Estefan Kitchen
Estefan Kitchen
Courtesy of Felipe Cuevas for Estefan Kitchen

Sixteen Miami Restaurants to Watch

Arson. 104 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-717-6711; arsonmiami.com. About four years ago, Barcelona native Deme Lomas visited Miami on vacation and decided to stay. He took up in the kitchen of Sunset Harbour's Barceloneta before opening Niu Kitchen with partners Karina Iglesias and Adam Hughes. The place, like José Andrés' Bazaar, helped refresh Spanish cuisine in Miami. Yet at Arson, Lomas' Josper-focused spot two doors down from Niu, he's trying to turn away from the gastronomy that bore him. He experiments with the thymus glands called sweetbreads, crisped how Argentines like to eat them. He's making baby-back ribs American-style and even concocting his own barbecue sauce. Hints of Asia and South America dot his one-page menu, which includes about 20 dishes. Still, Lomas can't completely turn his back on the cuisine of Barcelona, where he was born and raised. Each day, his mother would lay out a lunch that often included peppery gazpachos and a bounty of Spain's famed canned seafood, such as mussels, cockles, and meaty white tuna packed in olive oil. Sundays, she would prepare conejo al ajillo, for which a whole rabbit would be fried in olive oil and then submerged in white wine and cooked with handfuls of garlic and chilies.

Dizengoff. 250 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-573-9292; dizengoffhummus.com. Michael Solomonov sees a bit of Tel Aviv in Wynwood. "The vibrancy, the excitement, the energy — there are a lot of synergies between them," the James Beard Award-winning chef says. That's the reasoning behind Solomonov bringing his Philadelphia-based Dizengoff to Miami. Named for Tel Aviv's main promenade, the intimate fast-casual restaurant is molded after an Israeli hummusiya. The menu is simple and affordable. For $10 (tax included), you can get a bowl of freshly made hummus served with a side of bright, crisp cucumbers, tomatoes, and pickles alongside a whole fluffy pita still warm from the oven. The meal is tangy and satisfying. With an extra pita ($1) and a hard-boiled egg ($1), one order is enough to share for a light lunch or snack. The restaurant is kosher-style, which means vegans can find multiple items to enjoy dairy-free as long as they steer clear of the meat offerings.

Ella's Oyster Bar. 1615 SW Eighth St., Miami; 786-332-4436; ellasoysterbar.com. At first glance, Ella's Oyster Bar may be designed in a Cape Cod-hipster motif, but the decor only hints at influences that also include the Caribbean and Latin America. For just-shucked oysters, the selection is more modest than those at some other places, but Ella's boasts a delightful mignonette with red wine vinegar, which gives the tincture a sweeter, gentler bite that lends itself well to saltier oysters. The Little Havana clambake, large enough for two, is stocked with supple lobster, clams, head-on pink shrimp, and mussels. The brew begins with a light tomato water combined with sake, lemon juice, chives, and butter. Somehow it all emulsifies with the sweet oceanic liquor from the shellfish and the juice from chorizo to yield an assertively rich sauce that's also light as a breath of beach air.

Employees Only Miami
Employees Only Miami
Courtesy of Employees Only

Employees Only Miami. 1030 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 786-264-3945; employeesonlymiami.com. Named one of the world's best bars at the annual Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Employees Only in New York City keeps its cool without pretense. Now comes Employees Only Miami, opened by one of the bar's original partners, Billy Gilroy. Walk inside a 1929 coral house on the grounds of the Washington Park Hotel and pass a fortuneteller to enter this dark lair of libation. Cocktails are divided into four categories: "Apéritifs," "EO Classics," "Fancy Cocktails," and "Cocktails" (most cost $16). Can't decide? Your bartender can choose for you. But if you want to be a Miami Beach baller, opt for the Billionaire, made with Bakers' bourbon, lemon juice, EO grenadine, and absinthe bitters. Be sure to order the bar's signature steak tartare, prepared to taste and served with toast and greens ($18). It's all part of a sophisticated evening — a touch of Manhattan in SoBe.

