Best Chef 2016 | Bradley Kilgore | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo courtesy of Alter

Bradley Kilgore has been searching for a unique cuisine his entire life. It began when he tried to make brownies out of a Betty Crocker cookbook and accidentally replaced salt with sugar. It continues today at Alter, his casual yet ambitious Wynwood restaurant. It's upending the Miami dining scene partly because of Kilgore's relentless dedication to well-sourced, humble ingredients such as chicken, leeks, and mushrooms. They're spiced, smoked, blanched, vacuum-packed, emulsified, cooked sous vide, and then whimsically arranged into delicate, edible artworks. You don't want to demolish them, but you can't help it. So how much should all of this cost? According to Kilgore, it's $30 or less. That may be steep, but not as astronomical as some of the Michelin-starred shops where he trained. Instead, Kilgore looks to bring Miami's most exciting food to the people. There's no need to wait for a special occasion.

Readers' choice: Adrianne Calvo of Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar

Fluid gels and foams are nice. But sometimes you want a good old-fashioned sugar bomb, no frills or xanthan gum included. So you turn to Joshua Gripper, Miami's sheikh of sweets, who has the ability to transform even the coolest diners at the Dutch into sugar-buzzed toddlers. He does it with slices of pie ($12) filled with salted lime custard, warm figs and apples, and banana cream. Sometimes Gripper unpacks a Boston cream doughnut and encases the buttery cake in vanilla custard ringed by macerated blueberries. Other nights, he may send you home with coconut-cream dreams. If there's no pie in your eye, don't worry. Gripper's extensive resumé includes work at two-Michelin-star restaurant Oustau de Baumanière, DB Bistro Moderne, Butter, and Café Boulud. He can turn out the elegant, buttery French cookies called palmiers with ease and then pair them with the best churros and funnel cakes the city has ever seen.

When Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth left for the bright lights of New York City, Miami culinary fans let out a collective sob. After all, we lost two wonderful young chefs in a single flight north. As expected, the partners (in business and in life) opened Root & Bone in Manhattan's Alphabet City neighborhood and were swiftly the talk of the town for both their sweet tea brined fried chicken and their megawatt personalities. The only drawback to the couple's success was the fact that Miamians had to take a flight for a meal. Fortunately, McInnis and Booth have returned to Miami with not one but two restaurants. Their Sarsaparilla Club at the Shelborne serves American dim sum and a tangy, Asian-inspired fried chicken, and the pair plans to open a seafood restaurant — complete with a sunset deck — in the Sunset Harbour neighborhood. Talk about a homecoming!

It's been a big year for foodstagramming, which made the competition in this category fierce. Yet when it comes to photos worth ogling, @fatgirlhedonist is queen. This mouthwatering feed shows off the city's scene in true Miami style: lighthearted and unapologetic, with a touch of Latin spice. The Hialeah-born woman behind the account isn't a local chef or big-name restaurateur; her posts are motivated purely by a passion for all things culinary. Yes, there are some shameless promotions from time to time, but the page features a wide variety of eateries and maintains just enough down-to-earth feel. Because the Fatgirl Hedonist Instagram and blog are operated by an average foodie, they feature uniquely honest commentary, including an "I Wouldn't Go There if Were You" list. Feast your eyes, but be warned: This Instagram is guaranteed to induce some serious cravings.

Rather than wasting time saying this restaurant's quirky mouthful of a name, let's get straight to the point: It's an internationally inspired joint open daily at 11:30 a.m. (Sunday at 11 a.m.) that offers an elevated, open-air experience in Mary Brickell Village. Yes, it is located in the old Firehouse Four building. Yes, it's only two stories. Yes, you still get stunning views despite its stature. No, it's not expensive. Long story short, Miami needs more places like Dolores, but You Can Call Me Lolita. Stylish, chic, and affordable is a triple threat. Choose the prix-fixe menu, priced from $19.99 to $32.99, which gives you an entrée and an appetizer of your choice. Start with the serrano ham croquettes or the vegetable spring rolls; then go for the applewood-grilled boneless short rib ($26.99) or pan-seared Chilean sea bass ($32.99). Inhaling all of this fresh air during lunch and dinner will make you thirsty, so Dolores has wines and specialty cocktails lined up and ready. Sigh. If only Dolores were a real person.

