After hours of drinking, your stomach is a gurgling mess. You need something to eat, and fast. So you stumble north on Collins Avenue and turn on 20th Street toward the beach. A small sign that reads "K Ramen. Burger. Beer" lures you into the Townhouse Hotel. After stepping through the narrow front door, you're guided down a black staircase and into a room with the frenetic lights and sounds of a Japanese pachinko parlor.
The walls are papered with scenes from eye-popping Japanese comics. A flat-screen TV on the far end of the room streams a never-ending lineup of anime. Nearby, a videogame console waits for you to drunkenly assert your superiority at Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. The place, owned by SBE Hospitality, which also runs the Townhouse and the nearby SLS South Beach, was born in Los Angeles as a pop-up and quickly became a permanent operation before spawning its Miami sibling this past January.
The menu is the perfect medication after a night of drinking. A salmon skin salad contains crisped shards of the fish's flesh and bright strands of tart green papaya that combine perfectly with the oily skin. Think of them like French fries, only better. Then comes the spicy black miso ramen. It starts with chicken carcasses, boiled with kombu, leeks, shiitake mushrooms, bonito flakes, and other aromatics to create a fragrant, delicate broth that by itself would suffice as the base for a fine chicken soup. Next comes a heroic dose of salty black miso that turns the brew an evil ebony hue. A dose of chilies and cracked sesame seeds lends an alluring spice and a nutty flavor that pairs smartly with the miso and clings to thin, chewy noodles that diners can slurp until 2 a.m.
Not long ago, it was impossible to find a solid meal during late nights on the Beach. But that's no longer the case. K Ramen is the latest quality option to crop up alongside places such as Sweet Liberty and Talde. Today they compose a growing collection of Miami Beach spots that offer drinkers thoughtful, creative dishes past midnight and save them from whatever mediocre grab-and-go spot might still be open.
For years, the only serviceable late-night options on the Beach were an overstuffed sandwich at La Sandwicherie (the French salami with Brie and extra vinaigrette being the best option) or one of the towering diner plates from Myles Chefetz's Big Pink.
Change began in 2012, when Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi's pop-up bar, the Broken Shaker, opened permanently at the Freehand Hotel. It served not only sophisticated cocktails but also Proper Sausages' links and flatbread with shiitake mushrooms. The food rolled long into the night.
"Up until recently, most options were subpar junk food," 28-year-old Florida International University medical student Calvin Strehl says while slurping noodles and slugging sake bombs with friends inside K Ramen around 1 a.m. on a recent Saturday. "Compared to eight years ago or even four years ago, the options have definitely improved."
In October 2015, longtime South Beach barman John Lermayer, who in 2008 launched the Florida Room's lauded cocktail program, opened Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company. Pristine cocktails were laced with fresh juices and house-made bitters and syrups until 5 a.m. The kitchen, open until 4, plied drinkers with dense, crusty slabs of bread smeared with green hummus and loaded with shredded crab knotted with radishes, peas, and fennel. Today Sweet Liberty is also the only spot in town where you can find Michelle Bernstein's famed fried chicken (she and husband David Martinez are partners in the place). Its spicy crust and the accompanying bright-red cubes of slightly vinegary compressed melon are the stuff of legend and used to be available at her now-shuttered restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard.
Cauliflower nachos feature florets nestled between layers of tortilla chips lathered in cheese and avocado cream. The salty delight is a perfect drinking buddy. Nubs of green chilies and ruby-red pomegranate seeds create a spicy-sweet contrast.
Eating, Lermayer says, is just as important as drinking to night owls. "As someone who lives on Miami Beach, there was never a lot of really good places to get food late-night," he says. "You'd have to get shitty pizza, old sushi, or wait in line with a hundred drunk idiots for a half-assed burger."
The dearth of good late-night eats was a long-festering problem for thousands like Lermayer who toiled in the Beach's bars, restaurants, and clubs and were famished when finally released back into the world. "When you look at Miami Beach, 67 percent of the people who live here work in the service industry. They know good food," he says.
In November 2015, only a month after Sweet Liberty started slinging that toast, fried chicken, and cauliflower, Chicago native and former Top Chef competitor Dale Talde took his Brooklyn namesake, Talde, to Mid-Beach.
The late-night menu, once served till 4 a.m. on weekends but now pared back until 2 a.m., includes flaky samosas filled with a grassy, sweet pea mash alongside a kaffir-lime-leaf-specked yogurt-and-golden-raisin chutney for dipping. Chili garlic noodles, inspired by iconic 24-hour Chinese joints in lower Manhattan like Wo Hop and Great NY Noodletown, are knotted up with fresh, snappy bean sprouts and cucumbers, along with vinegary pickled jalapeño rings.
"We just feel like our food is good drunk food," Talde says. "That's what I want to eat late at night."
What's driving the push for late-night eats? A growing community of chefs has delivered an improving crop of restaurants that is slowly but surely pushing back the tide of tourist traps.
"We think it's going to come around and get even better," Talde says. "We wanted to help build on that culture."
Back at K Ramen, that late-night noodle culture is thriving. In addition to serving the black miso ramen, the eatery also offers a strawberry-red lobster ramen founded on a fragrant seafood broth that overwhelms with the salty smell of ocean water. Fat, sweet knobs of buttery tail meat fill out the dish and rest atop the thin, chewy noodles. But be warned: The soup's base is steeped with a heavy dose of chilies that sets your nose running after the first mouthful. It's a satisfying burn but could be too much for some diners.
The tonkotsu ramen, the classic oatmeal-hued soup whose broth is coaxed from pork bones furiously boiled for a dozen hours, is a far tamer yet no less flavorful option. Though the curved slices of pork belly that crown it could be slightly thicker, the inky dashes of the sweet, nutty black garlic oil called mayu help make this bowl of soup a stunner. Also be sure to ask for an extra soy-marinated egg. The salty sauce penetrates the egg's still-soft white, leaving it perfectly seasoned. You can either gobble the silky, creamy yolk in a single bite or mash it into the broth to add richness.
For something a touch lighter, opt for the vegetarian poke, which swaps fish for meaty, marinated cubes of eggplant. The best bet is the vegetable kakiage, which trades traditional tempura vegetables like green beans for grassy, pungent spears of scallions that melt in your mouth. The frying process and light crust leave shards of carrots tender and sweet as candy while amping up the savory loam of shiitake mushrooms.
Of course, late-night eats don't need to be novel to be delicious. K Ramen's burger is the perfect example. Two medium-thick patties are seared on a flat-top until their exterior develops a smoky, charred crust while the meat inside is still perfectly juicy and pink. The patties are lathered in something that tastes similar to Shake Shack's Shack Sauce — a mixture of mayo and ketchup with pickles and a few spices — and blends beautifully with melty American cheese. The brioche bun, which is neither too sweet, too dense, nor too spongy, is perfect. Caramelized onions lend a bit of sweetness, while a thick slab of tomato provides tartness and crunch. You'll be able to order it and wolf it down in the time it would take to sit in a McDonald's drive-thru. The only thing left to do is make it home in one piece.
K Ramen. Burger. Beer
150 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-534-7895; sbe.com. Daily 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Salmon skin salad $9
Spicy black miso ramen $14
Lobster ramen $18
Tonkotsu pork ramen $15
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Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company
236 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-673-8217; mysweetliberty.com. Daily 4 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Fried chicken $25
Cauliflower nachos $17
Crab toast $15
Talde Miami Beach
4041 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-605-4094; taldemiamibeach.com. Sunday through Thursday 6 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Chili garlic noodles $15