Estefan Kitchen. 140 NE 39th St.,Miami; 786-843-3880; estefankitchen.com. Music royalty and hospitality veterans Gloria and Emilio Estefan envisioned a festive restaurant that would combine their love of food and music, and their latest concept does just that. Estefan Kitchen boasts a spacious dining room and two large U-shaped bars (one indoor and one outdoor), while next door is the casual grab-and-go Estefan Café. The menu is a combination of Gloria's grandmothers' traditional Cuban recipes and more modern dishes to please the calorie-conscious and gluten-free crowd. Chef Odell Torres is a native of Havana and has been at the helm of all of the Estefans' food concepts since 2013. An order of lechón crispy moros is not to be missed. Described by Torres as the perfect Cuban bite, the small plate offers a crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside cake composed of white rice and black beans. On top lies tender shredded pork enhanced with a bright cilantro dressing and a smidgen of honey and truffle oil. Named for the Estefans' personal chef, Miriam's special arroz con pollo features slow-braised chicken served alongside rice, green peas, and sweet plantains. The chicken is a little too sweet, although good enough, but the fragrant rice and toothsome plantains steal the show.

Ghee Indian Kitchen. 8965 SW 72nd Pl., Miami; 305-968-1850; gheemiami.com. Niven and Shivani Patel's much-anticipated restaurant in Dadeland, Ghee Indian Kitchen, has become one of Miami's hardest reservations. Ghee's dishes offer both a nod to the Patels' roots in Gujarat — India's lush, fertile westernmost state — and a way to broaden diners' horizons. There is a sizable offering of curries, as well as grilled items. The first section plies some familiar options, such as chicken tikka masala ($14) and house-made paneer cheese ($13) with green peas and fenugreek. Lamb kofta ($15) arrives with a quartet of delicate, perfectly cooked meatballs in a pool of rich sauce fortified with cashews, raisins, and spinach. The most alluring section, however, is the vegetables. Many of the recipes come from the Patels' parents, vegetarians who can be spotted overseeing and working in the kitchen. Sure, there's duck confit biryani ($14) and pork belly vindaloo ($18), but if Mom is eating lentils and eggplant, you want lentils and eggplant.

GLAM. 3301 NE First Ave., Suite 103-1, Miami; 786-864-0590. Todd Erickson is the executive chef at GLAM, short for "Green Living Animals Matter." The midtown restaurant marks the well-known toque's first foray into helming an exclusively vegan kitchen. Erickson isn't vegan, but the restaurant's vegan owner, Janette Miller, sought him out, and the two instantly connected. Miller recognized that Miami lacked an eatery serving elevated plant-based fare that was also approachable and affordable. The menu includes everything from chilled kelp noodles to a jackfruit taco al pastor alongside avocado miso toast, pear flatbread, and farro risotto. The place serves meticulously plated food, offers beer and wine, and has sleek, minimalist decor.

K Ramen Burger Beer. 150 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-534-7895; sbe.com/restaurants/locations/k-ram. Down an ominous black staircase that once led to South Beach's beloved Bond Street Lounge awaits K Ramen Burger Beer, an Asian-inspired oasis that serves what has quickly become among Miami's best bowls of ramen. Better yet is that this anime/manga-inspired joint stays open late. Find fried chicken or pork belly sandwiches and a salmon skin salad with crisped shards of the fish's flesh and bright strands of tart green papaya that combine perfectly with the oily skin. Think French fries but better. Then comes the spicy black miso ramen. It starts with chicken carcasses, boiled with scallions and other aromatics to create a fragrant, delicate broth that by itself would suffice as the base of a fine chicken soup. Next comes a heroic dose of salty black miso that turns the brew an evil ebony hue. Chilies and cracked sesame seeds lend an alluring spice and a nutty flavor that pair smartly with the miso and cling to thin, chewy noodles. The place serves a strawberry-red lobster ramen founded on a fragrant seafood broth that overwhelms you 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. So now, the next time the hunger pangs hit after a long night of drinking, you know where to go.

