Best Buns 2014 | Sakaya Kitchen | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo courtesy of Sakaya Kitchen

When Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, dubs you the "Ninja of Flavortown," it's a big deal. It's also a title that chef-owner Richard Hales of Sakaya Kitchen, Dim Ssäm à Gogo food truck, and Blackbrick Chinese undoubtedly deserves. Hales honed his skills in New York City and spent years backpacking throughout Asia, where he worked for free to learn from chefs he admired. Sakaya Kitchen opened in 2009, and the accolades came pouring in for Hales' sharp, streamlined, and inexpensive Asian/Southeast Asian grub served over the counter. Though you can't go wrong with the honey-orange baby-back ribs ($15) or the sous-vide duck herb sandwich with a side of spicy tater tots ($10), the buns are unbelievable. The pork buns ($8 for two) feature a natural bone-in Boston butt marinated for 24 hours in a blend of brown sugar, toasted spices, and sesame oil and then roasted for eight hours. The tender meat tastes of pork belly and brisket and comes in a fluffy white bun with pickled cucumber and a spattering of sweet chili sauce. Things get a little crazier with the bánh mì buns ($9 for two), featuring house-cured pork belly and duck pâté, as well as kimchee carrots, homemade mayo, and pickles. Meanwhile seafood lovers will get a kick out of the expertly seasoned soft shell crab variety ($9 for two).


Some secrets are better left untold, such as what makes Gourmet Diner's vegetable soufflé so insanely incredible. The buttery, moist, omelet-like concoction is a side dish that accompanies some main-course selections, but it always steals the show. The starring vegetable changes regularly; the broccoli and cauliflower varieties are especially scrumptious. Don't let the chrome 1950s-style diner exterior fool you into thinking Gourmet Diner is your run-of-the-mill greasy spoon. Sure, you can enjoy mainstays such as a cheeseburger ($12.95) while perched on a pale-blue banquette, but as the name suggests, the majority of the fare is quite gourmet. There's also a significant number of French items, such as the classically prepared escargots ($6.95) and the sea bass Provençal topped with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and white wine ($29.95). The latter pairs perfectly with the vegetable soufflé, as does the roast duck with plum sauce ($22.95). Since 1983, this eatery has attracted folks for lunch, dinner, and weekend breakfast thanks to its friendly waitstaff, throwback ambiance, and high-caliber yet straightforward cuisine. The extensive menu makes choosing tricky, but the vegetable soufflé is a no-brainer.

Hankering for a meal created by a chef who worked at some of the finest Michelin-rated restaurants in Europe? No need to drive to some fancy-schmancy hotel restaurant and pay $30 for valet. Just find out where Il Fiorentino is parked for the evening. This food truck is unique in Miami (and maybe the world), for in it, one chef Lorenzo Lapi serves some of the finest Italian cuisine you'll ever eat. The handsome young chef might be easy on the eyes, but he's difficult to understand. After all, he hails from Florence, and when he gets excited explaining a dish, he peppers his speech with his native tongue. But there are no language barriers to his food. So here's a tip: When the chef suggests his polpettine di carne con purè di patata e olio al tartufo ($10), he's offering you his version of the classic meat and potatoes. Handmade meatballs rest on a bed of fluffy truffle-scented mashed potatoes. Other gorgeous interpretations of classic dishes include a near-perfect risotto alla zucca, caprino e salsiccia ($12), made with butternut squash, goat cheese, and Italian sausage. All pastas are freshly made, vegetables are locally sourced, and olive oil is imported from his homeland. Someday Lapi will certainly have a restaurant with difficult-to-get reservations, but for now you can grab his food from a truck. It's the foodie equivalent of buying shares of Apple stock in 1980 — and paying with pasta.

Courtesy of Hakkasan

Saturday and Sunday are already good days, but the $28-per-guest dim sum lunch at Hakkasan makes them that much better. Each prix fixe includes steamed and grilled dumplings with various fillings, an entrée of noodles with beef tenderloin and spinach, baby bok choi with garlic, and dessert. Located on the fourth-floor rooftop of the tony Fontainebleau, this modern Chinese restaurant is arguably the prettiest place in Miami to enjoy dim sum. What's more, Hakkasan isn't your typical Chinese joint, but one that's garnered prestigious awards and Michelin stars since it opened in London more than ten years ago. But back to the dim sum: If you order off the à la carte menu, the steamed shrimp har gau dumplings are a crowd favorite, as are the grilled Shanghai potstickers (both $16 for four). There are also copious vegetarian options, such as sweet corn dumplings ($12 for three) and wolfberry mushroom dumplings ($8 for three).

