Restaurant Reviews

How Sunny's Steakhouse Went From Pandemic Solution to Miami's Favorite Outdoor Restaurant

Sunny's Steakhouse is a pandemic-born establishment that embraces the outdoors.
Sunny's Steakhouse is a pandemic-born establishment that embraces the outdoors. Photo courtesy of Sunny's Steakhouse
A lot of great Miami dishes, menus, restaurants, and pop-ups came out of COVID. With lockdowns and isolation came a deluge of innovation, with everyone from novice chefs to seasoned professionals making good on their dreams by thinking outside the box.

Among them all, Sunny's Steakhouse stands out.

Regulars know it as "that spot with the tree" in Miami's Little River neighborhood. Here, amid an open space where a single banyan tree serves as both a natural canopy and an eye-catching centerpiece, an outdoor restaurant has emerged as one of Miami's most beloved establishments.

And it wasn't even planned.

Sunny's cofounders, Will Thompson and Carey Hynes — also the masterminds behind the lobby bar spot Jaguar Sun — will tell you their upscale alternative take on the contemporary steakhouse is, and always will be, a work in progress.

What was launched as a casual taqueria to host pandemic-stifled patrons has slowly transformed into one of Miami's most alluring establishments, with a menu that runs the gamut from Parker House rolls and fluke crudo to hanger steak and a Wagyu strip.

"This is not a restaurant that was conceived, planned, and financed in a singular or linear way," Hynes tells New Times. "When we opened, we didn't know what it was supposed to be. With Jaguar Sun, we had to work pretty hard to convince people it's fun to hang out in a hotel lobby. With Sunny's, we ended up showing them a steakhouse could be more than a dark room with expensive meat."

Sunny's began as an "aha" moment in the midst of pandemic-related closures: It was a way to sell to-go drinks and food. But Thompson and Hynes quickly realized the physical manifestation of their vision and passion wasn't connecting with consumers the way it had at their intimate lounge, Jaguar Sun.

Jaguar Sun opened in downtown Miami in late 2018, a cozy, 14-seat bar and restaurant tucked into the lobby of the X Miami Apartments. Beloved for its short menu of pastas and crudos alongside expertly crafted cocktails, it quickly became a favorite of both locals and industry professionals while garnering awards like Eater's Bar of the Year 2018 and a nomination for Best New Bar at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards.

"The concept was really driven by our physical constraints, from a kitchen that was once a storage space to a dining room that was intended as a lobby," Thompson explains.

Where Jaguar Sun took an underutilized indoor space to create something special, Sunny's has done the same with what was once an empty field.

As with Jaguar Sun, the duo say many of their decisions about their new establishment came from not a lack of space but from the lack of a real kitchen. At Sunny's, a live fire factors into the steakhouse equation, cooking meat and fish, including a half-chicken, duck, striped bass, and, of course, the steaks.

Over the past few months, Sunny's has matured, graduating from pastel-painted picnic tables that embraced pandemic social distancing to comfy banquettes and white tablecloth-clad tables for a more polished restaurant experience.

The menu, too, has matured, with price points that accommodate anything from an affordable evening meal to an extravagant night out. A $5 basket of Parker House rolls and a $15 caesar salad pair well with the $34 hanger steak or $22 cauliflower steak, while market price oysters or stone crabs present a luxurious prelude to the $156 dry-aged rib eye. The cocktail list covers martinis, several takes on the manhattan, even a frozen tequila-spiked libation, all priced from $14 to $17.

"There are numerous ways you can interact with the restaurant," Thompson adds. "We love it when people come in for a martini and oysters one night, then a big night out with a few bottles of wine and a few entrées to share with a group. We're not trying to be everything for everybody, but it is the type of place where you can have a different type of night — from a casual night out to a big steak night dinner."

Here, it's the little things that make a meal worth savoring. Examples include a delicate endive salad accented with slivers of tart grapefruit and topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta, then finished with a fragrant tangerine olive oil and crushed pistachios; and condiments that include a truffle-scented périgourdine and the house pineapple-habanero hot sauce.

"Our guests want a sense of consistency that is often hard to find," Hynes sums up. "But we're continuing to grow and find new things, and continually make Sunny's what Miami wants and needs."

Sunny's Steakhouse at Lot 6. 7357 NW Miami Ct., Miami; Wednesday through Saturday 5 to 11 p.m.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna

Latest Stories