Lilikoi — which means "passionfruit" in Hawaiian — is South Beach's new homey, surf-chic, casual bistro (500 South Pointe Dr.) where Manuel Torterola whips up health-driven dishes.
Torterola’s journey began at the age of 16, when his family moved from Argentina to Hawaii. His father, and now business partner, had taken a year sabbatical from his job to train for an Ironman competition, and his wife — a flight attendant — had recommended Maui as the spot to relocate the family temporarily. Because the young Torterola was keeping up with his studies online, he took it upon himself to help with the daily chores, particularly those around the kitchen. “When I was very young, I would sit on the kitchen counter and watch my grandmother cook” he recalls, “and when we lived in Hawaii, I kinda took over. I would go to the market and do the groceries, and began wondering, Why do we do things this way?” Cooking became his life’s passion.
After finishing his studies in Argentina, Torterola worked in some of the best kitchens in the world, including the Michelin-starred Fat Duck in London; Aria in Sydney, Australia; and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Maui. There, he met his wife and restaurant partner, Tina. A Minnesota farm girl, she had moved to the island four months after visiting on a family vacation. “I actually got a job as sommelier and fine-dining representative at Spago ten days after I moved,” she shares. “They say that the island has a way of either embracing you or saying, ‘See you later.’ Maui no ka 'oi!”
Two years later, she opened Ka'ana Kitchen at the Andaz Maui hotel, known for its regional fare inspired from sourcing everything locally. “Hawaii has a strong farm-to-table culture, mostly because it’s harder to import produce, but it doesn’t matter because you can pretty much grow everything.” The couple decided to expand the family business in Miami and, this past March, opened the doors of Lilikoi Organic Living.
They’ve kept true to their back-to-basics lifestyle by sourcing from local farmers as much as possible and changing the menu according to the produce they find. “We have a lot of fun talking to different farmers and seeing what they’ve got to offer,” Tina says of the menu. “We just switched to gobo, which is burdock root. Instead of doing potato chips, we flash-fry them in coconut oil.” Most dishes cost less than $20.
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Their clientele has been as curious and trusting with Torterola's food as he's been fun and inventive with it. They’ve even cultivated some fruitful relationships with their regulars. “Gary, one of our first customers, turned out to be the owner over at Little Haiti Community Garden! Now we get our papaya and curly kale from there.” Nothing is overlooked — even the waste from the juicer and kitchen leftovers is turned into compost and picked up by Fertile Earth three times a week.
With this kind of attention to detail and passion for good food, the family at Lilikoi succeeds at delivering clean and simple food, where you can taste the quality of the ingredients without needing heavy sauces, butters, or oils. Says Manuel Torterola: “That’s what we’re all about, really — bringing a bunch of cultures and everything we’ve learned through our journey together and incorporating it into our menu in healthy and playful ways.”