It's odd. Miami is surrounded by some of the most pristine waters in the world, yet very few restaurants here really do justice to beautiful seafood. Lure Fishbar is one of them. This South Florida outpost of a New York City classic serves an overwhelming array of sea creatures. There's an extensive raw bar featuring shellfish plateaus brimming with crab, shrimp, and oysters. There's also some gorgeous sushi. But the restaurant really lures diners in with unfussy takes on seafood favorites. A classic Maine lobster roll piles rich, flavorful chunks of the crustacean a mile high on buttery brioche ($30), and a grilled whole daurade ($34) is simply yet masterfully done. If you want pure decadence, order the bucatini pasta with butter-poached crab and uni crema ($38). Add Robert Ferrara's nautical-themed cocktail creations, and you have a meal fit for Triton.

Photo courtesy of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill

The Oxford English Dictionary defines raw as "uncooked, in its natural state, not yet processed or purified." Urban Dictionary has a slightly different take. "Sex without a condom" is the leading definition. Coming in second: "slang term for any uncut drug; something pure, unadulterated, hard-core, serious, no kidding, no shit." Aside from the unprotected-sex part, that's a pretty good summary of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. Since its opening in early 2010, the midtown restaurant has developed a hard-core following. Much of its popularity is owed to executive chef Timon Balloo's masterful raw menu. Raw is all the rage these days, whether it's oatmeal or coconut water. Balloo does the word justice by dishing out simple, unadulterated seafood that satisfies. You can get fresh clams, crab legs, and lobster, of course. But Balloo's best offerings are his crudos, such as local fish sprinkled with fresh lime and ají amarillo; tuna with avocado and paddlefish caviar; steak tartare with pickled shallots, Dijon mustard, and quail eggs; and salmon slices topped with radish, pomegranate, and a tart white ponzu sauce. Serious. No kidding. No shit. Sounds pretty raw.

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli has been a fashion icon since the early 1970s, when he shocked Paris with his bold prints. Never one to be a fashion wallflower, Cavalli created colorful designs that made him famous among attention-seeking fashionistas. Now he has brought his signature brand of whimsical eye candy to his Miami Beach restaurant and lounge. If you're looking for something staid and subtle, keep walking. But if you want your restaurant to be better dressed than you, Cavalli Miami is the place. Have a cocktail at the neon-pink backlit bar and peruse the pictures on the wall that show the designer cavorting with all sorts of beautiful people. The hostess, dressed in signature Cavalli animal print, shows you to your table, where you find more animal prints mingling with psychedelic florals. It's as if Cirque du Soleil, a zebra, and a poppy shacked up inside a disco. And because Cavalli is a master of playing with patterns, this mix of colors and themes somehow works, entrancing you while you sip on a lavender-hued cocktail and dine on oversize Alice-in-Firenze plates. Adding to the decor are the celebrities who dine there — because any restaurant can have fresh flowers, but only Cavalli can have Justin Timberlake as a centerpiece.

Miami is a design-driven city with a plethora of visually stunning restaurants. Unsurprisingly, many eateries turn to the ocean for interior inspiration, but the Local House's beach-chic decor is especially enchanting. Located inside the Sense Beach House boutique hotel, the restaurant attracts diners with its fresh seafood but invites them to linger by way of a warm and inviting space. Ice-blue banquettes, white lacquered tables, and beige chairs rest atop light wood floors to create a mood that's more South Hampton than South Beach. Meanwhile, a large glossy white bookcase is festooned with books and quirky knickknacks. It's utterly serene and serves as an ideal backdrop for a casual yet thoroughly romantic soiree. Start off with oysters ($15 for six or $29 for 12); then move on to a refreshing melon and citrus salad assembled with feta cheese, spinach, and fresh mint ($12). As a main dish, the seared scallops with toasted Israeli couscous are a crowd pleaser ($26). Breakfast, brunch, and lunch are also offered, so you can enjoy the surroundings almost any time.

S&S Diner has been around since thirty-eight.

That's sure as hell a long-ago date.

The food is quite edible

and the service incredible.

A U-shaped counter fills the pintsize space.

Shovel your chow at a leisurely pace.

Old movie posters recall a time

when you downed a whole turkey for only a dime.

S&S serves breakfast and lunch food.

You'll pay in cash for the whole brood.

Afterward, head out for a walk

across to the graveyard for a serious talk

about eggs and bacon and Al Capone

and Santería, Vodou, and sun-bleached bone.

This is Miami's most genuine diner.

In all of South Florida, ain't nothin' finer.

They say art feeds the soul. That's all well and good, but after spending hours perusing art, you're starving. And even though that Warhol looks good enough to eat, it tastes like cardboard. Instead, head to Verde Restaurant & Bar, conveniently located inside Pérez Art Museum Miami. This delightful little café has a spectacular view of Biscayne Bay's changing colors — a work of art in constant flux. The menu is short yet eclectic — meaning there's an item that speaks to your cravings whether you're feeling a squash blossom pizza ($13) or bigeye tuna tartare ($14). Of course, art is best interpreted with a slight buzz, so have a guava margarita ($12). Hell, have two. Your poor, tortured, artistic soul (and your stomach) will thank you.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®