Miami has it all: Money, beauty, creativity, and an unflappable will. Yet for too long, the city was seen as little more than an outpost for celebrity chefs looking to open a spot designed to extract money from spendthrift tourists. No more.
Today, Miami is a city that defines itself just as much as it is defined by those who have moved here, whether they came from Nicaragua or New York City. Though the Magic City's restaurants have long sought to meet the demands and expectations of tourists or the communities they serve, cooks are now using their heritage as a kind of interchangeable arsenal in conjunction with techniques and inspirations from around the globe to create flavors found nowhere else. Cooks born and bred here are doing it, and those from across the nation are beginning to wise up to the fact that Miami is a place where they can do it.
Such is exactly what you'll find in our compilation of the ten best restaurants to open this year. For better or worse, it was also a year of enjoyable trends (fresh pasta, low-and-slow barbecue) and some less inspiring. Yet as the final days tick away, the city is better for them overall and poised to become even more delicious in the next decades.
Balloo19 SE Second Ave., Suite 4, Miami
Decades in the making, Timon Balloo's tropical downtown haunt is the chef's much-anticipated tribute to his Chinese-Trinidadian-Indian heritage, and it deals in the kind of powerfully flavored food that cooks want to eat when they're not feeding you. "These are dishes I've grown up eating at my mom's house, but it's taken me so long to find these flavors," Balloo told New Times earlier this year. "They've been there all along, but I never cooked them for the public." You'll pardon us if we begrudge the bespectacled, gregarious chef for such an upbringing. While we were eating mac and cheese, the chef/partner of Midtown's Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill was growing up on food that would inspire dishes such as roasted curry calabaza served with roti; burnt cabbage tossed with crisp pork; Spam fried rice with burnt pineapple; a Trini spiced oxtail served with pigeon peas and rice; curry goat; and the Korean-inspired rice-cake dish he calls chili crab tteok bokki. New parents, take note.
Boia De5205 NE Second Ave., Miami
This hip Little Haiti spot that boasts a comforting embrace thanks to pool-table-felt-green walls specializes in an ever-changing lineup of pasta. There's the tortellini en brodo ($23), whose curled, thumb-size pockets and accompanying broth take nearly three days to prepare and begin with an intense duck stock that's reduced to an aggressive concentrate later clarified to a beautiful autumn auburn. The tortellini are stuffed with duck confit, shredded duck prosciutto, foie gras, and a touch of nutmeg. Pillowy ricotta gnocchi ($17) are enveloped in a tangy fresh tomato sauce that achieves incredible complexity with little more than chilies, basil, hot pasta water, and a pat of butter. It is not to be missed. Neither is the pappardelle alla lepre ($22), with unctuous shreds of braised rabbit tangled amid wide ribbons of pasta. Of course, Boia De, despite being heavily Italian, offers other delights, such as a heavenly avalanche of eggs, both chicken and fish, piled into crisp potato skins ($24) filled with milky stracciatella. Can't decide? There's plenty of time. It's the buzziest place in town, and it has only 24 seats.
Bon Gout BBQ99 NW 54th St., Miami
The crew arrives shortly after the crack of dawn to begin preparing brisket, ribs, and a bounty of soul food and Caribbean sides: Think rice and peas ($3) and mac and cheese ($3). What a world. The ruler of them all, however, is the griot ($10). Fat-rippled knobs of pork shoulder are plunged into a deep fryer and emerge with a burnished crust and a juicy interior. It doesn’t end here. If you'd like, the meat can be lovingly tucked into a tortilla and crowned with the spicy fermented cabbage called pikliz. The Haitian condiment has taken the world by storm, and for good reason: Its tart spiciness is the perfect match for the unctuous pork. The only thing missing is a nice package to tie it all up. It’s a miracle that can happen only in Miami.
Cafe la Trova971 SW Eighth St., Miami
Chef Michelle Bernstein and celebrated cantinero Jose Cabrera have created an elegant and energetic Cuba of old with this bright-blue Calle Ocho spot. It's a multisensory experience where bartenders in red vests throw daiquiris opposite a stage where the upbeat thwack of bongos fills the room as a trumpet player squeals out jazz tunes on weeknights and driving trova music on weekends, when the place stays open well past midnight. Bernstein's menu includes a classic ceviche ($14), paella croquetas, her famous short ribs ($36), and a gussied-up arroz con pollo ($21) that would give your abuela pause. Don't forget to visit the back bar, a kitschy tribute to '80s Miami complete with cocktails served on a tray with a "line" of powdered sugar. Cafe la Trova boasts serious cocktails and food, but the atmosphere is joyful and a bit sassy. Forget Disney — this is the happiest place in Florida.
Chug's3444 Main Hwy., Suite 21, Coconut Grove
Michael Beltran opened his little Cuban diner just a stone's throw from his Coconut Grove restaurant, Ariete. At Chug's, hunker down with his "Abuela's plates" of mojo roast pork ($9.99) or fried fish ($14.99). Each dish arrives with black beans, white rice, and half a banana — just the way Beltran says his grandmother plated his lunch. No self-respecting Cuban spot wouldn't serve a proper cubano, croquetas, and a pan con minuta. You'll find them all here.
