As I scroll through a year of photos and taste memories, these are the 10 dishes in Miami that brought the most joy, that left no choice but to finish everything on the plate and still crave another order. (There’s a bonus entry for an exceptional non-restaurant dish.) You can go taste what I’m talking about, and tell me what’s on your 10 best list this year.
1. Smashed Avo: Threefold Café
Brunch had a banner year, and no dish appeared on more plates or Instagram feeds than back-to-basics avocado toast. Threefold Café, an adorable Coral Gables breakfast-lunch nook with an outstanding coffee program, ups the ante with its Smashed Avo. A heap of Hass avocado is mushed up with lime juice, feta cheese and fresh basil, spilling over the jagged crusts of toasted Zak the Baker multigrain bread that’s layered with sliced, thyme-roasted portobello mushrooms. Best served with a poached egg and a puck-size side of hot, salty hash browns, it’s our 2015 Dish of the Year. $13. (Bonus: Get the recipe here.)
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Threefold Café, 141 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables, 305-704-8007, threefoldcafe.com
2. Ous: Niu Kitchen
Softly poached eggs nap under a warm blanket of potato foam. Their vibrant orange yolks erupt, yielding to a spoonful of crisped nibs of Iberico ham and heady black truffle gratings. A more decadent and satisfying dish in Miami? There is none. $15.
3. Dry-Aged Duck: Makoto
Chef Makoto Okuwa orchestrated an omakase dinner at his sushi bar at Makoto that was unparalleled in balance, progression and excitement to anything I ate all year. The meal’s hot crescendo was duck served two ways: a rosy breast that Makoto air-dries for a week then marinates in a salty-funky koji base before searing and roasting, and small meatballs made from duck thighs, ginger, scallion and egg that are poached in duck fat then finished on a robata grill with tare sauce and Japanese chiles. A la carte $34.
Makoto, 9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour, 305-864-8600, makoto-restaurant.com
4. Blistered Red Cabbage: Eating House
In its fourth year, chef Giorgio Rapicavoli’s Eating House is humming along as smoothly as ever. Besides classics like pasta carbonara and fried chicken with foie gras waffles, new dishes from Rapicavoli and chef de cuisine Adriana Egozcue are increasingly vegetable-focused. Like blistered red cabbage with red apple, house-aged red wine vinegar, creamy stracciatella and crunchy seeds: a tangy, textural, acidic, sweet and salty knockout.
Eating House, 804 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, 305-448-6524, eatinghousemiami.com
5. Udon Noodle: Alter
Chef Brad Kilgore is the only repeat from last year’s Miami Best Dishes list, when his Peruvian-Thai take on a crab cake wowed us at J&G Grill in Bal Harbour. Kilgore is back at it, now at his exceptional Alter in Wynwood, where his frothy and crunchy plays on porcini and shiitake mushrooms set the stage for a delicate confit of Florida rabbit tangled around housemade udon noodles and foresty charred scallions. $14.
Alter, 223 NW 23rd St., Miami, 305-573-5996, altermiami.com
6. Angel Hair with Crab: Proof Pizza & Pasta
I posted a picture of the angel hair pasta with crab meat, Italian chile oil and lemony breadcrumbs from Proof, and a friend commented, “Just what I want to order at every restaurant, yum!!” She’s right. That light, fresh mix of just-made pasta, briny crabmeat, citrus and spice is what I want, at all the restaurants. And don’t forget the ice cream macaron sandwiches. Yum. $17.
Proof Pizza & Pasta, 3328 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 786-536-9562, proofpizza.com
7. Gabe’s Arepa Platter: 27 Restaurant & Bar
27, the restaurant component of the Broken Shaker craft cocktail lounge and Freehand hostel-hotel in Miami Beach, flexes its Miami-global muscles with Gabe’s Arepa Platter. Named for restaurant partner Gabriel Orta, the sharing dish is an homage to Orta’s Colombian heritage and includes housemade corn arepas, tender ropa vieja, black beans, fresh cheese, garlicky tomato hogado, avocado and other accompaniments. $29.
8. Peruvian-Korean Fried Chicken: La Mar
Chef Diego Oka manages to juggle a high-volume, high-end Peruvian restaurant overseen by one of the world’s preeminent chefs — La Mar by Gastón Acurio — in addition to supporting his Miami chef friends, traveling extensively and even staging (working for free) at Michelin-starred restaurants abroad on his vacation time. Oka shows his playful side with his Peruvian take on hot, crispy, Korean-style fried chicken, the other KFC. He coats plump nuggets with a sauce made from three kinds of Peruvian peppers and a base of gochujang, the Korean fermented chile paste. You won’t find this KFC written on La Mar’s menus, but ask for it — secret menu! — and Oka will whip up a batch to order.
La Mar, 500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami, 305-913-8358, mandarinoriental.com
9. Peking Duck: Hakkasan
There are few tastes as deliciously rewarding as the properly rendered, glistening skin of Peking duck. The version at Hakkasan in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach sets the standard, from that perfect crust to moist, tender meat to mounds of scallions and cucumbers, all ready to be rolled into thin pancakes. $98 (skip the $100 caviar supplement).
Hakkasan, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 786-276-1388, fontainebleau.com
10. Kangaroo Asado Taco: Edge Steak & Bar
Technically not a restaurant dish, as kangaroo tacos aren’t on the menu (yet?) at Edge Steak & Bar at the Four Seasons Miami. But chef Aaron Brooks and his team served an outback’s worth of ’roo tacos at a recent charity taco cookoff at the Vagabond, and their tacos — meaty and smoky, with salsa verde and housemade chile tajín — were the winners. Fellow judges and I ate a dozen different tacos to determine a champion of the Tacos & Tequila Showdown, and not only was Brooks’ the clear favorite, it also was the only one I went back to for seconds.
Edge Steak & Bar, 1435 Brickell Ave., 305-358-3535, edgerestaurantmiami.com
11. Pine Nut Risotto: DK Culinary Ventures
I continue to be inspired and impressed by David Lanster and Kelly Moran, two recent Ransom Everglades graduates (he’s now at University of Miami, she’s at Tufts) with a prodigious amount of culinary knowledge who cook occasional blowout, multicourse, complex meals to raise money for good causes. During a 19-course springtime dinner, the young couple served a stunning “risotto” made with pine nuts and garnished with Thai basil, apple and pecorino. All the nutty and earthy flavors of the risotto being pushed around on the palate by the sweet apple and the salty cheese before coming together in unison. There’s word of a January meal during the teens’ winter college break.