Miami restaurants change almost weekly. They open, they close. This year — as the culinary and arts season begins —promises to be hotter than ever. From Aventura to South Beach to Mimo and Brickell, it is the urban core and beach that will dominate.
What follows are our choices for the most interesting places in the year ahead. Keep an eye out.
27 Restaurant & Bar
2727 Indian Creek Dr., Miami Beach; 305-531-2727; thefreehand.com
Since the day it opened, 27 Restaurant & Bar has attracted the hip crowd that's been a fixture at Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi's bar the Broken Shaker. At the start, they partnered with chef James Seyba, who left for Richard Hales' Centro Taco early this year. Seyba created a menu similar to what your grandmother would cook, depending upon where she's from. The kitchen, now under chefs Jimmy Lebron and Sasha Ullman, turns out perfectly crisp and moist
223 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-573-5996; altermiami.com
At Alter, Bradley Kilgore cooks some of Miami's most exciting food. He pairs succulent Florida prawns with a heap of white corn grits adorned with a Jackson Pollock-esque speckle of huitlacoche cream, chorizo oil, and a lime-green mole. Here, the former J&G Grill executive chef has partnered with local food enthusiast and hedge-fund risk manager Javier Ramirez to bring Wynwood a welcoming restaurant that doesn't trade refinement for the surrounding neighborhood's cool factor. Sure, there are no white tablecloths, and everything from reggae to rock blares over the sound system, but that doesn't mean Kilgore can't debone a young Lake Meadow chicken and fill it with a combination of succulent ground thigh meat and foie gras.
17608 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach; 305-705-0004; basilpark.com
Basil Park is Tim Andriola's healthful, long-awaited followup to his Mediterranean mainstay, Timo. For the bright, airy bistro, he partnered with Tamer Harpke, a farmer with tracts in Hollywood and Dania Beach that produce the restaurant's microgreens and soon up to 30 percent of its produce. But beyond Basil Park's farm-to-table aspirations and "intact foods" philosophy is an actual restaurant using sophisticated techniques and balance that set it high above your favorite vegan café. "Dairy" items here are surrounded with quotes for a reason: There's no dairy at all. All beef is grass-fed, and the succulent, crisp-skinned chickens twirling in the rotisserie hail from Joyce Farms. What makes it all worthwhile is not even that it's good for you and leaves you feeling great. It's that the generous plates, with all their healthful mumbo jumbo, are simply delicious.
2395 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-604-6700; craftrestaurantsinc.com/beachcraft
It seemed inevitable Tom Colicchio would open a place in Miami. He's been eyeing the city since David Bouley's Evolution vacated the Ritz-Carlton South Beach in 2007. But there was
1545 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-508-5041; byblosmiami.com
Byblos, the Eastern Mediterranean eatery at the Royal Palm South Beach, is a good time. It begins with
Cena by Michy
6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-759-2001; cenabymichy.com
If lack of popularity was ever a problem at Michelle Bernstein's namesake restaurant, it isn't anymore. The 55-seat dining room at Cena by Michy fills to capacity with loyal fans throughout the week. The almost-iridescent purple-blue hue that once lined the ceiling and floor has been stripped away, along with the white tablecloths and ornate chandeliers. The menu also received a face-lift. Half-portion options were axed and vegetable offerings vastly expanded. Still, the fare doesn't stray far from Bernstein's refined, homestyle comfort zone, and many classics remain. Her sweetbreads — a nod to her Argentine heritage — are creamy nuggets repurposed into tacos with a funky huitlacoche cream and pickled cabbage. Her iconic short ribs are still culled from a center-cut 18-ounce portion braised in a hearty stock of calves' feet and lamb bones. The liquid is reduced to a lip-smacking, savory demi-glace that sauces the plate. It arrives atop an ever-changing root vegetable purée that one night featured earthy celeriac and sunchokes. The $39 price seems extreme for the secondary cut of meat, but it's the lengthy preparation that pushes its cost into the dry-aged realm. "I don't make that much on it, but I have to have it on the menu," Bernstein says.
999 Brickell Ave., Miami; 305-415-9990; coyarestaurant.com/miami
Three months after its opening in late 2012, Zagat named Coya in London the world's hottest restaurant. Next came a Dubai outpost, and in early 2015, Coya Miami began serving on Brickell Avenue. Executive chef Sanjay Dwivedi describes his food as "bursting with flavor" and "not for the faint-hearted." He says he uses modern tricks to create his version of Peruvian fare. The expansive restaurant and its patrons are impeccably styled, which is unsurprising given that entrées hover in the $30 range. The bulk of the menu, however, consists of small sharing plates averaging $12. They're divided into categories such as ceviches, tiraditos, anticuchos (marinated skewers cooked on a charcoal grill), vegetables, and fish and meat mains. Three to five per person is the suggested number of small plates, so it's possible to dine here for around $50 sans alcohol. Ask Dwivedi, though, and he'll say the best way to get acquainted with Coya is via the $90 tasting menu, offering a half-dozen courses. Must-tries include the Chilean sea bass, the "clasico" ceviche, and forest mushrooms on the charcoal grill.
