoal dining room. A regiment of gilded cats stands guard over the open kitchen, the creatures' unflinching eyes gazing across the space. A vintage pachinko machine sits just before the threshold of the restrooms.

Beamer fish flown in from Japan
Beamer fish flown in from Japan

It seems no accident that the sushi bar and binchotan grill are visible from nearly every seat in the house. The bar and grill, along with the hot kitchen, offer an extensive menu that rivals beloved, longstanding izakayas like North Miami Beach's Yakko-San and Coral Gables' Su-Shin.

You'll first have to look past the lineup of inside-out rolls with too many ingredients buried under too much sauce. Then, point your attention to a concise list of fish offered as sashimi or nigiri. There are pricey offerings like the golden eye snapper called kinme-dai or the Japanese sea bream called madai, the latter offering a bright, watery flavor with just a hint of sweetness. On a recent weekend, the kitchen was out of geoduck. However, sweet shrimp with snappy, firm flesh and crisp, flash-fried heads still full of their own juices sufficed. Ask for the three-year-aged soy sauce, which has a deeply savory, almost woody, flavor. Make sure you opt for sashimi, as the sushi rice coming out of the kitchen tends to be overcooked, underseasoned, and too cool.

Things turn a corner with a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Thick, kinked noodles are firm and knotted in a rich pork broth with a pinch of spice. This isn't the kind of fatty, lip-smacking tonkotsu found at places like Momi Ramen. Though a purist might pine for that, each bite is still supremely porky, stuffed with the flavor of slow-cooked pork bones. Thick, fat-stripped slabs of kurobota pork belly ensure it.

From here on out, the meal improves. Chawanmushi, a warm egg custard, comes in a pale shade of beige-yellow, and its yolky flavor makes for a beautiful contrast to the sea urchin and salmon eggs that crown it. Should you order this treat, plunge your spoon deep into the bowl. Encased in the custard are shards of sweet snow crab that, when enjoyed with the salty elements, open a pathway to alternate dimensions of flavor.

The Japanese cabbage pancake, or okonomiyaki, is bound with mountain yam that gives it a chewy texture. It would be too chewy were the pancake not aggressively crisped before being showered with tiny hunks of squid, shrimp, octopus, and shaved katsuobushi.

The kitchen shows off a deft hand with hot fish preparations, which is especially obvious in the shio saba. A plentiful salted mackerel filet is cooked until juicy, highlighting the assertive, slightly oily flavor. A dash of bright ponzu and grated daikon radish helps freshen up each bite.

The panoply of skewered chicken parts that comes off the binchotan grill slicked with the sauce called tare (a brew of sake, chicken drippings, and soy) is alone worth the visit. A word of warning: Arrive early as offerings like the drumstick or meatball can sell out, though the remaining options are never disappointing. The momonegi features juicy thigh meat skewered with scallion spears that take on a fragrant char as they're grilled. Other bits like kawa (skin) and seseri (neck) easily satisfy cravings for fatty, crispy bits.

There are also plenty of more conventional dishes. A plump Wagyu short rib arrives fork-tender and draped in meaty shiitake mushrooms alongside enoki clusters. The slightly sweet tare sauce is easy to enjoy. There is shrimp tempura, a beef noodle stir fry called yakisoba, and even fish and chips. That last one is battered with Japanese beer and sprinkled with a seaweed-based spice blend.

Your dinner companions might devour all the beer-battered fish, but that means more chawanmushi and chicken skin skewers for you. That alone might be worth the drive to Doral — but only after traffic dies down.

Dragonfly Izakaya & Fish Market
5241 NW 87th Ave., Doral; 305-222-7447; dragonflyrestaurants.com. Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11:30 p.m.; lunch and dinner Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

  • Shio saba, $14
  • Kawa, $8
  • Momo negi, $8
  • Reba, $8
  • Okonomiyaki, $12
  • Chawanmushi, $12
  • Wagyu short rib, $19
  • Tonkotsu ramen, $12
  • Assorted sushi, $8 to $12
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