Sixteen Miami Restaurants to Watch

Estefan Kitchen
Estefan Kitchen Courtesy of Felipe Cuevas for Estefan Kitchen

Arson. 104 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-717-6711; About four years ago, Barcelona native Deme Lomas visited Miami on vacation and decided to stay. He took up in the kitchen of Sunset Harbour's Barceloneta before opening Niu Kitchen with partners Karina Iglesias and Adam Hughes. The place, like José Andrés' Bazaar, helped refresh Spanish cuisine in Miami. Yet at Arson, Lomas' Josper-focused spot two doors down from Niu, he's trying to turn away from the gastronomy that bore him. He experiments with the thymus glands called sweetbreads, crisped how Argentines like to eat them. He's making baby-back ribs American-style and even concocting his own barbecue sauce. Hints of Asia and South America dot his one-page menu, which includes about 20 dishes. Still, Lomas can't completely turn his back on the cuisine of Barcelona, where he was born and raised. Each day, his mother would lay out a lunch that often included peppery gazpachos and a bounty of Spain's famed canned seafood, such as mussels, cockles, and meaty white tuna packed in olive oil. Sundays, she would prepare conejo al ajillo, for which a whole rabbit would be fried in olive oil and then submerged in white wine and cooked with handfuls of garlic and chilies.

Dizengoff. 250 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-573-9292; Michael Solomonov sees a bit of Tel Aviv in Wynwood. "The vibrancy, the excitement, the energy — there are a lot of synergies between them," the James Beard Award-winning chef says. That's the reasoning behind Solomonov bringing his Philadelphia-based Dizengoff to Miami. Named for Tel Aviv's main promenade, the intimate fast-casual restaurant is molded after an Israeli hummusiya. The menu is simple and affordable. For $10 (tax included), you can get a bowl of freshly made hummus served with a side of bright, crisp cucumbers, tomatoes, and pickles alongside a whole fluffy pita still warm from the oven. The meal is tangy and satisfying. With an extra pita ($1) and a hard-boiled egg ($1), one order is enough to share for a light lunch or snack. The restaurant is kosher-style, which means vegans can find multiple items to enjoy dairy-free as long as they steer clear of the meat offerings.

Ella's Oyster Bar. 1615 SW Eighth St., Miami; 786-332-4436; At first glance, Ella's Oyster Bar may be designed in a Cape Cod-hipster motif, but the decor only hints at influences that also include the Caribbean and Latin America. For just-shucked oysters, the selection is more modest than those at some other places, but Ella's boasts a delightful mignonette with red wine vinegar, which gives the tincture a sweeter, gentler bite that lends itself well to saltier oysters. The Little Havana clambake, large enough for two, is stocked with supple lobster, clams, head-on pink shrimp, and mussels. The brew begins with a light tomato water combined with sake, lemon juice, chives, and butter. Somehow it all emulsifies with the sweet oceanic liquor from the shellfish and the juice from chorizo to yield an assertively rich sauce that's also light as a breath of beach air.

click to enlarge Employees Only Miami - COURTESY OF EMPLOYEES ONLY
Employees Only Miami
Courtesy of Employees Only

Employees Only Miami. 1030 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 786-264-3945; Named one of the world's best bars at the annual Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Employees Only in New York City keeps its cool without pretense. Now comes Employees Only Miami, opened by one of the bar's original partners, Billy Gilroy. Walk inside a 1929 coral house on the grounds of the Washington Park Hotel and pass a fortuneteller to enter this dark lair of libation. Cocktails are divided into four categories: "Apéritifs," "EO Classics," "Fancy Cocktails," and "Cocktails" (most cost $16). Can't decide? Your bartender can choose for you. But if you want to be a Miami Beach baller, opt for the Billionaire, made with Bakers' bourbon, lemon juice, EO grenadine, and absinthe bitters. Be sure to order the bar's signature steak tartare, prepared to taste and served with toast and greens ($18). It's all part of a sophisticated evening — a touch of Manhattan in SoBe.

