Thai fried rice stone pot with pork sausage. Click here for more photos from Kyu.
Thai fried rice stone pot with pork sausage. Click here for more photos from Kyu.

Wynwood's Kyu Delivers Fresh Asian Chow

There's no doubt about it. Kyu (pronounced like the letter q) is the hottest restaurant in Miami right now. This can be interpreted both literally and figuratively, because a sizable portion of the restaurant's menu is prepared on its wood-fired grill using a combination of Asian and American barbecue techniques. It's also extremely difficult to snag a reservation between 7 and 9:30 p.m. — regardless of the day.

Foreign tourists, retirees, and everyone in between seems to be dining at the Wynwood eatery that opened this past February in the former Shikany space.

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It's the brainchild of Michael Lewis and Steven Haigh. The pair met at Zuma London eight years ago. Lewis, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Jean-Georges restaurant alum, went on to run the kitchen at Zuma Miami, while Haigh was appointed general manager.

They chose Wynwood for their first solo venture because of its neighborhood vibe and up-and-coming status. The name "Kyu" was selected for its semblance to the words "barbecue" and "yakiniku," a Japanese term for grilled meat. Lewis cites his nine years with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, as well as his travels throughout Asia and six years spent in front of a robata grill at Zuma, for his love of Asian flavors and grilling methods. That said, the Baltimore native's barbecue methods also incorporate his American upbringing.

Chef Michael Lewis and general manager Steven Haigh
Chef Michael Lewis and general manager Steven Haigh

The strongest example of Lewis' hybrid grilling style is the Wagyu beef brisket listed in the menu's wood-fired section. In Texas, smoked brisket is the cornerstone of any barbecue establishment, while Wagyu is served at most Asian eateries. However, typical cuts include rib eye and tenderloin, not brisket. At Kyu, the meat is simply prepared with Japanese sea salt and black shichimi pepper, then smoked for 12 to 14 hours.

It arrives divided into thick slices on a flat wood stump with a bevy of accoutrements such as fresh lettuce for possible wrapping, pickled cucumbers, red onions, and shiso. There are also three miniature beakers containing sweet/sour, spicy/smoky, and light/spicy barbecue sauces. Lewis and Haigh want customers to interact with the food and one another, and this visually arresting and original dish is certainly a conversation starter. It's also tasty, and the decision to add lettuce is wise because it cuts some of the fattiness of the meat.

Not sure how best to enjoy the brisket? No problem — the denim-clad staff is more than happy to sit beside you and review each dish. This surprisingly friendly yet somehow professional approach is just one way Kyu tries to stand out from the pack. Sustainability is also a big thing here, and the restaurant vows to plant five trees for each tree it burns on the grill. The place also uses an Orca composter to reduce waste.

Beef tartare
Beef tartare

The vibe at Kyu is decidedly casual. To warm up the industrial space, with its concrete walls and exposed welding, there are wooden accents and a smattering of planters filled with locally grown microgreens. One of these decorates each table, and you can take it home with you. Cool, right?

One thing Chef Lewis is adamant about is reinforcing the notion that Kyu is more than a barbecue restaurant. Indeed, plenty of items here aren't smoked. Start with the crunchy kale sprinkled with a Thai chili sauce known as namprik before moving onto the Florida soft-shell crab steamed buns. The crispy pork belly buns are good too, but the quality and flavor of the crab is perfect. Another melt-in-your-mouth small plate is the pork-and-shiitake gyoza with smoked-truffle ponzu sauce.

The bearded toque is also seriously into vegetables, and it shows through in his roasted cauliflower. Lewis places beautifully browned florets atop a canvas of goat cheese and a zesty shishito-herb vinaigrette. The vegetable has the perfect texture, and the goat cheese pairing is both unexpected and pleasant. It's a handsome plate that tastes even better than it looks.

Kyu doesn't fare as well in the raw department. The hamachi tartare is chaperoned by a delicious fried rice cake and wasabi mayo — but the yellowtail doesn't taste fresh and lacks assertiveness. Meanwhile, the quality of the tuna in the tartare is not as pristine as it should be for $16. And unfortunately, the same can be said for the beef tartare.

Grilled octopus
Grilled octopus

A signature dish at Kyu is Thai fried rice, which pairs well with any of the barbecued meats (duck, brisket, baby-back ribs, and short ribs). Lewis didn't want to fry the rice in a wok, so he took a cue from the Korean favorite bibimbap and decided to prepare it in a stone pot — then have all the ingredients mixed tableside. The result is crispy and crunchy rice with a lovely element of creaminess. Guests can enhance the dish with king crab or pork sausage, though the latter was devoid of any interesting flavor.

There are four dessert options, including a slice of Chef Lewis' mom's famous coconut cake, with four cream-cheese-separated layers and coconut shavings. It's paired with a vibrant coconut ice cream, but the sharp taste of cream cheese is too overpowering. Opt instead for the delightful dark chocolate s'mores cake with banana-bourbon ice cream.

Inside Kyu's menu is a quote by graffiti artist Banksy: "Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." It's most likely a reference to the restaurant's desire to push culinary boundaries. This is true for the American-meets-Asian barbecue portion of the menu, but less true for the rest of the dishes. Though the cooking is generally on point, there's room for improvement, and it's not exactly cutting-edge.

But when all is said and done, it doesn't really matter. The people have spoken, and Kyu is precisely what Wynwood has been missing: an Asian-American concept with a thriving bar scene, killer cocktails, and a fun and energetic dining experience.

251 NW 25th St., Miami; 786-577-0150; kyumiami.com. Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday noon to midnight; brunch and dinner Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

  • Wagyu beef brisket, $36
  • Crunchy kale, $7
  • Soft-shell crab steamed buns, $15
  • Crispy pork belly steamed buns, $12
  • Pork-and-shiitake gyoza, $13
  • Roasted cauliflower, $14
  • Hamachi tartare, $18
  • Tuna tartare, $16
  • Beef tartare, $17
  • Thai fried rice stone pot with pork sausage, $24
  • Mom's coconut cake, $8
  • Dark chocolate s'mores cake, $8

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