2300 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-573-8228; coyotaco.com
On weekends, lines can be long at this Wynwood taco joint. Helmed by executive chef Scott Linquist, the restaurant serves tacos made with locally sourced vegetables and seafood and humanely raised meats. A tortillera works on the line at all times, making as many as 1,000 tortillas a day to order. The result is a meal that comes in under $20. If you're looking for drinks after dinner, go no further than Coyo's secret bar, located in a back room. Candles and saint figurines will greet you as you choose from more than 50 tequilas. Get the "paleta-rita," a refreshing margarita containing locally made paletas.
Finka Table & Tap
14690 SW 26th St., Miami; 305-227-8818; finkarestaurant.com
Finka Table & Tap co-owners Eileen and Jonathan Andrade come from Miami dining royalty. Their grandparents started Islas Canarias, the shrine of Cuban comfort food revered for its croquetas. Their parents picked up the flag. It's on their sage advice that Eileen and Jonathan opened Finka — a funky spelling for the Spanish word for "farm" — located way out in the western part of the county and offering a comforting blend of Peruvian-Korean-Cuban gastropub fare. While gastropubs are a dime a dozen on the east side of town, Finka has a monopoly on it out here, and crowds line up nightly for cast-iron cazuelas of pulled lamb and soft-cooked corn masa, Cuban bibimbap, and those famous croquetas that the Andrades brought over from Islas.
La Fresa Francesa Petit Café
59 W. Third St., Hialeah; 786-717-6886; facebook.com/lafresafrancesa
Hialeah isn't lauded for culinary excitement beyond the sea of croquetas and fritas. So you could almost hear the collective gasp when La Fresa Francesa Petit Café opened in May 2015 near a canal that slices diagonally along the city's southern edge. Inside, washed-out farm chairs seem to dance around doily-lined bistro tables to the intoxicating French crooning often reserved for tourists at Montmartre. A gossamer curtain separates co-owner Sandy Sanchez, a 39-year-old Hialeah native, and the 30-seat dining room from her beau, 38-year-old Benoît Rablat, who mans the kitchen. He's also the inspiration for the place's name — "The French Strawberry" — which stems from a baby picture. He turns out precise French café fare while keeping in mind the neighborhood bustling outside. The aptly named "Un Cubano in Paris" is a case in point. A pork shoulder is soaked in milk and rubbed with garlic and paprika before a four-hour braise in white wine. Creamy, silken shreds of it are layered onto fluffy rolls from Los Angeles' La Brea Bakery. Pickled red onions strike the eye with a brilliant magenta before hitting the palate with Dijon mustard's piquant snap. It's risky in this part of town to serve shredded pork with anything other than chopped onion, crisp skin, and mojo, but the pair at La Fresa Francesa says the opportunity to set up shop in Hialeah was too good to pass up.
1874 Bay Rd., Miami Beach; 786-717-7274; lamoderna-miami.com
From the get-go, La Moderna has offered a different kind of Italian — not pizza or pasta, but the florally, astringent cocktails becoming increasingly popular in Rome. Smartly mixed libations hide behind kitschy names like Thelma & Louise and Dr. Strangelove. The former blends hibiscus-infused Aperol with smoky Brugal rum, fresh strawberries, coconut soda water, and just the right amount of prosecco to brighten up what would otherwise be an overly assertive tumbler. The latter is a perfect hot-weather drink, with eucalyptus, St-Germain's perfume, and absinthe's anise to enliven Martin Miller's gin. They pair perfectly with a panzanella salad featuring more than a half-dozen plump shrimp tangled among frisella bread — twice-baked loaves from Naples that are soaked in vinegar and tossed with tomato and celery curls. The foot-wide Neapolitan pies can also hold their own.
Made in Italy Gourmet
10 NE 27th St., Miami; 786-360-5671; madeinitalygourmet.com
This market/wine bar in Wynwood is a place to taste, live, and share the feeling of what it's like to be in Italy. Made in Italy carries 18 types of cured meats that can be sliced to order. There are also 22
210 NE 18th St., Miami; 305-374-4635; mignonettemiami.com
Mignonette, an oyster
134 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-542-5070; niukitchen.com
Tucked into a narrow, pocket-size space on a downtown Miami street that all but empties at night, Niu Kitchen is a speck of Barcelona in Florida. Operated by Karina Iglesias — who worked for Kris Wessel at Red Light Litte River — and Barcelona native Deme Lomas, Niu offers an unconventional spin on Spanish tapas inspired by the wildly creative cuisine of Catalonia. Though Lomas doesn't go as far as famous Catalan chefs such as Ferrán Adrìa and Santi Santimaría, there is a cold tomato soup with a scoop of spicy mustard "ice cream." Niu excels best with dishes like homemade butifarra — a juicy Spanish sausage — and poached eggs floating in an ethereal bath of potato foam with truffle and jamón ibérico. The pair, along with partner Adam Hughes, chose the slightly shady neighborhood due to a slim bankroll. Let's hope it's the beginning of a trend.
