Our North Miami-Dade designation includes North Miami, North Miami Beach, Aventura and Sunny Isles. That's a wide swath of real estate, and it encompasses a whole lot of worthy dining establishments -- including the exceptional Yakko-San of North Miami Beach, which nabbed our Best Restaurant in North Miami-Dade last year. Few would quibble with that choice -- least of all the many Miami chefs who make it their post-shift dining destination.
Here are five other great restaurants; all but one are relatively modest, privately-owned businesses.
5. Shing Wang Bubble Tea Cafe
What started out in April of 2008 as an all-vegetarian Chinese restaurant and bubble tea emporium in North Miami has grown into an all-purpose Chinese restaurant with noteworthy Taiwanese specialties -- and bubble tea emporium. You can still get convincing faux-meat appetizers such as BBQ pork and chicken egg rolls, drumsticks and nuggets. And entrees include a fantastic faux smokin soy duck, as well as crispy soy chicken. It won our Best Vegetarian Restaurant nod in 2009. But nowadays you can also nab Taiwanese braised pork stew, steamed pork bun, and curry or lemongrass renditions that use real chicken -- and also a real good banh mi on authentic Vietnamese baguette. One thing that's consistent is clean, fresh flavors, friendly service, and attractive prices (entrees are $12 and under). Bubble teas still refresh in various flavors too.
4. Chef Philip Ho
The namesake Ho knows his Asian fare, having served as dim sum chef at the Setai for several years before opening this place of his own in Sunny Isles Beach last September. Dim sum is the star here; on weekends it gets rolled out on carts, rest of the time it comes from the kitchen. Either way, it's the best dim sum this side of Tropical Chinese. Steamed green-tea duck dumplings, scallop and black truffle dumplings, chive and shrimp dumplings, taro cakes...these are just a few of our favorite things. The rice porridge congee is superb as well, as are non-dim sum chow like thin hand-pulled noodles with shiitake mushrooms and a show-stopping house-made tofu and eggplant in black-bean-chili sauce that will force you to rethink tofu entirely. Egg custard tarts for dessert are pretty cool too.
Timo represents that rare merging of two partnering owners who each excel in their respective fields -- or, more specifically, in their respective rooms: Rodrigo Martinez in the dining room, Tim Andriola in the kitchen. The 90-seat Sunny Isles dining room is warm and cozy, with lots of wood and a light brick wood-burning oven. Delectable pizzas flow from that oven, as do all manner of fresh, high-quality fare orchestrated by Andriola. The cuisine features contemporary Italian-Mediterranean interpretations of traditional dishes, with an emphasis on homemade pastas, local seafood, and the aforementioned pizza. but the flavors are brighter than at most of the many other Med-steads. Rodrigo's wine list is a gem, and like the food it focuses on a blend of old world and new.Timo copped our Best Restaurant in North Miami-Dade back in 2005. Like a vintage wine -- or, more to the point, like two experienced veterans -- it has only gotten better with age.
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2. Bourbon Steak
How much do we love thee, Bourbon Steak? Let us count thee ways: Best Steak House (2008); Best French Fries (2008); Best Fried Chicken (2009); Best Hamburger (2010); Best of our Top Five Steak Houses (2011). Michael Mina's Aventura branch in The Fairmont Turnberry Resort is about all-natural certified Angus beef, American Kobe, Japanese A5 Kobe, rack of lamb, pork short ribs and of course there's the crazy-rich-delicious manner of poaching meats in fat prior to grilling -- steaks in butter, lamb in olive oil, pork in bacon lard. And that's not to mention the spice-poached prawns, lobster-bacon-shiso-wrapped fritters, whole-fried organic chicken, the signature duck-fat fries, bourbon milkshakes...Oh lawd! Only reason we're not putting Bourbon at number one again is that we don't want' all these awards of ours to go to its head. I mean things here are expensive enough as it is.
1. Pilar Restaurant & Bar
Owner Scott Fredel is an avid fisherman, talented chef, and evidently a savvy businessman. After all, his Aventura eatery Pilar has managed to maneuver the shark-infested restaurant world since 2004 as successfully as Ernest Hemngway might have navigated real waters in his boat -- that was named Pilar. Thing is, Fredel skillfully merges his twin passions to wondrous effect. Diners at Pilar are privvy to line-caught fish caught almost exclusively in Florida. Pompano, cobia, red snappers...Typical of his approach to using local, seasonal ingredients is his blackened mahi with browned butter, ripe plantains, and slaw of avocado and hearts of palm. We've given Best of Miami awards in the past to Pilar for Best Restaurant in a Shopping Mall (2008) and Best Restaurant When You're Paying (2005); after all these years, main courses are still under $20! It is the peerless value that goes along with stellar comestibles that puts Pilar at the top of our list.