UPDATE: Day 2 voting is done. Voting is open for Round 1 of the World Cuisine 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.
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.
All right, Wednesday we kicked things off with our Casual Dining region. But Lung Yai and Rinconcito Mexicano ended in a tie, so we’re going to a runoff. If it remains tied, we’ll decide the winner with a coin toss.
Along with the runoff, today we’re tackling Round 1 of the Chef-Driven Region. (That’s the bottom left quadrant if you downloaded the bracket.) Voting closes at 8 p.m. Friday.
RUNOFF: (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.
(1) Alter vs. (16) Mignonette
Alter is a four-star (Exceptional) Miami Herald pick and a past James Beard Best New Restaurant nominee, and its chef Brad Kilgore has created a tasting menu that brings together such a variety of flavors that it’s unique among home-grown Miami restaurants. Mignonette’s Danny Serfer, when he isn’t creating comfort food at his nearby Blue Collar, has created the go-to spot (that has sparked a second location) for a raw bar and flavorful seafood, including oysters flown in fresh from all over the country.
(8) Los Fuegos vs. (9) Prime 112
An all-out night at either spot could be a car payment, but what a luxury. Prime 112 is not only a spot to see (celebrities) and be seen, but its steaks have no betters anywhere in Miami. At Los Fuegos, super chef Francis Mallmann cooks all sorts of the highest grade meats and vegetables over an open flame in an opulent, theatrical setting that makes for an unforgettable meal.
(5) Zuma vs. (12) Zest
Wide eyes and hungry stomachs greet the modern interpretations of Japanese cuisine in a posh setting at Zuma, with its fresh market sushi and open-flame robata grill inspired by northern Japanese fishermen. Zest takes chef Cindy Hutson’s flair with Caribbean flavors and turns them up to their highest level, from Jamaican jerk pork sausage fritters to cobia with a mango mustarda sauce on top of coconut Scotch bonnet risotto.
(4) The Forge vs. (13) Niu Kitchen
The Forge is to steak as Joe’s is to seafood: a Miami landmark that continues to excel at steak-centric classics like its “Super Steak,” while churning out award-winning talented chefs to serve Miami Beach heavy hitters. Niu turns out plate after plate of show-stopping Catalan-inspired cuisine, such as creamy poached eggs with truffled potato foam and Iberico ham that make it a special downtown spot whose chef was just nominated for James Beard’s Best Chef: South.
(6) Eating House vs. (11) db Bistro Moderne
The sawesera’s own Giorgio Rapicavoli became a national star when he won “Chopped” and used the cash to open Eating House, where he takes the latest cutting-edge culinary techniques and applies Miami flavors to create rich, satisfying dishes that might include yuzu and black truffle or Iron Beer Latin soda. The elegance of master chef Daniel Boulud’s techniques are on display in every dish at db Bistro Moderne, be it luxurious corn and fennel risotto with fontina or a tender, fall-apart classic coq au vin.
(3) Plant Food and Wine vs. (14) Timo
Chef Matthew Kenney turned his skill with meat (and his lifestyle) to vegetables to create this vegan and vegetarian restaurant that rises into the stratosphere of fine dining, where a dish like kimchi dumplings (fermented red kimchi pulsed into a paste with cashews, sesame, ginger and sesame oil in wrappers of dehydrated Thai coconut) are flatly addictive. Chef Tim Andriola makes food that just makes you feel good and that you got your money’s worth, with dishes such as prosciutto-wrapped veal tenderloin with mascarpone polenta at this Sunny Isles Beach spot for Italian-Mediterranean cuisine.
(7) The Bazaar vs. (10) La Mar
Long before chef José Andrés tore off his toque to declare, “I am an immigrant,” he made his mark in Miami with Bazaar South Beach, bringing together Spanish cuisine, classic French techniques and a touch of molecular gastronomy to create one-of-a-kind dishes such as black rossejat, a paella-like noodle dish with rich aioli dotted on a creamy layer of tiny toasted pasta sticks infused with black squid ink and topped with shrimp. Chef Diego Oka executes Gaston Acurio’s take on upscale Peruvian at La Mar in the Mandarin Oriental with flair, from glorious ceviches to homey potatoes drenched in huancaina sauce and a host of grilled anticuchos and rice dishes served in a gorgeous, modern setting.
(2) Michael’s Genuine vs. (15) The River Oyster Bar
There’s a reason people keep coming back to Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink after 10 years, and it all stems from Michael Schwartz using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients with a deft chef’s touch to create comforting dishes (gulf shrimp and grits with house-smoked bacon) in an atmosphere that is as the name implies: genuine. Despite construction and neighboring restaurants demolished, patrons continue coming like clockwork to The River Oyster Bar for its thoughtful menu of fruits of the sea: crudos of tuna, ceviche and cobia; roasted oysters and grilled octopus, pastas and whole baked or grilled local fish.