They say when one door closes, another one opens. That's certainly the case for Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata, the co-owners of Phuc Yea, which opened this past September 1 at 7100 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami's trendy MiMo District.
Meinhold and Zapata had just closed their other restaurant, the Fed (formerly the Federal Food Drink & Provisions), when they received their final certificate of occupancy for the restaurant that had basically been in the works for half a decade.
Meinhold mused on the serendipity of it all in a recent conversation. "It's funny, but our opening party for Phuc Yea happened on the fifth anniversary of the pop-up's opening."
Meinhold is referring to the original Phuc Yea, a pop-up restaurant that saw Meinhold and Zapata, along with then-partner Daniel Treiman, taking over a lunch restaurant at downtown Miami's Ingraham Building each night.
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Back then, the concept of a pop-up restaurant was new to South Florida. Long before the Broken Shaker, Eating House, and the Salty Donut popped up, the partners behind Phuc Yea diligently set up a makeshift restaurant nightly for several months. The eatery was a hit, drawing crowds for both the food and the concept.
Now the restaurant finally has a permanent home. The setting is a Vietnamese night market, complete with lanterns and distressed walls. Stenciled throughout the restaurant's various rooms are what look like license plate numbers. In fact, they're momentous dates in the lives of Meinhold and Zapata, such as the date of the opening of the original pop-up and birthdays of family members.
The menu has been expanded, and a full liquor bar has been added to complement the food, but some things remain. Chef Zapata continues turning out innovative dishes, and the crowds have followed this couple's culinary trajectory.
Phuc Yea features an extensive raw bar that includes a crudo of jellyfish, passionfruit, sesame, chilies, and garlic chips ($10).
Noodles and rolls play a significant part in the menu. The mama roll ($8) is filled with Chinese sausage, jícama, cucumber, dried shrimp, and peanuts. The veggie roll ($8) is perfect for vegans, but carnivores should go for the crispy imperial roll ($7): It's filled with shrimp, pork, crab, wood ear mushrooms, carrots, and jícama and comes with a box of lettuce and herbs. Wrap the roll in the lettuce (don't forget to include some mint or garlic sprouts), and eat. The greens are the perfect fresh foil to the fried roll.
Chinese baby bok choy ($9), eggplant curry ($16), and crispy tofu ($9) will make vegetarians happy.
The big deal at the restaurant is likely to be the Cajun wok (market price). First, choose your seafood protein (crawfish, a daily crab, Gulf shrimp, or Florida clams); then select your "sauss" (Cajun, green curry, garlic butter, or chili garlic). The wok is actually a large pot that arrives at your table. The day's crab, with baby-soft shells, were accompanied by corn, potatoes, and andouille sausage. There's no way to eat this dish politely with a fork, so just dig in.
Phuc Yea hands out gloves for this reason. It's a little strange, and you might feel a bit like Dexter while eating, but the gloves work. The restaurant also hands out warm towels and lemon to freshen up after your wok.
The winner is the lobster caramel (market price). A lobster is glazed with fish sauce caramel and split. Again, the best way is to dig into it with your fingers, perhaps prompting your dining partner to liken herself to Daryl Hannah's mermaid in Splash. Once again, forget decorum and dig in.
Pair your lobster with a Le Mai Tai. This take on the classic is made with Ron Diplomático añejo, Velvet Falernum, orgeat, holy basil, and lemon. If you're into something boozier, the French Quarter — made with High West double rye, walnut liqueur, sherry, and bitters — is your drink. All specialty cocktails cost $12, making them go down quite smoothly.
Phuc Yea is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Friday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Happy hour is Thursday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m., and brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.