Miami's Ten Best Restaurants of 2018

Lobster thermidor at the Surf Club Restaurant.
Lobster thermidor at the Surf Club Restaurant. Photo by Deborah Jones

The city has grown in a way few other places can claim.

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Miami has a complex. Though the city boasts vasts stores of wealth, energy, and creativity, they are rarely reflected on the national stage. Just look at the recent lists that pass over the Magic City's incredible eateries for places like diners and spots serving Puerto Rican country food.

That said, such lack of insight by those who love to visit and post pictures from Miami's beaches and vibrant neighborhoods shouldn't distract from what's really important. The city over the past decade has grown in a way only a few other places can claim. A vibrant farming community is developing, and Miami's chefs are constantly eating together and learning from one another and their businesses' trials and challenges. Finally, almost every restaurateur, chef, and cook composing the most exciting restaurants of 2018 comes from a different culture and background. Whether it's Will Thompson and Carey Hynes, who hail from New York, or Venezuela's Carlos Garcia, whose cuisine is a bulwark against the horrific news constantly coming out of his homeland, Miami is strengthened by its people, who each brings something amazing to make this weird place a better one each and every day.

Let's look back at the restaurants that played a role in enhancing the rich flavors of Miami in 2018.

Michael Campina

Captain Jim's Seafood Market & Restaurant

12950 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami

For years, David Garcia has carried his iconic fishing family's flag at Little Havana's La Camaronera, but his greatest challenge might have been getting this North Miami landmark back on its feet. After a $300,000 overhaul, regulars rushed back to the quaint place that was left mostly unchanged. At Captain Jim's, they found conch salad ($13.99), with meaty hunks of mollusk tossed in a spicy tomato marinade with precisely cubed bits of red and green pepper, alongside conch fritters and eye-poppingly fresh yellowtail snapper. .

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DEBORAH JONES
Photo by Deborah Jones

The Surf Club Restaurant

9011 Collins Ave., Surfside

Thomas Keller, of Per Se and French Laundry fame, had been reportedly looking to open a place in Miami for years. It makes good sense for any big-name chef given the number of clients from other cities who often tend to travel south throughout the year. At the Surf Club Restaurant, in a ritzy remake of a 1930s classic hotel, waiters are referred to as "captains," beef Wellington sells for $125, and reservations must be made weeks in advance for prime weekend hours. The kitchen is run by Manuel Echeverri, who most recently helmed José Andrés' Bazaar Mar and trained with Keller for six months. His staff turns out classic mid-20th-century cuisine such as lamb chops for $75, filet mignon for $85, and a New York strip for a whopping $115. On its face, the Surf Club Restaurant seems like a strange regression for Keller, who's known for breaking one barrier after another, but we must assume he knows what he's doing. 

click to enlarge Hiden - COURTESY OF BIEN / SH?WA HOSPITALITY
Courtesy of Bien / Sh?wa Hospitality


313 NW 25th St., Miami

At Hiden, a $150 reservation will get you 15 courses of fish flown overnight from Japan. The meal is offered twice per night six days a week in a quiet, unassuming, and impressively secret space. The two-hour experience — which is limited to eight diners and requires reservations — typically includes two cold appetizers, a soup, seven to eight sushi courses, a hot item, and dessert. 

Photo by Felipe Cuevas / Courtesy of Sixty10


6010 NE Second Ave., Miami

At this open-air, graffiti-covered Little Haiti spot, the organic chicken is rubbed with a secret Portuguese spice mix, brined overnight, and cooked for about two hours on a rotisserie. The rub is subtle enough not to overpower the chicken but adds a fine flavor with each bite. Only partner Claude Postel knows what goes into the secret blend, but it's at the heart of a simple, affordable place that offers a modest menu of chicken ($11.95) with sides such as caramelized-onion potatoes, curry salad, soup, and French fries. It's the kind of food you want to, and should, eat every day. 