The second outpost of Stephen Starr's beloved Continental is straight out of AMC's hit show Mad Men. Sure, Starr's first great success was born in Philadelphia, but at the one in Miami, you'll feel like you're walking onto the set of that episode where protagonist Don Draper decamps to California. This acid trip back in time comes complete with a dining room crowned with fake plants, filled with brightly colored Formica tables, and servers donning chic poolside attire. And, ah, the menu. It's a throwback to an era when world cuisine was just beginning to blossom. The Hong Kong Fooey ($20) is a play on Chinese kung pao that offers enough sweet to balance out the spice. The same goes for the lettuce wraps ($30), which let you roll up funky Korean spicy chili paste and pickles with some sweet juicy skirt steak. There are plays on every stripe of cuisine, with nods to Jamaica, Mexico, and, of course, Cuba. Though most places in Miami Beach make eyes roll with exorbitant pricing and faux ambition, there's only one type of roll here: It's an homage to the Continental's birthplace, and it's a deliciously greasy cheesesteak wrapped in an egg roll ($17).

Courtesy of Izzy's

The problem with seafood is that it's usually not decadent enough. Sure, a piece of broiled grouper is good for you, but it's got no "it" factor. Enter Izzy's Fish & Oyster, the South Beach restaurant that takes its cues from New England clam shacks, where all manner of residents of the sea are either fried or cooked with heavy cream and butter. Take, for example, Izzy's warm lobster roll ($28): The meat of an entire lobster is drenched in lobster butter and placed on a pillowy toasted white-bread roll. Not enough sin for you? Go for the lobster poutine ($18) — a bright-yellow skillet filled with waffle fries, lobster, cheddar sauce, and bacon. For a taste of the sea, order a dozen fresh oysters ($38) or fried clam bellies (MP), boasting a juicy brine that pops in your mouth. Now that's a meal fit for King Neptune.

Restaurateur Michael Mina may be based in San Francisco, but he still knows what Miamians want in a steakhouse — restrained opulence that enhances rather than competes with the expensive cuts of beef you're about to masticate. Stripsteak shares a home base, the Fontainebleau Hotel, with the restaurateur's Michael Mina 74, but consider this place 74's more sophisticated brother. Leather booths and copper light fixtures give the room a warm glow, which is welcome after walking through the neon-tinged and cacophonous resort lobby. Relax and take a moment to enjoy the warm truffle-scented Parker House rolls as you peruse the extravagant wine list. Stripsteak is not the place to go on a fixed budget, but if you're game to splurge, the evening is well worth it. Steaks with pedigrees so long they might have had bovine ancestors on the Mayflower are poached in butter and finished on a wood-fired grill. Choose from all-American Angus beef from Moyer Farms ($44 to $118), or break the bank with Japanese Miyazaki Prefecture steaks, priced by the ounce. If for some reason you saunter into this palace of beef with seafood on the brain, fret not. The restaurant offers seafood caught on the resort's own daily charter boat, BleauFish. Stripsteak ain't cheap. But memories — and a butter-poached piece of perfect beef — can't be judged by the price tag.

Readers' choice: Prime One Twelve

When it comes to sitting and being fed into a happy stupor, the Vagabond Restaurant & Bar has it down to a science. First there's the venue itself. Rather than bulldoze a historic property, a time machine to the past, developer Avra Jain restored the Vagabond Hotel to its retro glory. Venezuelan-born Alvaro Perez Miranda outfitted the interior as an ever-hanging art gallery filled with furniture that perfectly captures midcentury designers' obsessions with the future. And the restaurant, overseen by wunderkind Alex Chang, is even more eclectic and spectacular. He has paid homage to Miami with a sweetbread milanesa that sees the milky glands crisped and served with added flavors of mustard and ham, incredibly replicating a Cuban sandwich. He uses tropical fruit with gusto, preserving young mangoes in salt to put his own spin on Japan's umeboshi. But it's not all ephemeral, intellectual cuisine. The young chef began his career cooking for friends in his college apartment. Cheeseburgers were a mainstay, and they still are. Except here, the cheeseburger's ($16) beef is dry-aged and the pickles are house-made. It's proof the Vagabond will delight you no matter what you're looking for.

Photo by Ana Adams

Nino Pernetti's Italian hideaway in Coral Gables is like something out of a movie. The stained Tiffany-style glass dome covering the bar looks like it was rescued from a Parisian bistro during World War II. And the servers — oh, the servers. It's like they know your deepest desires. "You look like a 7 and 7 guy," one might say before laying a napkin in your lap and handing you an open menu. They seem to know the exact moment you and your table have decided on your meal. They're right there, pen and pad in hand. "Try the vitello tonnato ($12.75)," they say. And before you know it, the Piedmontese classic of sliced veal accompanied by tuna-infused mayonnaise is one of your new favorites. It makes sense, though. Few of Pernetti's waiters have been with him for less than a decade.

Readers' choice: The Forge

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®