'Twas the year of chicharrón tacos and bacon-wrapped quail eggs, a time of fried alligator and pan-seared frogs' legs... Alright, enough poetry: Last year was a good year for eating, so now it's time to give thanks.
2013, thank you for the barbecued beef tongue at Gabose; the ridiculously delicious burger at the Cypress Room; the perfect yet pricey pizza at Lucali; the messy croque-monsieur at Frenchie's Diner; and the Everglades gumbo at Box Park. (May it rest in peace.)
What follows are the top 15 restaurants reviewed in 2013.
15. Frenchie's Diner
Praise the coziness of mom-and-pop restaurants: the concise menus, the personable attention, and the homespun, unfussy food. Frenchie's Diner in Coral Gables mashes French bistro cookery with American diner fare. There are burgers, duck confit, and frisee aux lardons. But if you go, you must try the croque-monsieur. It's among the sandwiches in town.
14. Oak Tavern
Oak Tavern is a great spot for a drink, particularly after a long work day when nothing but a glass of wine and stone crab crostini will do. Chef David Bracha, who has been cooking at the River Seafood & Oyster Bar in Brickell for nearly a decade, launched his new restaurant last year. Today, it's a top Design District destination, serving curried goat empanadas, bacalao croquettes, and bacon marmalade toast.
13. Tongue & Cheek
At Tongue & Cheek, Jamie DeRosa's cooking is eclectic and fun. There are lighthearted cocktails, such as pumpkin pie martinis and smoking apple and fig. Dishes don't cling to a single cuisine. There's pekin duck, Moroccan braised beef short ribs, and Idaho river trout. It's a nice place to eat well, drink well, and have a good time.
Fiorito serves delectable fare at affordable prices in one of the most distinctive parts of the city. Situated near Sweat Records and Churchill's in Little Haiti, this Argentine restaurant is all about family. It's run by brothers Maximiliano and Cristian Alvarez, Cordoba-natives who love soccer. (Seriously, Diego Maradona's jersey is hanging on the wall.) But what's most charming about this small place is the vibe. It's laid back, relaxed, and cool.
11. MC Kitchen
MC Kitchen brought precise Italian cuisine to the Design District. Chef Dena Marino is an exceptional pasta-maker, a master of roasted pear and cheese fiocchi, parmesan cavatelli, and wild leek papardelle. Her six layer tiramisu is also cause for celebration. It's a huge mass of chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and zabaglione. It is delicious.
10. Bar Crudo
Bar Crudo is a teeny restaurant in the South of Fifth neighborhood that serves uncooked foods -- ceviches, carpaccios, tartar, soups, and salads. The concept works perfectly in South Florida, where it's more appropriate to eat ceviche than lasagna bolognese. Plus, Bar Crudo serves really nice cocktails, too.
Bacon is everywhere at Swine Southern Table & Bar, the latest restaurant by the folks behind Khong River House and Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. There's bacon-washed whiskey, fried green tomato BLT's, and even candied bacon desserts. Most important, Swine's urban ethos has made dining in Coral Gables interesting again.
8. Box Park
Box Park was one of the most exciting restaurants of the year. Chef Matt Hinckley refused to serve chicken. He paired grilled eggplant, not heirloom tomatoes, with burrata. He tinkered in veganism, vegetarianism, and all-around carnivorism. Absolutely everything was made in-house: vinegars, charcuterie, dukkah, even beer. After Box Park closed in November, Hinckley and pastry chef Crystal Cullison moved to New York. If it were still open, it'd probably be in the top 3 of this list.
For years, Miami has had pad thai, red curries, tom yum soups, and papaya salads. But it wasn't until Khong River House that we tasted boat noodles, fish cooked in banana leaves, and house-made Chiang Rai sausages. Sure, the place stirred up a little bit of controversy this year. But that doesn't change the fact that Khong is a great place for Thai food.
Lucali is a polarizing place. It charges 24 bucks for pizza, plus $8 for toppings like artichokes. But it's worth it. Originally from Brooklyn, the restaurant is a shrine to pie. Its tomato sauce is velvety, balanced, and bright. Its crust is an achievement -- crisp and crunchy yet soft enough to fold. Sure it's pricey, but it's also the best pizza in town.
5. PB Steak
It's tough to decide which is better: PB Steak or its playful, day-time alternative, Taco Belly. PB Steak serves wonderful cuts of meat, French onion soup dumplings, and bacon confit. But Taco Belly has the best tacos on South Beach, and few things are better than pairing its camarón a la diabla tacos with micheladas during lunch. It's one of the best ways to lighten up the work week.
4. Viva Mexico
There are tacos and then there are Andrés Tovar's carnitas tacos. Tovar, who has mastered Michoacán-style carnitas, runs a teeny, cash-only restaurant in Little Havana. He stacks pork shoulder, stomach, tongue, ears, and skin in a pot and then slow-cooks everything in lard. (Think of it as a Mexican confit.) The result is a luscious meat, one that tastes great stuffed inside a warm tortilla.
I'll drive for beef tongue -- and you probably should, too. At this family-run restaurant in Lauderhill, you can barbecue meat indoors. In the back room, beneath the overhead extractors, crowds huddle around charcoal pits set in the middle of each table. Order the tongue, sear it quickly on the grill, and then dip it in the accompanying sesame oil-black pepper dip. Enjoy it with kimchi -- fiery, pickled cabbage -- and then you'll understand why Gabose is worth the drive.
Sometimes when you're dining out, you don't talk much about the food. Dinner plays a secondary role, like the best friend in a chick flick, and the main character is your company, not the meal. At Sumi Yakitori, however, I only remember talking about the food: the bacon-wrapped quail eggs sprinkled with katsuobushi, sesame seeds, and nori; the salty, grilled yellowtail collar; the chewy, sautéed chicken gizzards; and the rich, buttery enoki and shiitake mushrooms. Go! It's bound to be one of your most memorable meals in Miami.
The Cypress Room is the best restaurant reviewed this year, and it might just be the best restaurant in Miami. Why? Because it represents what will probably be a future trend: a return to fine dining, white tablecloths, meticulous service, and beautiful food. Its cuisine is stunning. Roel Alcudia cooks with precision, delicacy, and warmth -- and it also doesn't hurt that he makes the best burger in town.
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