9860 Bird Rd., Miami; 305-631-2038; pinchofactory.com
From the epic pastelito burger (a beef patty topped with cheese and pressed between two pastelitos for $8, May only) to the kosher beef Cartel dog (topped with chopped bacon, melted cheese, mango sauce, potato sticks and pink sauce for $4.99), Westchester's Pincho Factory cooks up all kinds of creative, meaty concoctions. Crowds flock for the burgers, hot dogs, and Sunday brunch offerings. Hungry diners can visit Pincho’s Coral Gables location or their outpost at AAA Arena. A Hialeah restaurant is opening later this fall.
Proof Pizza & Pasta
3328 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 786-536-9562; proofpizza.com
Formerly the executive sous-chef at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak, Justin Flit opened Proof Pizza & Pasta in midtown because the neighborhood's "cool" factor was the ideal setting for the casual, inviting, anti-Italian restaurant he's always envisioned owning. Though nearly everything at Proof has Italian undertones, the executive chef and owner is adamant about serving the kind of seasonal cuisine he and his fellow cooks are accustomed to. If you can, grab a seat on the enclosed terrace; it's calm, cozy, and candlelit. Among the best selections is the homemade angel hair pasta featuring crab, Calabrian chilies, and lemon breadcrumbs; the flavorful meat of the shellfish pairs perfectly with the acidic lemon, while the spiciness adds a kick. Five pizzas are proffered, including the perfectly pulled-together oxtail pie. What Proof does best — and it's no small feat — is serve crowd-pleasing, flavorful food that's not cloying in the least. The 70-seat eatery also boasts a relaxed, warm ambiance with prices the youthful neighborhood can appreciate.
1501 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-340-3333; qualitymeatsmiami.com
The family behind Quality Meats Miami, Fourth Wall Restaurant Group's first foray outside New York City, is something of steak-house royalty. They opened the first Smith & Wollensky in the late 1970s, and although they cashed out decades later, they couldn't stay away from the meat-heavy format. But Quality Meats Miami Beach isn't your grandfather's steak house. Diners are plied with charcuterie "bouquets" and house-cured bacon chops paired with a slather of chunky peanut butter and tart, spicy apple-jalapeño jelly. Desserts stray from the trite molten lava cake and toward the whimsical world of burnt-marshmallow ice cream layered with graham crackers and flecked with dark-chocolate nibs. But at the heart of it all rests the meat. Cuts like the tomahawk rib chop are blasted in an infrared broiler and served with a swooping bone. They quickly grab the dining room's attention, which, after all, is why everyone is here in the first place.
Schnebly Redland's Winery, 30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead; 305-242-1224; schneblywinery.com
Venerable chef Dewey LoSasso takes full advantage of the fact that his restaurant shares real estate with a tropical fruit winery and a brewery. LoSasso repurposes spent grains from the beers into tabbouleh salads and rye
Vagabond Restaurant & Bar
7301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-409-5635; vagabondrestaurant.com
At the Vagabond Restaurant & Bar, Alex Chang serves chapulines — grasshoppers sourced from Mexico that are boiled, sun-dried, and roasted in garlic and chilies before they're vacuum-packed and sent north. Such is what's now expected of the 25-year-old Chang, who became a quasi-culinary celebrity after he appeared in a documentary about an illegal restaurant he ran with a college roommate. Now in his first chef role following stints in top restaurants around the world, Chang deploys smartly composed dishes that feature sweetbreads and beef hearts alongside more traditional items like seared wahoo and ricotta gnocchi. All prove he has the potential to go from a flash in the pan to a longstanding staple.
Zak the Baker
405 NW 26th St., Miami; 786-347-7100; zakthebaker.com
Zak the Baker's Wynwood Bakery & Café is a perfect addition to Wynwood. Once an industrial part of the city, this bakery with a seating area is one part café, three parts commercial kitchen. In the front, happy diners chat and eat open-faced sandwiches and soups at rustic tables set up with fresh flowers. In the back is a busy bakery, where Zak Stern and his team mix dough and form loaves to sell. It's a labor of love, and it shows in the baked goods, which are displayed on the counter. Loaves are $6 each, and the day's offerings included a Jewish rye, a plum fennel and rye, and a country wheat. Daily food offerings are listed on a chalkboard. There's a soup, several sandwiches, a salad, and some other bites. Everything is based on what's freshly available. What you won't find is meat — Zak the Baker is strictly kosher, so the menu comprises dairy, vegetable, fish, and egg dishes.