Since January, more than three dozen restaurants have opened across Miami-Dade County. Many include New York-based companies in search of a more business-friendly environment in which to reopen their doors to the public. Others are concepts that were put on hold owing to pandemic restrictions.
But these brick-and-mortar restaurants aren't the only ones with a story to tell. In the past year, numerous newbie chefs and ingenious entrepreneurs took to the kitchen, using the pandemic downtime to pursue their passion.
COVID-19 begat a flourishing Miami pop-up culture, one that allows you to sample everything from a (now SOBE-award winning) smash burger, ramen, and chicken wings to Neapolitan-style pizza and some serious Mexican street tacos.
These niche-inspired eats have popped up everywhere: in brewery parking lots, in restaurants willing to share their kitchens, at the newly opened Space Park, even at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival's Grand Tasting tent.
The dream, for many: Build enough momentum to take their vision to the next level, be it a food truck, a "permanent" pop-up, or brick and mortar.
"We're creating a movement of very talented people that lost jobs and began cooking to open these pop-ups," Luna Rossa Cucina chef/founder Juan Rozo tells New Times. "It's a beautiful thing. We get the best version of everyone, working together to create something new and amazing. We didn't surrender, and that's what makes Miami's dining scene so unique right now."
"I'd like to see these little pop-ups come up — work together to bring a venue to South Florida that showcases all these chefs," adds Teodoro "Ted" Armas, owner/chef of Ted's Burgers. "And change peoples' views that you can get some really good food out of a pop-up."
Below, listed in alphabetical order, are some of Miami's hottest new pop-ups (be sure to check Instagram accounts for weekly pop-up dates and times, which are subject to change).
When the pandemic hit, Miami native Jeffrey Budnechky's work as a freelance marketer came to a halt. A self-described backyard barbecue enthusiast, Budnechky took his ten years' worth of experience behind the grill and said, "F the apocalypse, let's just make barbecue." What began as a handful of orders for friends and family quickly turned into a small, thriving pop-up serving 20 patrons a day. Budnechky traded his two 22-inch Weber grills for a 125-gallon tank smoker, having spotted an opportunity to craft his own style of Florida barbecue that marries the flavors of his Brazilian-Argentinian roosts with his wife Lara's Cuban heritage. It begins with pulled pork smothered in a colada-infused barbecue sauce called oro negro. Smoked for eight hours, Budnechky's massive cafecito dino beef ribs are first dusted in a homemade coffee rub, then finished with a lacquering of that cafecito sauce. His four-hour, slow-smoked pineapple-express pork-belly burnt ends are braised until tender, then glazed in a guava-mango-habanero sauce. Only his Texas-style brisket walks the line of tradition. Sides are Lara's specialty: a simple choice of mac-and-cheese, cornbread, and baked beans. Brick and mortar is the dream, but for now a partnership with pop-up incubator Boxelder is where you'll find Apocalypse. Serving Saturday at Boxelder (2817 NW Second Ave., Miami) from 2 p.m. until sold out.
Cluckin' Right Chickeninstagram.com/cluckinrightchicken
When Miami doesn't do chicken wings to your liking, what do you do? Create your own pop-up wing shop, like Syracuse native Mathieu Saint-Louis. For the past ten years, Saint-Louis worked as a promoter in the South Beach nightclub scene. When the world shut down last winter, so did his job. Rather than sit around, Saint-Louis got cooking. During Super Bowl Sunday, he offered to fry up his favorite wing recipe for the public, joining fellow pop-up chef Juan Rozo in the Wynwood Brewing parking lot. That weekend he sold out of his 40-pound case (about 200 wings) and Cluckin' Right was born. Today, Saint-Louis says he goes through as many as six cases each week. His Syracuse-style wings start with the right raw material: plump, meaty wings that are hand-selected and -trimmed. The wings are brined and dredged in the chef's mix of flour, salt, and seasoning, then left to rest overnight to let the flavors soak into the meat before it's fried till the shell is thin and crisp, the meat beneath moist and tender. The wings arrive naked, and you'll do them a disservice if you don't try at least one that way. Then go ahead and dip or drown them in any of Saint-Louis' made-from-scratch sauces, including his take on honey mustard, barbecue, and a specialty Frankenstein sauce styled after his favorite wing sauce in Syracuse. Sweet and tangy with just a touch of heat, it's the perfect match for these babies. Catch Cluckin' Right every week as the resident pop-up at Wynwood Brewing. Serving Wednesday through Sunday at Wynwood Brewing Company (565 NW 24th St., Miami) from 4 p.m. to sold out.