50 NW 24th St., Miami

Culinary icon Norman Van Aken cooks his signature Florida-fusion cuisine in a sleek and tropical space. The staff is disciplined and the food is topnotch. It's the sort of fine dining that fans of this Mango Gang legend expect. Three is the first-large scale project from Van Aken and any Mango Gang member since he parted with downtown Miami's Tuyo. Downstairs, the menu changes as frequently as once a week and lists no prices. Diners are encouraged to choose three courses, one from each section, for a total of $65. Or they can leave it up to Van Aken and his kitchen for a $90 five-course tasting menu that could include a Thai garden salad, creamy cracked conch chowder, or a bay scallop aguachile. With all of the big names constantly looking to open in Miami, it's a treat and a relief to see one of the city's original culinary dons back in the mix. 

click to enlarge Obra Kitchen Table opened May 24 in Brickell. - COURTESY OF MIAMI CHEF
Obra Kitchen Table opened May 24 in Brickell.
Courtesy of Miami Chef

Obra Kitchen Table

1331 Brickell Bay Dr., Miami

Before opening in Miami, Carlos Garcia was best known for his restaurant Alto, which holds a spot on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants and remains open in Caracas despite political, economic, and social upheaval. Obra has quickly become a Brickell favorite thanks to its inventive takes on Venezuelan cuisine that includes classic arepas ($13); sticky, crisp rice infused with Parmesan cheese and topped with tender shrimp, scallops, and octopus ($34); grouper confit with a Basque pil-pil sauce ($33); and lamb tartare with avocado-based guasacaca juice and cured egg yolks ($19). 

click to enlarge ADAM DEL GIUDICE
Adam Del Giudice

Jaguar Sun

230 NE Fourth St., Miami

At Jaguar Sun, head barman Will Thompson is part bartender and part psychologist. A customer who orders the Jailbreak ($12) — which blends Russell's Reserve 10-year-old bourbon with Japanese whiskey, Haitian rum, coffee, and bitters — probably isn't a talker. The drinker who opts for a Very Strong Baby ($12) — a combination of Mexican rum, Calvados, strawberry Campari, vermouth, and black salt — is game. Combine Thompson's elegant hospitality with the bright, flavorful cuisine of chef/owner Carey Hynes, and the result is nothing short of magical. Just think about savoring a plate of country ham ($8) with a glass of manzanilla; a pristine cacio e pepe ($12); or campanelle with warm crab and saffron ($18). Such simple delights are a rare treat. 

Photo by Zachary Fagenson

Sushi Erika

1700 79th St. Cswy., North Bay Village

Miami eaters were shocked to learn in 2017 that Michio Kushi would close his beloved Sushi Deli. Thankfully, his daughter Erika, who was always by his side, has opened her own place right down the road. At Sushi Erika, you can find all of the classics, such as mackerel battera ($8.50) and the macadamia roll ($15.95), in a slightly enlarged space that still boasts a lengthy wait. Sidle up to the bar enough times and you might be able to persuade the chef to throw you a few pieces of off-menu nigiri that change with the seasons. 

Courtesy Babe Frohman

Babe's Meat & Counter

9216 SW 156th St., Palmetto Bay

For years, Melanie and Jason Schoendorfer's booth was one of the highlights at the Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market. There, they offered beautiful handmade bacon and sausage that only got better once folded into their sandwiches. This year, they took their humble operation to a brick-and-mortar facility. In it, find a panoply of sandwiches alongside whole butchered pigs, bacon-infused burgers, and a constantly rotating lineup of meats, particularly Wagyu beef, that will have you swearing off the shrink-wrapped stuff from Publix in no time. 

click to enlarge Amara at Paraiso - COURTESY AMARA
Amara at Paraiso
Courtesy Amara

Amara at Paraiso

3101 NE Seventh Ave., Miami

For years, the James Beard Award-winning Miami chef Michael Schwartz eschewed putting Latin dishes on his menus. But with Amara, Schwartz has penned what he's called a "love letter to Miami." The menu includes Latin American-influenced dishes cooked using a wood grill and a Josper charcoal oven. Standouts are crispy octopus with braised yuca ($21) and a parrillada of short rib, chorizo, sweetbreads, and steak, all meeting Schwartz's high standards for sourcing.
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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson