Best Restaurateur 2014 | Andres Tovar | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Most Miami restaurateurs are lost in space. Suffering from delusions of grandeur, they quickly overextend themselves. Like solar systems, they expand beyond the bounds of their own gravitational pull. The farther the food orbits from its star, the colder and blander it gets until, finally, flavor goes hurtling off into space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. But all is not lost. Like a culinary George Clooney, Andres Tovar is here to rescue Miami from the flavorless abyss. Tovar opened Miami's most succulent restaurant two years ago. Initially called Con Sabor a México Carnitas Estilo Michoacán, the Calle Ocho eatery had a complex name but a simple mission: delicious tacos. Now renamed Viva Mexico, the restaurant has propelled Tovar from secret genius to standard-bearer for Miami's burgeoning slow-food movement. Instead of opening more stores to maximize his profit, however, Tovar partnered with Pancho Taco to take his meat to the masses. How many thousands of hipsters have been drinking at Wood Tavern and suddenly catch a whiff of carnitas on the evening breeze? How many have been able to resist? Tovar has won the town's taste buds without store openings or promotional schemes.

Who is this Ricky and how does he rule North Miami? The person who gave his name to this hole in the wall on NE 123rd Street is the adorable 9-year-old son of owner Giuliano Carrafelli and chef Majcha Manomai. Dad hails from Italy, and Mom is from Thailand. But don't worry — the kid doesn't eat everything that comes from the kitchen; there's still some for you to enjoy six nights a week. This family-focused neighborhood restaurant rules with freshness. They serve some of the freshest and most flavorful Thai fare in North Miami and beyond. The family grows their own lemongrass, kaffir leaves, Vietnamese and Thai mint, galangal root, and much more. The tom kha goong ($5), featuring succulent jumbo shrimp in a spicy, sweet-and-sour coconut soup with lemongrass and lime juice, is enhanced by the freshness of the herbs. The same is true of the pad kee mow ($12), AKA drunken noodles, which boasts locally made, delicate, flat and wide rice noodles topped with fresh basil, cilantro, scallions, bell pepper, carrots, broccoli, and bamboo shoots. Whatever you order, it's hard to go wrong in this cozy restaurant, but if you're stuck, ask Ricky. This outgoing boy knows which curry goes with which meat and has strong opinions about what his mom makes best.

Casa Panza Café may be located in the heart of Little Havana, but the Spanish restaurant brings el sabor español to Calle Ocho. After you walk past the wooden doors, wine barrels, Spanish tile, and hanging ceramic plates, a hostess welcomes you into la cueva. On Friday and Saturday, Juan de Alba, Estrella Morena, and invited guests charm the crowd with their tablao flamenco skills and Spanish canciones. As the sangria is poured from a ceramic pitcher into your glass, it's off with the tapas. The light and airy tortilla española ($5), followed by sizzling chorizo al vino ($7) and an order of garbanzos frito ($6), will get your taste buds working. Then comes the main plato. Traditionalists will opt for the paella Valencia ($30) or the zarzuela de marisco ($35), but meat lovers will go for the tender and well-seasoned churrasco a la parrilla ($20). For dessert, it's the tarta Santiago — almond cake topped with ice cream ($7) — a shot of espresso ($2), and more sangria. Singer and comedian Juan de Alba will keep you entertained with his chispa, sparkling costumes, and beaded head wraps long after your table is cleared. But there's a $10 cover, so be sure to reserve your spot.

David Cabrera

It could be the lure of Miami Beach's beautiful people and electric atmosphere. It could be that the young chef was up for a challenge. It could even be because he was sick of Chicago winters. In any event, the Windy City's loss is the Magic City's gain, because Danny Grant, who earned two Michelin stars at his former Chicago restaurant, Ria, has opened 1826 in Miami Beach. This multilevel establishment is gorgeous and masculine. Golden guns serve as lamps, and airplane wings are repurposed into chairs in the lounge. Cocktail and wine menus are presented on iPads. Everything in the room is as close to perfect as possible. And the food? It's a lovely affair. Every morsel, from the freshly baked rolls served with key lime butter to a melt-in-your-mouth short rib ($29), is so beautiful you almost don't want to eat it. Go ahead. Take a quick picture. Then dig in. Because as pretty as your dish is, it tastes even better.

Moon-sheen? Moon-cheen? Moon-shine? It might take you three or four visits to figure out how to pronounce the name of this Upper Eastside bistro. But that shouldn't stop you from returning. Standouts include the panang curry and the pad see ew ($9.95 each), but Moonchine is pan-Asian, so you can taste your way around at least one-sixth of Epcot here. For lunch, you can score a couple of sushi rolls for less than ten bucks, which is cheaper than supermarket fare. Even if you're not in the mood for food, the place has a two-for-one happy hour, an upstairs lounge, and a backyard with live music. In an area sorely lacking bars, it's become a de facto neighborhood hangout. Other draws include lightning-fast service and a front-porch couch where you can dine and watch pedestrians on Biscayne Boulevard. A big parking lot in the back doesn't hurt either. If you're burned out after a long day, you can pull up, park your car, and be seated in comfort with a cocktail and a curry in no time. Don't forget to ask for a shot of the homemade "moonshine" — a saccharine, ginger-infused liqueur that's sometimes given gratis to regular customers.