Drinking Pig BBQinstagram.com/drinkingpigbbq
You'll find this pop-up down a one-way street in a North Miami-Dade neighborhood where a simple setup attracts diehard barbecue fans. Year-old Drinking Pig BBQ is a joint effort among Kyu executive chef Raheem Sealey and his wife, former Kyu chef Yohanir Sandoval, and former Kyu sous chef Mark Wint. Together, this trio took the pandemic downtime and turned it into a thriving backyard business, offering their takes on brisket, sausage, pork, and chicken. Touches of their combined cultural influences give each piece of meat a unique flair, from the sofrito- and thyme-infused rub to the secret seasoning blend in the handmade sausage. Sides include collard greens cooked in a stock made from smoked chicken bones and baked beans prepared with scraps of brisket and short rib. Don't miss Sandoval's cornbread, a cakelike treat that offers a sweet-and-salty take on the classic barbecue staple. Serving Friday through Sunday from noon to sold out at 845 NE 151st St., Miami.
Working at various Miami establishments over the course of his professional career, chef Victoriano Hernandez — known to fans and friends as "Chef Shaggy" — always found himself serving an Asian dish for his team's family meal. During the pandemic, Hernandez was lucky enough to have a job, but considerable downtime compelled him to take his talents to Union Beer Store, where he began experimenting with recipes he learned while working at Blackbrick Chinese, dreaming up his favorite Asian riffs via a pop-up he dubbed Haochi, a Mandarin word that translates as "yummy." These days, he's earned himself a new nickname: "Dumpling Meng." What began as an exploration of all things dumpling evolved into a Cantonese-and-Korean-inspired gastropub pop-up that’s grown into a flourishing catering business. As a pop-up, Haochi's menu features everything from sticky hoisin ribs and handmade edamame dumplings to beef-and-duck-fat gyoza and kimchi-stuffed croquetas. Serving at Union Beer Store (1547 SW Eighth St., Miami) Sunday through Wednesday from 4 p.m. until sold out.
If you love a good speakeasy, sake, and the intimacy of a private omakase, then you'll love this summer pop-up from chef Pedro Mederos. The chef's longtime passion for Japanese cuisine began at Single Thread Farm and Inn, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in California where he focused on kaiseki — Japanese haute cuisine. A Miami native, Mederos returned to South Florida in late 2019 to work under Alter's Brad Kilgore, and plans for his own menu were pushed to the back burner. All that changed in early 2020, when Mederos found himself with ample time to craft his own dishes and explore food fermentation projects with a Japanese twist. Today, his COVID-born concept has evolved into Kojin, a collaboration with Hachidori Ramen as the chef's reimagined take on Washoku-style Japanese dining. Hidden at the rear of this Little River restaurant, diners will find Kura Sake Bar, an intimate space that functions as the home of Mederos' speakeasy pop-up. Here, private tastings, chef collaborations, and omakase-style dinners are the focus, allowing fans the chance to experience the small, dimly lit space that instantly transports you to Japan. Kojin’s menu is dedicated to elevated small plates that range from raw bites and salads to hot plates and handcrafted desserts from pastry chef Katherine Randolph. The 12-seat bar also offers a variety of sakes, beer, wine, and specialty cocktails curated by ChatChowTV’s Gio Gutierrez. Serving at Hachidori Ramen (8222 NE Second Ave., Miami) Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from noon to midnight, now through mid-September.
Luna Rossa Cucinainstagram.com/lunarossacucina
During the pandemic, Miami resident Juan Rozo went from a new career path in the corporate business world to finding himself out of job a few weeks into lockdown. With nothing to lose, the former No Name Chinese chef seized the opportunity to master his longtime passion to tackle the art of pizza making. He began cooking from his Cutler Bay home, enlisting the help of friends and family to make local deliveries. The first stimulus check's arrival proved to be perfect timing: Rozo used it to invest in his first Roccbox pizza oven, allowing him to tackle the growing number of orders with nimble efficiency. The business went from homegrown to full-fledged pop-up in December 2020, when Rozo began peddling his pies every weekend to hungry patrons at Wynwood Brewing. These days, three ovens churn out Neapolitan-style pies in 90 seconds at Space Park's Trippy Market. The one thing that hasn't changed: Rozo still hand-rolls and stretches his dough to order. The menu consists of three core pies: a traditional margherita, pepperoni, and cacio e pepe. Keep an eye out for rotating specials that include Rozo's take on the Detroit-style square pie. Serving at Space Park's Trippy Market (298 NE 61st St., Miami) on Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. until sold out.
