Azabu
Azabu
Photo courtesy of DeepSleep Studio

Miami Restaurants to Watch in 2018

1-800-Lucky. Since opening in November 2017, this 10,000-square-foot mix of seven restaurants, two bars, a karaoke room, and a small convenience store/record shop has drawn crowds unseen until recently even in Wynwood, the city's trendiest food and culture hub. Make your way around the hall and start with an order of dumplings; add a few hand rolls, a bánh mì sandwich, and a few beers, and you'll pay closer to $50 for a meal without the traditional trappings of wait service and a guaranteed seat. Don't forget the New York-based Taiyaki, which offers exotic ice-cream flavors such as black sesame and green tea in whimsical fish-shaped cones. 143 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-768-9826; 1-800-lucky.com.

222 Taco. Taco and tequila veteran Anna Robbins' 222 Taco in North Bay Village is a Miami Vice-colored palace of tortillas and margaritas. Tacos are categorized by "Land," "Sea," and "Jardin." All — including traditional items such as carne asada and al pastor — are delicious, but it's the veggie tacos that will win you over. Cauliflower al pastor has the sweet and acidic flavor without the guilt, and hongo alambre possesses a lovely earthiness. The restaurant even offers vegan queso and crema. Wash everything down with a 222 slushy margarita, a delightful frozen drink that's best described as a passionfruit piña colada with a liberal dose of tequila. 1624 79th St. Cswy., North Bay Village; 833-222-8226; 222ta.co.

Amara at Paraiso. Michael Schwartz's Amara at Paraiso is beautifully set on Biscayne Bay. Located in Miami's Edgewater neighborhood, the 4,500-square-foot dining room boasts indoor and outdoor seating, all with a waterfront view. The James Beard Award-winning chef, best known for his Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, calls Amara at Paraiso a "love letter to Miami." But the restaurant offers more than an exceptional location — the food is equally satisfying. The menu includes Latin American-influenced dishes cooked using a wood grill and a Josper charcoal oven. Standouts include crispy octopus with braised yuca and a parrillada of short rib, chorizo, sweet breads, and steak. 3101 NE Seventh Ave., Miami; 305-702-5528; amaraatparaiso.com.

Azabu. A Michelin-starred concept from New York City, Miami's Sushi Azabu is as swanky as they come. In addition to a large main dining room, you'll find a snazzy cocktail bar and "The Den," a hidden sushi counter behind the kitchen. Azabu's fare is largely cooked on a robata, a Japanese charcoal grill. It's served izakaya-style, where guests order a variety of small, sharable items served when ready. The menu includes yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer); fried rice served tableside on a sizzling toban-yaki (ceramic) plate; sukiyaki (fried meat with vegetables and sauce); and a variety of udon noodles. 161 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 786-276-0520; azabuglobal.com.

Boulud Sud. The latest Miami venture by Daniel Boulud, the James Beard Award-winning French chef and restaurateur, Boulud Sud takes the place of DB Bistro Moderne, his former restaurant in the same space. Here, he serves a modern interpretation of his cuisine in a reenergized and decidedly more glamorous atmosphere. It's his way of adapting to a more casual dining culture without compromising quality. Begin a meal with a mezze platter filled with two lightly fried herb falafel and a handful of crisp crackers ready to plunge into a spicy Moroccan hummus and an eggplant baba ghanouj. Then opt for the chicken tagine, showered in a blend of North African spices, from coriander to cardamom, followed by a warm basket of madeleines for dessert. 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami; 305-421-8800; bouludsud.com/miami.

Casa Tua Cucina. Casa Tua Cucina, which opened quietly inside Saks at Brickell City Centre in January, offers an array of choices for hungry shoppers craving Italian-style sustenance. The 300-seat space includes ten dining stations, each with a different chef at the helm and all sharing a kitchen. It's also family-friendly, with a causal atmosphere and affordable prices. Throughout the market, visitors can also find artisan products available to take home. All of the items were carefully chosen from smaller producers, including a coffee imported from Naples, Italy, and an abundance of Italian olive oils and jars of honey from Key West. 70 SW Seventh St., Miami; 305-755-0320; casatuacucina.com.

Chotto Matte. The Peruvian-Japanese eatery, which is based in London, opened on the west end of Lincoln Road with sake dragon rolls and yuca frita. Serving lunch, happy hour, and dinner, Miami Beach's Chotto Matte offers a mix of robata dishes; sushi and sashimi; tempura and sautéed items; and various small plates such as ceviche, guacamole with yuca chips, and pork, shrimp, and yuca dumplings. For dessert, indulge in mochi ice cream in flavors such as mango, Thai basil, green tea, and vanilla and chocolate chip. Or consider the Ecuador 64: two scoops of vanilla ice cream doused in hot chocolate sauce. 1664 Lenox Ave., Miami Beach; 305-690-0743; chotto-matte.com/miami.

JWB Prime Steak & Seafood. Forget cheeseburgers in paradise. At the Margaritaville Beach Resort, you can get a perfectly seared prime bone-in rib eye, local spear-caught fish, and a homemade banana cream pie that's better than your mom's. The 142-seat steakhouse is named JWB after the hotel chain's founder, James William Buffett himself. It's the kind of place where servers dressed in starched white shirts, crustacean bow ties, and permanent smiles will place the napkin in your lap, polish your wine glass before pouring, and remove the salad fork after the first course. Accessible to resort guests and locals alike, the establishment offers a decidedly luxe dining experience backed by a contemporary menu of fresh seafood, raw bar items, and prime steaks paired with a book's worth of world-class wines and another one for signature, handcrafted cocktails. Here, the focus is on the seafood, an entire program dedicated to sourcing the freshest fish possible. Rather than offer simple line-caught fish, JWB employs a team of local spear fishermen tasked with sourcing the day's fresh catch, prepared simply with nothing but a touch of salt, pepper, and olive oil and served with a side of seasonal vegetables. 1111 N. Ocean Dr., Hollywood; 954-874-4444; margaritavillehollywoodbeachresort.com.

La Centrale. Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts. Your flight to Florence via Capri, Sicily, and Rome is about to depart. That's what a visit to La Centrale, the three-level food hall celebrating all things Italian, simulates. On the first floor, choose from Italian pastries such as cannoli and torta della nonna. Perhaps more to your liking is a wood-fired pizza that rivals the best in Napoli. On the second floor, have a negroni or an Aperol spritz at the apéritif bar before enjoying charcuterie or langoustines flown in from the Mediterranean. On the third floor, you'll find a wine cellar, where you can enjoy a red made from the fertile and volcanic soil of Sicily or a white that's as crisp and bright as a spring morning in Amalfi. Brickell City Centre, 601 S. Miami Ave., Suite 181-C, Miami; 305-720-2401; lacentralemiami.com.

Le Chick. Here, chicken makes up a large part of the menu, along with side dishes such as onion rings and five kinds of fries. In addition to rotisserie chicken, there is a rotating burger of the month and fried chicken. Le Chick's version is brined overnight for 12 hours and then soaked in buttermilk before being fried with a special spice mix. Customers can enjoy their food and drinks in the dining area overlooking an open kitchen, in the indoor bar and lounge, or on the patio. 310 NW 24th St., Miami; 786-216-7086; lechickmiami.com.

Planta
Planta
Photo courtesy of Planta

Monkitail. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Schulson brings his modern Japanese fare to Hollywood with the opening of Monkitail. Schulson's menu is a contemporary take on the classic izakaya, featuring sharable small plates and sushi as well as an array of specialty cocktails and sake. Surrounding an open robatayaki kitchen in the heart of the restaurant is a 15-seat sushi bar and a private dining area overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Tucked away beyond Monkitail's main dining room is Nokku, a discreet cocktail lounge with four private rooms, each having full karaoke capabilities. 3555 S. Ocean Dr., Hollywood; 954-602-8755; monkitail.com.

Novikov. Novikov Miami is the first U.S. outpost of the Japanese-Chinese fusion eatery, with locations in London, Moscow, and Dubai. In Miami, the menu boasts 17 sections with dozens of plates. Robata items are perhaps some of the heartier fare on the menu. The Wagyu skirt steak, asparagus with soy sauce, and corn on the cob all arrive with a nice char. But the show-stopper is the Peking duck. The crisp foie gras version is like a meaty duck potato chip, and for an extra $90, it comes topped with caviar, making it the most expensive item on the menu. 300 S. Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-489-1000; novikovmiami.com.