Photo by Jordan Braun

Miamians are welcoming whenever a popular stateside or international restaurant opens an outpost here. But when a talented and innovative local chef unveils his first eatery in the 305, it's an event worth celebrating. That restaurant is Eating House, an intimate Coral Gables pop-up turned permanent fixture. It's where the under-30 chef Giorgio Rapicavoli concocts raved-about fare such as nostalgia-tinged Cap'n Crunch pancakes for brunch ($13) and creamy pasta carbonara ($23) for dinner. The menu is undoubtedly eclectic and reflects Rapicavoli's Argentine and Italian heritage, as well as his upbringing in Doral. Everything is also very well priced considering the nuanced nature of the dishes. For instance, melt-in-your-mouth beef sweetbreads ($15) are coupled with pickled Florida watermelon, cucumbers, and napa cabbage and then punctuated with miso and ginger. Inside this hip space adorned with graffiti canvases, random objects, and plenty of Miami Heat memorabilia, you'll discover that rare restaurant where fun meets high-end cuisine.

There's something so sexy about the Italian lifestyle. Women in tight skirts riding Vespas, men talking with their hands over a cup of espresso. A few bottles of house-made wine polished off during the day. Bocce Bar embodies the spirit of a day in Rome. It begins when you walk into the restaurant, where you pass a bocce court on the way to the bar. There, you'll start your Roman holiday with an aged Negroni. It's the perfect combination of sweet and bitter. Working your way to a table, you'll surely hear the melodic sound of Italian accents. Most of the staff, from the waiters to chef de cuisine Tommaso Furlanetto, is imported from Italy (like much of the salumi and olive oil). What's not imported is local, such as the heirloom tomatoes, Key West shrimp, and executive chef Timon Balloo. So he's not from Italy. But he is obsessed with the culture and the cuisine. You can feel the soulfulness in the food. The grilled octopus with ceci bean purée and olive caper vinaigrette ($14) is tender, the orecchiette with duck sugo and roasted butternut squash ($19) is satisfying, and the grilled swordfish with tomato fregola, preserved lemon, and capers ($22) instantly transports you to a seaside fishing village on the Amalfi Coast. Kick off your shoes. Order another bottle of vino. Laugh out loud. You're living la dolce vita. And it tastes good.

Olive stuffed with cheese

Molten, salty orb of gold.

Pleasure burns the tongue.

If you think we're a little off our rocker for waxing poetic about some fried green olives, you clearly haven't tried Strada's Gorgonzola-stuffed olive fritte ($6), just one of many antipasti to begin your eating adventure at this Coconut Grove gem. If you don't like fried cheese and olives, check for a pulse. If you've got one, order the polpette, beef meatballs with polenta and sage oil ($10.50); the beef carpaccio, served with baby arugula ($12.50); and the black mussels sautéed in lobster sauce ($14.50). Only when you've feasted on the first course should you start on the pastas, such as the penette with speck ($17) and the simply satisfying spaghetti with garlic, red pepper, and aged anchovy elixir ($11.50). Take your time and channel your inner Italian. After you finish your slice of cheesecake, you'll be writing poetry of your own. Extra points if you do it in Italian.

Wynwood may be the heartbeat of Miami's art scene, but you want to know what's really beautiful? The sight of R House's gorgeous Brazilian seafood mocqueta arriving at your table. Tender cobia, sweet scallops, and shrimp swim in a piquant coconut milk broth, seasoned with garlic and fragrant ginger. Served with basmati rice, it's a masterpiece of a meal ($16 half portion, $25 full portion). As you dine, your eyes are entertained by the art on the walls, which display works curated by White Porch Gallery, and your ears are thrilled to music spun by some of the best local DJs. Why simply dine when you can feed all of your senses?

The River Oyster Bar photo

For more than ten years, the River Seafood & Oyster Bar has been luring Miamians to Brickell with its impressive hand-shucked oyster selection and its superior-quality fish. Something you rarely spot on a local menu despite an abundance of seafood restaurants is wild Faroe salmon, but here you can have it grilled or pan-seared with a choice of condiments and sauces ($32). The sustainable fish is renowned for its delicate flavor, and chef-owner David Bracha coaxes it out with a sweet-and-spicy glaze. During happy hour, you'll find no shortage of sharp professionals sipping $3 draft beers or $5 wines and cocktails to go along with half-priced oysters. Patrons here seem to know one another, and there's a decidedly neighborhood vibe in the warm, unpretentious dining room. Sunday brunch is a relatively new addition and one of the best spots in town for fish-centric egg dishes such as the yummy lobster omelet stuffed with chanterelles, goat cheese, and chives ($24).

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®