Estefan Kitchen. 140 NE 39th St.,Miami; 786-843-3880; Music royalty and hospitality veterans Gloria and Emilio Estefan envisioned a festive restaurant that would combine their love of food and music, and their latest concept does just that. Estefan Kitchen boasts a spacious dining room and two large U-shaped bars (one indoor and one outdoor), while next door is the casual grab-and-go Estefan Café. The menu is a combination of Gloria's grandmothers' traditional Cuban recipes and more modern dishes to please the calorie-conscious and gluten-free crowd. Chef Odell Torres is a native of Havana and has been at the helm of all of the Estefans' food concepts since 2013. An order of lechón crispy moros is not to be missed. Described by Torres as the perfect Cuban bite, the small plate offers a crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside cake composed of white rice and black beans. On top lies tender shredded pork enhanced with a bright cilantro dressing and a smidgen of honey and truffle oil. Named for the Estefans' personal chef, Miriam's special arroz con pollo features slow-braised chicken served alongside rice, green peas, and sweet plantains. The chicken is a little too sweet, although good enough, but the fragrant rice and toothsome plantains steal the show.

Ghee Indian Kitchen. 8965 SW 72nd Pl., Miami; 305-968-1850; Niven and Shivani Patel's much-anticipated restaurant in Dadeland, Ghee Indian Kitchen, has become one of Miami's hardest reservations. Ghee's dishes offer both a nod to the Patels' roots in Gujarat — India's lush, fertile westernmost state — and a way to broaden diners' horizons. There is a sizable offering of curries, as well as grilled items. The first section plies some familiar options, such as chicken tikka masala ($14) and house-made paneer cheese ($13) with green peas and fenugreek. Lamb kofta ($15) arrives with a quartet of delicate, perfectly cooked meatballs in a pool of rich sauce fortified with cashews, raisins, and spinach. The most alluring section, however, is the vegetables. Many of the recipes come from the Patels' parents, vegetarians who can be spotted overseeing and working in the kitchen. Sure, there's duck confit biryani ($14) and pork belly vindaloo ($18), but if Mom is eating lentils and eggplant, you want lentils and eggplant.

GLAM. 3301 NE First Ave., Suite 103-1, Miami; 786-864-0590. Todd Erickson is the executive chef at GLAM, short for "Green Living Animals Matter." The midtown restaurant marks the well-known toque's first foray into helming an exclusively vegan kitchen. Erickson isn't vegan, but the restaurant's vegan owner, Janette Miller, sought him out, and the two instantly connected. Miller recognized that Miami lacked an eatery serving elevated plant-based fare that was also approachable and affordable. The menu includes everything from chilled kelp noodles to a jackfruit taco al pastor alongside avocado miso toast, pear flatbread, and farro risotto. The place serves meticulously plated food, offers beer and wine, and has sleek, minimalist decor.

K Ramen Burger Beer. 150 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-534-7895; Down an ominous black staircase that once led to South Beach's beloved Bond Street Lounge awaits K Ramen Burger Beer, an Asian-inspired oasis that serves what has quickly become among Miami's best bowls of ramen. Better yet is that this anime/manga-inspired joint stays open late. Find fried chicken or pork belly sandwiches and a salmon skin salad with crisped shards of the fish's flesh and bright strands of tart green papaya that combine perfectly with the oily skin. Think French fries but better. Then comes the spicy black miso ramen. It starts with chicken carcasses, boiled with scallions and other aromatics to create a fragrant, delicate broth that by itself would suffice as the base of a fine chicken soup. Next comes a heroic dose of salty black miso that turns the brew an evil ebony hue. Chilies and cracked sesame seeds lend an alluring spice and a nutty flavor that pair smartly with the miso and cling to thin, chewy noodles. The place serves a strawberry-red lobster ramen founded on a fragrant seafood broth that overwhelms you with the salty smell of ocean water. Fat, sweet knobs of buttery tail meat fill out the dish and rest atop the thin, chewy noodles. So now, the next time the hunger pangs hit after a long night of drinking, you know where to go.

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New Times staff