In Doral, the housing is affordable, sprawling shopping complexes for everything you could ever want abound, and the food is plentiful. It ain't fancy or full of itself, but it encapsulates everything that's great about eating in Miami.
There’s a massive array of inexpensive spots representing a broad swath of Latin American countries. Es no importa what you’re craving — Doral has it. Even better is that it's all served in approachable, family-run places. No attitudes, no fussing, just a place to grab a great meal before you venture back out to face the world.
This mostly Venezuelan-themed spot, which opened in late 2014, applies Chipotle-style ordering to the hedonistic, gut-busting world of arepas and cachapas. In the morning, pack an arepa ($6.49) with egg, followed by a choice of guayanés cheese, shredded or grilled queso blanco, or Gouda. Then decide whether to add chicken, beef, pork, or bacon. Besides all the fillings, the arepas themselves are objects of beauty.
Owner Hiroshi Horai earned a loyal following for the highly seasonal, multicourse kaiseki meal he served at Coral Gables favorite Su-Shin Izakaya. Many of his fans followed when he left and opened Doral's Maido more than a decade ago. Though he serves all of the classic Japanese fare, like the sticky fermented soybeans called natto, it's the kaiseki menu you want. Be sure to order it a few days in advance. What's most important is securing the best of each season's products. For Horai, winter means lotus root, daikon radish, and lily bulbs, along with squid, octopus, and abalone. Summer means tender young bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, and young tofu. They are used in little dishes such as snapper preserved in seaweed, bamboo shoots simmered with bonito flakes, and Japanese whiting fried in tempura with burdock root and verdant matcha tea.
On weekdays, the parking lot at a Doral gas station on 107th Avenue grows strangely full. The office crowd is here for the guilty pleasures at Pepito’s Plaza. Think mountainous parrilladas ($9) stacked with grilled chicken and steak, sprinkled with a flurry of potato sticks, and layered with the rich, tangy avocado relish guasacaca, which is a favorite in Venezuela. For the brave with distended bellies, there’s the Doralzuela burger ($12). A bun is covered with a tower of beef, chopped grilled chicken, and thick-sliced ham. A fried egg, an avocado crescent, and a smattering of potato sticks are piled on top for good measure. Anthony Bourdain blessed this place with a visit on a recent episode of his CNN show Parts Unknown. Let's hope all the buzz won’t ruin things for the lunch crowd. It’s a grab-eat-and-go kind of spot, but it can take some time to wolf down all of that meat.
Some restaurants tell you they're great in strange ways. At the temple of swine that is La Esquina del Lechón, they do it with the bread service, and a butter-soaked basket of pansito arrives paired with fatty, juicy hunks of chicharrón. From there, things only get better. The pan con lechón ($7.45/$9.45) is a symphony of savory textures, with ample bits of pork skin peeking out through shreds of luscious shoulder meat. On Sundays, show up early when the place rolls out a whole roasted pig. Arriving patrons stand outside to pay their somber respects.
Despite its association with the Donald, the Trump National Doral Miami’s BLT Prime can’t be stopped. It’s a classic American steakhouse with gorgeous views of the club’s daunting golf courses. The menu was designed by Dustin Ward, who has cooked in the kitchens of superstars José Andrés and Gordon Ramsay. Yet this one stays away from cutting-edge modernity and instead is a luxuriously appointed temple of beef. The flip side of the placemats offer a butcher’s diagram of the holy cow. There are fewer better ways to enjoy it than with the 22-ounce bone-in rib eye that arrives in a cast-iron skillet cooked to a just-bloody-enough medium-rare with a glorious, crunchy char. Consider the column of unctuous marrow nestled into a roasted shin bone dessert.
Las Mercedes Cafeteria
8199 NW 54th St., Doral 305-591-9311
On weekends, this pint-size cafeteria amid Doral's unending rows of warehouses turns into a boisterous party. The big black drum that sits out front is packed full of coals, and 55-year-old Manuel Lopez lays on hulking slabs of pork ($17) and beef ribs ($12.50). You can grab an order to go with sides such as supercrisp tostones or rich black beans. But Las Mercedes has more to offer, including a rich, piquant goat stew called chilindron de chivo ($13.99). Lopez’s wife, Denise Paredes, rules the floor with an iron fist but also imparts to the menu her favorite Nicaraguan recipes, like baho ($10), a Central American cousin of Italy's timpano. The layers of yuca, plantains, and shredded beef brisket on a banana leaf wrap are ordered by regulars weeks in advance.
Los Bobos is Doral’s family-run, decades-old standard-bearer of Cuban cafeteria classics. Simple, hearty working-class specials will keep you and your pocket full through the day. They open at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. and usually call it quits by 3 p.m. weekdays, so plan accordingly. Start with a pan con tortilla, which rings in at $4.50, as does the Rosy, with a fried egg, grilled ham, bacon, and cheese on white bread. The medianoche ($5) comes on ultra-eggy sweet bread and stands among the city’s best. If ham seems too much, opt for the always reliable $3 pan con lechón.
Miami is covered in Central and South American restaurants. Though Doral is best known for hefty Venezuelan influence, Mi Lindo Ecudaor offers a hint of the Andean foothills amid a sea of arepas and cachapas. Try the bolon mixto ($6), a mofongo-style meatball that blends green plantain, shrimp, and chicharrones. Or go for the empanada de verdes ($3), filled with an aggressively seasoned mash of green plantains. Keep the theme going with bollo de pescado ($9.63), which packs mashed green plantains, peanuts, tomato, coriander, and fish in a banana leaf that’s steamed and served like an ultra-hearty tamale.
3655 NW 107th Ave., Doral 305-592-6191
Arepas and cachapas are the obvious choice for most gringos in search of Venezuelan munchies, so many places overlook the patacón, a specialty of Zulia in Venezuela's far northwestern reaches. The dish means several things across Central and South America, but Doral's La Coriana offers its best iteration for $6. A green plantain is unzipped lengthwise, pressed, and fried crisp. The kitchen treats it like bread, sandwiching shredded beef, cabbage, queso hecho a mano, and a garlicky white sauce between slabs. You’ll never look at those tostones sitting beside your lechón asado the same way again.
Once you step inside Dragonfly, the third location for the Gainesville-based ownership group, it's easy to see why the place is packed even at 10 p.m. It seems no accident that the sushi bar and binchotan grill are visible from nearly every seat in the house. The bar and grill, along with the hot kitchen, offer an extensive menu of items and a concise list of fish offered as sashimi or nigiri. The kitchen shows off a deft hand with hot fish preparations, which is especially obvious in the shio saba ($14). A plentiful salted mackerel fillet is cooked until juicy, highlighting the assertive, slightly oily flavor.
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