Panolo's Cuban Eatsinstagram.com/_panolos
Put longtime Union Beer Store bartender and marketing guru Adrian Castro on a deserted island and the one food he'd request: pan con bistec. Late-night college eats are part of the inspiration behind this self-taught chef's own take on the quintessential Cuban steak sandwich. What began as a way to provide food to Union patrons during the first phase of mid-pandemic reopening has evolved into a community pop-up serving up this nostalgic niche food to the beer-drinking masses. The menu's namesake item is Castro's perfect iteration of his favorite sandwich: slabs of fresh-grilled steak topped with raw onion, shredded fried hash browns in place of papitas, and fresh-baked local Cuban bread slathered in a house-made aioli. Over the past ten months, the sandwich has seen a number of one-off takes, from a pan con brisket to this month's feature special, the pan con croqueta. Don't miss out on the "Brita" — what the chef describes as a backyard cheeseburger-meets-frita served on Cuban frita bread from Pinocho Bakery, an old-school spot Castro has been frequenting since childhood. Pair it with Castro's picadillo, a family recipe passed down from his mother that's best when served as a flavorful, meaty topping over Panolo's loaded tater tots with sweet plantains. Serving at Union Beer Store (1547 SW Eighth St., Miami) on Thursdays from 4 to 11 p.m.
Harold Ruiz calls himself "a Miami-based kid making ramen," but this longtime chef has earned himself some serious soup-making chops since pursuing his passion during the pandemic lockdown. His Tokyo-style ramen starts with springy, chewy handmade noodles, added to various styles of broth so rich and flavorful you feel sated after just a few slurps. While most brick-and-mortar ramen spots peddle the familiar favorites — shoyu, tonkotsu, soy, miso — Ruiz is making lesser-known ramen styles you'd be hard-pressed to find on any Miami menu. Take his recent specialty bowl of gyokai tsukemen — a decadently rich and sticky pork-and-fish-based broth made especially for Miami's hardcore ramen fans. Love ramen, don't do meat? Ruiz's oat milk, miso, and mushroom-based vegan ramen is a must-try. Moving forward, Ruiz plans to offer easy on-the-go portions served in Styrofoam containers — an ode to everyone's favorite college meal of instant ramen. Be sure to arrive early to pop-up events announced via Instagram: Specialty bowls are made in small batches and sell out quickly. Serving at Union Beer Store (1547 SW Eighth St., Miami) on Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. or until sold out; and the last Sunday of each month at Over Under (151 E. Flagler St., Miami) from 6:30 p.m. until sold out.
In early 2020, former Yardbird Southern Table chef Teodoro Armas decided to start making burgers. The idea was born in his backyard, where his burgers were a hit with friends and family. Although he originally hoped to open a food truck, fate would take things a different route, and what began as a pop-up in the parking lot of an auto-parts store is now a smashing success in the one at J. Wakefield Brewing. These days you'll find Armas' weekend-only pop-up as a regular fixture at the Wynwood brewery, where hungry patrons line up for a taste of his "American classic" smash burger, prepared to order. With just a touch of salt for flavor, the hot griddle does the lion's share of the work, creating a beautiful meat lace sear that intensifies the flavor, allowing his custom blend to speak for itself. Finished on a Martin's potato roll, these single-, double-, or triple-stacked burgers are a simple — and nearly perfect — representation of the smash-burger art form. The South Beach Wine & Food Festival judges certainly thought so, awarding Ted's creation a Schweid Judges Award at the 2021 Burger Bash. Moving forward, look for rotating one-off's from his popular Cuban Cheeseburger, a Frita-style burger with beef and ground pork patties, American cheese, Cuban-style ketchup, and a pile of potato sticks to the OKC topped with thin-sliced fried onions and his special "T" sauce — even a special smash burger featuring ground Wagyu beef. Serving at J. Wakefield Brewing (120 NW 24th St., Miami), on Saturday from 2 p.m. to midnight or until sold out; and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. or until sold out.
The Wolf of Tacosinstagram.com/thewolfoftacos
Wolf of Tacos' Eduardo Lara remembers the first time he hosted a pop-up in his driveway. It was a rainy Tuesday night in a quiet Miami neighborhood, but people showed up. Over the past year, Lara's random late-night street taco pop-ups have grown in frequency. So, too, has word-of-mouth surrounding this 22-year-old chef's real-deal take on authentic tacos al pastor (it even propelled him to serve at this year's 2021 SOBEWFF Grand Tasting Village). For Lara, good tacos are a sacred thing. He envisions a specific experience: a dim lit street corner in Mexico, and the smell of pork in the air. Your tacos al pastor should be messy, he says, fat-slicked slivers of meat shaved directly from the trompo and piled onto a single corn tortilla. That philosophy applies across the board for his own take on street-style tacos, finished with homemade salsas and served alongside traditional crudités. Versions include suadero (a thin cut of beef from between the belly and the leg), longaniza (a Spanish sausage), and campechano (a combination of several meats, usually beef and pork, in one delicious package), as well as a savory vegan oyster mushroom cooked till it exhibits a meatlike texture and flavor. These aren't elevated tacos. They aren't fancy. They're just damn near perfect street fare. Find Lara cooking alongside chefs Janise Guyot-Cabana and Pablo Reyes at various pop-up events across Miami, and a weekly evening feature at J. Wakefield Brewing. Serving at J. Wakefield Brewing (120 NW 24th St., Miami) on Fridays from 6 p.m. until sold out.