Mercato Della Pescheria. 412 Española Way, Miami Beach; 305-534-5822; mercatodellapescheria.com. Mercato is the spitting image of an Italian street scene, fit for a postcard. Enter through a line of white archways that makes the place look like a grouping of small shops plying meat, cheese, and dry goods. Through a window, a young woman in a stark-white chef's coat can be seen rolling out seemingly endless sheets of pasta that are hung to dry like curtains. Inside, the walls are lined with scratched vintage-looking mirrors interspersed among sections of exposed brick, all illuminated by dim yellow lights. A bowl of thumbnail-size orecchiette ($21) arrives draped in a light, salty, tangy tomato sauce with bitter rapini that remains firm yet tender. Both the sauce and the biting greens are ideal matches for small, sweet mussels that make a fine stand-in for the sausage that often fills out this dish. The cacio e pepe ($28) is a textbook example thanks to its sizable knot of al dente noodles. Of course, it helps that the dish is prepared tableside by a server who tosses the hot pasta in a depression atop a massive round of Pecorino Romano cheese until it picks up that creamy richness.

Mignonette Uptown
Mignonette Uptown
Courtesy of Mignonette Uptown

Mignonette Uptown. 13951 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami Beach; 305-705-2159; mignonettemiami.com. Danny Serfer never intended to start a mini-empire. But the 36-year-old chef opened Blue Collar, a small MiMo District restaurant in 2012; debuted Mignonette, a larger seafood and oyster bar with business partner/buddy Ryan Roman, in 2014; and opened Mignonette Uptown in North Miami Beach. Like the flagship in Edgewater, this location prominently displays the day's East and West Coast oyster selections on a large marquee over the bar. Serfer says the raw section hasn't changed; however; the "fancy" seafood section is completely different. One option is the striped bass. It's served with a burnt black-carrot purée, peas, and a sweet onion cream sauce laced with garlic and shallots. Just like Edgewater before the opening of the original Mignonette, North Miami Beach was in serious need of a place exactly like this one. And once again, Serfer, Roman, and their team have delivered.

Ofa. 1929 Purdy Ave., Miami Beach; 305-763-8766; ofarestaurant.com. Created by Brazilian hospitality vets Felipe Ortiz, Carmen Rodriguez, and Lucas Scudeler, the 2,200-square-foot indoor-outdoor restaurant serves dishes ($3-31) rooted in a range of regions across the South American country, incorporating colorful vegetables, grains, and sauces into many of its items. One example is picadinho, where filet mignon cubes are flavored in a meat sauce and served in a bowl with crisp kale, brown rice, and farofa topped with a fried egg. Standouts include bobó de verduras, a Brazilian vegetable dish made with mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and red bell peppers and blended with a yuca-and-coconut-milk sauce; salada de grãos, a grain salad made with chickpeas, lentils, barley, tomato confit, and baby greens topped with pesto and cashew aioli; and burrata com ragú de linguiça e cachaça, where burrata and cachaça-marinated linguiça (Brazilian pork sausage) are plated with tomato confit, crisp arugula, and bacon-infused olive oil. The restaurant also offers a selection of caipirinhas made with imported Brazilian cachaças.

Sherwood's Bistro & Bar. 8281 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-359-4030; sherwoodsbistro.com. Sherwood's Bistro & Bar is charming, slightly idiosyncratic, and steeped in the area where it's located. Filled with antiques and covered with large windows, Sherwood's has an open feel perfect for a summer evening. A bar in the back that includes a veranda and a patio is also delightfully cool. Starters include a chorizo and tomato salad with feta ($10), a bistro salad with frisée, egg, and pancetta ($8), and a daily crudo served with jalapeño vinaigrette ($16). Among entrées, the steak frites ($18) was a beautiful meal with fries that were, strangely, the highlight, though the meat was perfectly cooked and well seasoned. A Florida grouper with greens and eggplant smear ($26) was moist and flavorful. Sherwood's is a happy addition to a neighborhood starved for good restaurants.