Palat. Italian eatery Palat opened in January 2018. Chef/owner Pippo Lamberti offers a small but robust selection of plates, including charred octopus with artichoke and rosemary pesto and beet ravioli complemented by goat cheese and hazelnuts. Lamberti, who hails from a family of restaurant owners in the Northeast, worked at Café Boulud in Palm Beach before launching Palat. The restaurant is located on a quiet street corner and features a large dining room that flows onto a patio. For now, weekend evenings tend to be busiest. Begin with a few crostini, prepared using Sullivan Street Bakery bread and topped with eggplant and truffle, or steak tartare with horseradish and egg. As for entrées, don't miss the sea-urchin/squid-ink pasta with crabmeat, one of Palat's most popular items. Mussels in a white-wine reduction with crème fraîche are another popular choice. 4702 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-953-7577; palatmiami.com.

Palmar. Following a split with Phuket "Cake" Thongsodchaveondee, restaurateurs Javier Ramirez and Leo Monterrey debated what to do with their space on NW 29th Street in Wynwood. They considered keeping a Thai kitchen but eventually settled on classic renditions of Cantonese fare in an area where Richard Hales' Blackbrick Chinese has long been the lone option. Highlights from Palmar's menu include a pair of pork buns either steamed or baked, as well as fried rice, Mongolian beef, and crispy prawns. 180 NW 29th St., Miami; palmarmiami.com.

Planta. New England Patriots superstar Rob Gronkowski (AKA Gronk) and Hollywood hottie Mark Wahlberg flexing together in a rooftop garden? Yes, please. That's Planta. David Grutman of LIV fame is the man behind SoFi's hottest new spot — a plant-based paradise for celebrities, influencers, and Miami's sexiest so-and-so's. Cousin to Planta Toronto, the alluring, tropical-inspired restaurant is already drawing a sizable following. The menu is extensive and on the culinary cutting edge, offering impressively creative dishes such as ahi watermelon nigiri, melt-in-your-mouth cauliflower tots, an omnivore-inspired meat lover's pizza, and a trofie pasta with truffled mushroom bolognese and almond Parmesan. 850 Commerce St., Miami Beach; 305-397-8513; plantarestaurants.com.

Point Royal. Sitting on the ground floor of the Diplomat Beach Resort, Point Royal is billed as coastal American, the type of place you can stop by for a burger and beer or for some oysters and a glass of wine. Once the site of the hotel's breakfast buffet room, the restaurant is a place you might expect panoramic ocean views. But instead, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a crowded patio. If you dine at night, it's dark, so the lack of view doesn't matter much. The decor evokes Old Florida, Cuba, and the galley of a yacht. Paneled walls look like a boat's hull, tiny tables are etched with compass designs, and massive potted trees and plants arch over tables and doorways. When it comes to the food, certain aspects are recognizable: generous and complimentary bread service, a plethora of crudo options, handmade pastas, and soups. Where Point Royal really hits its stride is the more entrée-like dishes. The shrimp-and-grits main course isn't reinvented, just executed beautifully. Head-on shrimp are cooked to tender perfection, mixed with a homemade shrimp-and-swordfish sausage, and set atop a creamy bed of grits. The dish is a reminder you don't need to do new things if you do old things right. 3555 S. Ocean Dr., Hollywood; 954-602-8750; pointroyal-fl.com.

St. Roch Market. On a cool Friday evening, stylishly dressed crowds scurry up an escalator toward St. Roch Market. The 10,000-square-foot food hall holds 12 distinct food and drink concepts. You can sample house-made Italian ravioli, wolf down a bowl of spicy ceviche, and slurp a few oysters on the half-shell. The idea is based on the successful flagship of the same name in New Orleans. Start with a drink before dinner at the Mayhaw, which serves tiki cocktails made with fresh juices and mixers. Then try gnocchi-like spinach dumplings called gnudi toscani at Dal Plin or 25-hour-brined fried chicken served on a cheddar-chive waffle at Coop. Finish with a slate of vegan desserts such as sprinkle doughnut holes and frozen matcha at Chef Chloe and the Vegan Cafe. Palm Court, 140 NE 39th St., #241; 786-542-8977; miami.strochmarket.com.

