UPDATE: Day 1 voting is done. Voting is open for Round 1 of the Chef-Driven Region.
Miami’s mad for basketball with the University of Miami’s men and women qualifying for the NCAA tournaments, but we have a more delicious bracket in mind.
The Miami Herald’s Munch Madness pits some of Miami-Dade’s best and most popular restaurants against each other — and you vote on the winners.
Our selection committee included a wide range of eaters, from three Miami Herald dining critics to staff food nerds who just love to dine out. We narrowed the field to 64 restaurants, like the college basketball tournament’s 64 teams, that we felt represented some of the most-loved Miami-Dade county spots.
And it’s not only fine dining and upscale, chef-driven restaurants.
The varied field goes all the way to one of our 16 seeds, Little Havana’s La Camaronera, whose minuta fried fish sandwich (complete with tail!) screams Miami all the way. It also includes year-old Diaper Dandies, as Dicky V would say, such as Wynwood’s KYU, the upscale Asian barbecue-style spot the James Beard Foundation nominated to be the country’s best new restaurant.
Come back to MiamiHerald.com/restaurants each day, vote for your favorite, and help them move through the bracket over the next three weeks until you crown the Munch Madness champion on April 4.
Alright, let’s get started with Round 1 of the Casual Dining Region (that’s the top left quadrant if you downloaded the bracket.) Voting closes at 8 p.m. Thursday.
(1) Beaker and Gray vs. (16) La Camaronera
Chef Brian Nasajon turned the year-old Diaper Dandy Beaker and Gray into a go-to Wynwood spot for delicious small bites, from savory chorizo “churros” to fresh cobia filleted raw over a light and creamy butter of roasted cashew, cucumber juice, vinegar and salt, blended and drizzled. La Camaronera makes a killer minuta fried-fish sandwich that is often imitated, never duplicated, whether you get it out of their food truck or the long-standing location on Flagler in Little Havana.
(8) Yardbird vs. (9) Lokal
Yardbird started the upscale Southern food trend in Miami and keeps it rolling with delectable dishes like pork belly and chicken biscuits with pickled red onions worth lining up for. Lokal’s burgers, like their guava-jelly and melted gruyere Frita Burger, have minted devoted fans in Coconut Grove and its craft beer selections are unsurpassed in South Florida.
(5) Lung Yai vs. (12) Rinconcito Mexicano
What a tough decision. Lung Yai cuisine is unfailingly faithful to classic dishes Thai dishes, bursting with a bevy of flavors in a setting drawing all the hipsters, tourists and locals. Rinconcito Mexicano is as authentic as Mexican cuisine gets in Miami, including the weekend-only pozole soup and cochinita pibil roast.
(4) Finka vs. (13) Jr.'s Gourmet Burgers
There’s nothing quite like Finka anywhere in the western suburbs, where the granddaughter of the Islas Canarias founders, Elieen Andrade, experiments with Peruvian, Cuban and pan-Asian cuisine to create dishes that seem both familiar and inspired. Jr’s Gourmet Burgers was packed long before it won the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash People Choice award for it’s bacon-wrapped guava-and-cheese angus burger, Jesus de la Torre Jr.’s takes on beloved burgers will keep them coming.
(6) Pinch Kitchen vs. (11) Pincho Factory
A creative kitchen started by veterans of the heralded Pubbelly and Casa Tua fill a simple menu at Pinch, from Rhode Island Blue mussels to burgers, from Spanish octopus to savory roasted veggies that make a meal on their own. Pincho Factory took off in Miami with amazing burgers on pillowy potato bread, sweet potato tater tots with apple butter and a Cartel hot dog with shaved potato sticks that might be Miami’s best.
(3) 27 Restaurant vs. (14) Versailles
Our reviewer said it best when he gave it 3 ½ stars: 27 Restaurant flashes with flavors and inspiration from the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East with music and decor that make this beach spot Miami’s most-Miami restaurant. Versailles is the heart of classic Miami, a staple that recreates classic Cuban dishes and serves as nerve center for the Cuban diaspora during major events that affect the island.
(7) Ariete vs. (10) La Fragua
Eating at Ariete is an adventure, where chef Michael Beltran (a Michael Schwartz and Norman Van Aken disciple), creates progressive American fare (picture grilled quail with green nettles and venison with calabaza) that will leave you smacking your lips. The king and queen of Cuban cuisine, Quintin Larios and his wife, Maria Teresa, returned to the kitchen with the help of family to create La Fragua, where Cuban cooking is at its finest, all the classic dishes hitting just the right note, from crispy but juicy vaca frita to Gloria Estefan’s favorite baked chicken.
(2) Pubbelly vs. (15) Keg South
Pubbelly breathed life into Sunset Harbour by letting Jose Mendin explore his creativity with Asian-inspired small plates with rich flavors, from their dates with chorizo, short rib dumplings and soft shell crab benedict, which helped make him a five-time James Beard award-nominated chef. Sometimes you just want a burger that can’t go wrong, spicy and basted barbecue wings and a locally brewed craft beer to wash it down, and for those in Kendall, Keg South is the only game in town.