Hometown Barbecue1200 NW 22nd St., #100, Miami
Miami seemed to be the last place where celebrated Brooklyn barbecue man Billy Durney would open an outpost of his beloved Hometown Barbecue, but once he saw Allapattah and was reminded of his native Red Hook, he knew it was right. Here you'll find all of the Texas signatures, such as butter-soft brisket ($14 per half-pound) with a deep-magenta smoke ring. There are massive, heavily marbled beef ribs ($30 per pound) alongside thick-cut bacon encrusted in a fiery jerk seasoning ($7 per slice). Durney isn't tethered to tradition, and the menu at Hometown includes a number of site-specific items, such as whole smoked lamb breast ($34), deboned and caramel-glazed to create a crisp exterior, that's served Korean bo ssam–style with kimchee, cured cucumbers, and Bibb lettuce. Fire-roasted wild mushrooms ($12) are dressed with cilantro and pepitas, while tender chicken hearts ($10) are painted with a sweet-sour tamarind sauce and rested in a swoosh of peppy cilantro chimichurri.
Laid Fresh250 NW 24th St., Miami
Michael Lewis believes breakfast should begin with raw ingredients, not in a bag or the freezer. That's why at Laid Fresh, his all-day breakfast spot, the potato rolls for the breakfast sandwiches, such as sausage and cheese ($9), soft-scrambled with Brie and avocado ($9), and egg-topped BLT ($9) all begin with actual potatoes (cue shocked gasp). Russet potatoes are boiled off, cooled and milled, and then combined with flour, a starter, and just a touch of sugar, yielding a bun that combines the puffy delight of a potato roll with the rich, airier crumb of brioche. There's house-made sausage designed to mimic Jimmy Dean's but without the nitrites and made with the shoulders and bellies of North Carolina-grown Cheshire pigs. The American cheese sauce recalls Cheez Whiz or Kraft Singles but is punched up with fontina, Parmesan, and a few other classier ingredients. The result is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Sala'o Cuban Bar & Pescaderia1642 SW Eighth St., Miami
Did Miami need another Cuban restaurant? The jury is still out. What the city definitely needs is Jorge Mas' cooking. Here, in a vivacious space on Calle Ocho festooned with images of Ernest Hemingway and all of Papa's associated tchotchkes, the chiseled, Cuban-born 36-year-old who has lived in the States for only six years is taking the misery of eating under a communist regime and turning it into a joyful celebration. He has transformed the memory of mysterious canned fish paste into ethereal seafood croquetas and the bit of sweetened condensed milk he survived on as a student into the dessert called fanguito ($7), in which condensed milk is boiled four hours until it becomes dulce de leche and is whipped with cream into a rich, nutty mousse that's flurried with grated dark chocolate, crisp breadcrumbs, and sea salt. In these times of excess, we forget the creation that can come from desperation. It doesn't show outright at Sala'o, but dig a little deeper and the true meaning of cooking reveals itself.
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Time Out Market Miami1601 Drexel Ave., Miami Beach
Time Out Market Miami is one delightful, overwhelming flash of all of the city's gastronomic highlights. What's better is that it's right off Lincoln Road, which over the years has become an insipid outdoor mall that seems to be increasingly unfriendly to both locals and local businesses. Among the cascade of food halls that came with 2019, this one gives sun-scorched tourists who might never leave the beach the chance to sample the cooking of Michael Beltran's Ariete, Cesar Zapata's pho-focused Phuc Yea spinoff Pho Mo, and Shuji Hiyakawa's precision sushi. At Miami Smokers, you can combine a bounty of cured meats ranging from saucisson sec and red wine salami to barbecued rillettes ($23 for five meats, $15 for three) and follow it with one of celebrated pastry chef Antonio Bachour's geometrically perfect desserts. Too often, Miami is defined by outside forces, and that's just what has happened on Lincoln Road. Time Out is a service to all and a glimpse of everything that Miami truly has to offer.
Wabi Sabi by Shuji851 NE 79th St., Miami
Shuji Hiyakawa is well known across Miami for his 79th Street spot's namesake bowl ($18), packed with salmon, tuna, wild blue crab, cucumber, seaweed, edamame, and avocado infused with yuzu, scallions, shiitake, and tobiko. After a short hiatus and a trip back to Japan, Hiyakawa returned in partnership with restaurateur and art dealer Alvaro Perez Miranda to push the quaint spot to new heights. Today find à la carte nigiri and an omakase menu that's one of the best deals in town. On one night, you might find horse mackerel dabbed with soy, and a thick slice of goldeneye perch with barely crisp skin and a touch of the Japanese citrus sudachi. Planks of squid are crosshatched with deadly precision, tempering the cephalopod's sometimes off-putting chewiness. Each meal is capped with an earthy red miso soup flecked with flat parsley and shimeji mushrooms. Don't call it a trip to Japan; call it your favorite sushi spot.