Steak 954. The steakhouse, located inside the W Fort Lauderdale, is decked out in natural and citrus tones, a perfect accompaniment to the deep greens and blues of the Atlantic right outside the dining room's windows. Order a barrel-aged Manhattan as you peruse the menu of beef from boutique ranches. An eight-ounce filet is seared on a 1,700-degree range, allowing it a beautiful char on the outside while the inside stays a cool pink. It's as damn near perfect as a piece of meat can get. A 16-ounce Wagyu rib eye will cost you $85 — pricey, but one bite of the marbled, succulent flesh and you'll know this is money well-spent. Of course, a steakhouse is also judged by its sides, and Steak 954 doesn't disappoint. Enjoy, indulge, and don't worry about falling into a meat coma. Just get a room at the hotel and sleep it off in a state of carnivorous bliss. 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-414-8333; steak954.com.

The Surf Club Restaurant. 9011 Collins Ave., Surfside; 305-768-9440; surfclubrestaurant.com. At the Surf Club Restaurant, a ritzy remake of a 1930s classic, prices and quality are among Miami's highest. Located in a completely rebuilt Mediterranean revival-style resort in Surfside, the restaurant stands just a few blocks from the ritzy Bal Harbour. The original inn and eatery opened on New Year's Eve 1930 and quickly earned the nickname "Millionaires' Surf Club." It gained notoriety for its level of exclusivity and ability to attract the rich and famous, from the Rat Pack and Winston Churchill to Pulitzer-winning playwright Tennessee Williams and actress Elizabeth Taylor. Today the Surf Club Restaurant is run by one of the biggest names in American food, Thomas Keller. He remains the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from Michelin. Many of the entrées include high-priced meats, including the beef Wellington. It includes 48-hour braised short rib in a beef mousse, which is layered with a spinach and black truffle mushroom pâté and wrapped in a paper-thin crêpe. It's then bundled in thick brioche and placed in the oven for about a half-hour, which warms the center and produces an outer crisp. It's presented and sliced tableside on a wooden cart. The presence of one of America's best chefs is a testament to how far the Magic City's food scene has come in the past 20 years.

Three. At Three, Mango Gang legend Norman Van Aken cooks his signature Florida-fusion cuisine in a sleek and tropical space. The staff is disciplined, and the food is topnotch. But even more spectacular is the space. It's outfitted with midcentury-modern furnishings such as royal-blue velvet chairs and gold-trimmed black tables. They're streamlined and allow for diners to spread out while remaining close. Customers dining in pairs should opt for the three-course experience. Or leave it up to Van Aken and chef de cuisine Juan Garrido to choose the menu for a five-course tasting menu. 50 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-748-4540; threewynwood.com.

Vista. Vista's all-day menu includes a sweet grilled peach salad with stracciatella and toasted pine nuts and a daily rotating risotto. The gnocchetti arrives with a spring-green purée of poblano peppers and mint, garnished with a creamy parmigiana foam. Crushed pistachios give the dish added texture and an earthy, sweet finish. Other main courses range from a half roasted chicken and veal chop milanesa to an eight-ounce burger made with a blend of sirloin, brisket, and rib eye, garnished with portobello mushrooms, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomato spread. 5020 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-405-7547; vistamiamirestaurant.com.

Wabi Sabi by Shuji. Shuji Hiyakawa, former executive sushi chef of Kuro at the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood, brings Japan to Miami through his first solo venture, Wabi Sabi by Shuji. The Upper Eastside spot serves basic, ingredient-based Japanese sushi bowls, such as the Wabi Sabi, filled with tuna, salmon, crab, tobiko, cucumber, avocado, seaweed, and shiitake mushrooms. In addition, find daily specials, cooked fish, and six flavors of mochi ice cream, including matcha green tea and salted caramel. Hiyakawa offers high-end catering too. It's called shidashi, a Japanese word for "luxury sushi trunk," where he fills three-level boxes with an assortment of nigiri and rolls for $200. It feeds a few diners. Customers who bring their own bottle, bowl, or box receive $1 off their purchase. And those who bring back their shidashi box save $75 off their next order. 851 NE 79th St., Miami; 305-890-7228; wabisabibyshuji.com.

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