Son Cubano. 2530 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-902-6220; soncubanomiami.com. Like so many Cuban places across Miami, Son Cubano tries to replicate a jubilant Havana night. The menu, however, is anything but classic Cuban. There are Wagyu picadillo-filled dumplings crisped on one side like gyoza, as well as meaty Prince Edward Island mussels in a savory black-bean broth akin to Chinese stir-fry. Croquetas de malanga offer a nice spin on this sometimes bland standby via an infusion of black garlic that provides a hint of earthy spice. It's matched with a pungent curry aioli. The flan is ingeniously spiked with the fermented soybean paste called miso. But if you want an old standby, the lechón asado — a Paleolithic-looking hunk of meat roasted until fork-tender and boasting bronze skin that has been pulled back to reveal a stub of bone — will never do you wrong.

Soul Tavern
Soul Tavern
Photo by Anabella Padula / Courtesy of Soul Tavern

Soul Tavern. 1801 West Ave., Miami Beach; 305-925-0799; soultavern.com. Jason Gordon, a doctor of Chinese medicine who has been in the health and wellness industry for nearly 20 years, opened Soul Tavern in Sunset Harbour. The gourmet vegan and vegetarian gastropub was designed to provide customers with a retreat from their hectic lives. Both the tranquil interior and picturesque Zen garden beckon diners to linger over their homemade herbal elixirs or craft cocktails rather than stare at their screens. Here, the staff promptly informs guests about the fact the cuisine is rooted in the ancient five-element principle intended to create peace within the mind, body, and soul. For example, the earth pizza ($16) gets its moniker because it features a miso base as well as chickpeas and caramelized onions — ingredients that Gordon says create harmony. It tastes good, plain and simple. Also popular are the eatery's vegan maki rolls. Gordon, who is a vegan, wanted people to get excited about the selection. So in the It's Good to Be a King maki ($15), ponzu-marinated king oyster mushrooms are paired with burnt eggplant, spinach, cucumber, asparagus, and avocado.

Tacology. 701 S. Miami Ave., Miami; 786-347-5368; tacology.us. Inside the billion-dollar Brickell City Centre, Santiago Gomez oversees Tacology. While it's a higher-end, pricier kind of taco joint, it's also rooted in Mexico's ubiquitous mercados, where you can grab a bite to eat and a cup of fresh-squeezed juice while shopping. An open kitchen corresponding to each section of the menu is cordoned off in its own part of the sprawling, blue-purple-lit space. Nearly half the menu is dedicated to tacos, and Tacology dishes up traditional choices such as a barbacoa adobada ($10.50), made by rubbing lamb shoulders with chipotle and guajillo chilies, seasoning them with avocado leaves, and then covering them with the maguey leaves that in Mexico are used to cover the lamb that's buried in the ground and cooked. A lobster taco ($14) is a traditional Baja-style affair that comes wrapped in a grill-marked flour tortilla topped with a smattering of yellow rice, black beans, a chipotle sauce, and a scattering of cabbage.

Tatel Miami. 1669 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-604-0523; tatelrestaurants.com/miami. The restaurant is the namesake of Tatel in Madrid, which businessmen Abel Matutes Prats and Manuel Campos Guallar, along with heartthrob Enrique Iglesias, opened in 2015. The successful singer came up with the idea of exporting the concept to his adopted hometown and then upped the ante by getting tennis champ Rafael Nadal and San Antonio Spurs' center Pau Gasol to sign on as co-owners. The menu is virtually identical to that of its sister in Madrid, with most of the ingredients sourced from Spain as well. Anchovies on a bed of grated tomato ($20) is one traditional dish offered. The small fish has already been salted and cured in Madrid and makes for a light and bright starter when paired with a tomato purée that's been simply dressed with garlic, olive oil, and salt. There's also Ibérico pork secreto ($42), a highly sought-after cut of meat taken from a pig's back shoulder; as the name suggests, it's one of Spain's best-kept secrets. Once grilled, it becomes very tender and juicy, much like premium Wagyu. Dinner and drinks for two can easily cost $200 here. If you have the bank, you should visit at least once.

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