Food

Here’s how to eat like a local in (almost) every neighborhood in Miami

On any given day, I’ll get a text from a friend or a family member asking, “Where should I eat?”

That question’s too big to answer — particularly in Miami-Dade county, which is developing some of the most exciting, interesting cuisine in the country. So I usually text back, “What part of town are you in?” Because all over the county, you can find great food, from unadorned comfort classics to menus meant for special nights out.

So this is my list. It’s not a best-of and it’s not comprehensive. I constantly add to and subtract from it — and I still have a lot more eating to do.

It’s a rundown of my favorite spots, places where I actually eat, my go-tos for an average Tuesday when I don’t have the time to cook for my daughters or when I want to treat myself midweek. This is different from my bucket list of iconic Miami restaurants, places that scream, “You’re in Miami!”

(An aside: Tuesdays, as the late Anthony Bourdain wrote in “Kitchen Confidential,” are when you have a well-rested and creative chef and an attentive staff. Make a habit of it instead of dining with the proletariat on weekends).

I’ve broken it up by general neighborhoods, listed alphabetically, so you can quickly find a spot to quiet the rumble in your belly. Now stop texting me for recommendations, Connie.

Brickell

Edge Steak & Bar: Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s inside a hotel. Aaron Brooks, an Aussie, cooks meat better than perhaps anyone in Miami. Everything from his burger to the headcheese is worth validating parking. He offers choices of beef that are grass fed, grain fed, dry-aged. Looking at the menu just now — foie gras and truffle bon bons, wagyu beef bacon lettuce wraps, tostones with avocado chimichurri — I realize I don’t come here enough.

1435 Brickell Ave., in the Four Seasons Brickell

Central and western Miami

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Brisket at Hometown Bar-B-Cue Miami Krieger Photography Handout

Happy Wine: You have to love a no-frills wine shop where bottles range in price for neighborhood abuelitas to connoisseurs. They are sorted neatly by region and stacked on shelves made from wooden 2-by-4s. Happy hour starts early, music plays every day of the week and every inch of wall space is scrawled with diners’ messages like, “I got dronk here.” Don’t miss the toasty, pressed montadito sandwiches. My favorite: tomato, proscuitto and manchego. You’ll eat half a dozen.

5792 SW Eighth St., Miami

Hometown Bar-B-Cue: I admit to being a Miami homer. I cheer for locals who bring us something new. But you have to tip your cap to someone like Brooklyn’s Bill Durney, who brought true Texas-style barbecue to Miami. The brisket is butter and the lamb banh mi sandwich life-altering. Drop the fork, grab a piece of brisket with your hands, stack it with a sliver of mild white onion, dill pickle chip and just eat that.

1200 NW 22nd St., #100, Allapattah

La Fragua: Praise the return of the octogenarian couple who put a brand name on Cuban restaurants in Miami, Larios. (They later went into business with the Estefans and designed the menus at their original restaurants.) This is Cuban food like Mami makes, with Quintin running the kitchen, his wife Maria Teresa overseeing the dining room. It’s food so good you’ll forgive the decor (early IKEA), and if you come on the weekend, a viejito will ask you to dance to live music.

7931 NW 2nd St., Miami

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Our James Beard Award-winning food writer tells us how to eat like a local in Miami. That obviously means we will be eating at Palacio de los Jugos.

Palacio de los Jugos: I once took a pair of doofuses I work with — South Floridians who had never been to Palacio — and fed them a sampling of just about everything on the menu for 35 bucks. That’s why I love this original food hall, where several vendors serve different kinds of hot food ready to eat in or take out. When I work late and have to rush the kids to volleyball or lacrosse practice, I know I can zip in, order a pound of roasted pork, a healthy serving of yuca or calabaza squash with onions and a bag of chicharrones, and be out in less than 15 minutes — and for under $20. It’s also a great place to order a batido de guanabana or mamey.

They have 10 locations from Miller Drive to South Beach, but I frequent the original.

5721 West Flagler St., Miami

Taqueria los Potrillos: I must have ordered every taco on the menu and each one has come bursting with flavors, from take-a-chance lengua and tripa to the American-palate-friendly carnitas, carne asada and al pastor. Their salsas are fresh and spicy. Oh, and a note to my Mexican-Cuban buddy Juan: their double-tortilla tacos are served hot off the griddle. I can’t get enough of this place.

3937 NW 7th St., Miami

Coconut Grove

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You can now get riffs on Ariete's frita's at Chug's, a Cuban-American diner by the same owner.

Ariete: Michael Beltran cut his teeth with some great chefs, including James Beard winners Michael Schwartz and Norman Van Aken. He struck out on his own for Ariete, where he is among a new wave of Miami-born chefs of Cuban descent, re-imagining our city’s cuisine. The foie gras uses sour orange. Baked ricotta includes nispero (sapodilla). The house charcuterie features a duck pate with dark rum. A calabaza squash side is heightened with jerk seasoning. Majua, a small Caribbean smelt eaten as street food in Cuba, shares the menu with a smoked pork chop finished with a mango mustard sauce. He even twists a traditional gazpacho with chilled mamey.

3540 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove

Atchana Thai: My oldest daughter has always cringed at Thai food — until she ate at Atchana with me during a dining review. Interestingly, though, the cuisine is not adapted for the American palate at Atchana, where everything from the Thai beef jerky, Bangkok wings and pad Thai are as authentic as the lettuce-wrap-style miang kham, where you put together bites of coconut, lime, ginger and tamarind in piper leaves for one of the best mouthfuls of food in Miami. They do run out of the miang kham, though, and that bums me out.

3194 Commodore Plaza, Coconut Grove

Chug’s: They call this a “Cuban diner.” It’s actually more of a Cuban-American diner, a rendering by a Miami-born chef of Cuban roots, Michael Beltran. His nearby Ariete is a more refined cuisine inspired by his grandparents’ Cuban cooking, where you’ll find flan made with candy cap mushrooms. At Chug’s, pastelitos are filled with non-traditional goodness, like peanut butter and jelly and buffalo chicken. Café con leche uses quality roasted coffee. A media noche successfully replaces pork with duck confit. And fancier fritas (Cuban hamburgers) with green goddess sauce pair perfectly with cheesy yuca balls.

3444 Main Highway, Coconut Grove

The Spillover: This is a favorite of my all-guys book club. (Yes, we read plenty of women authors! We loved “Circe,” most recently.) Matt Kuscher of Kush and Lokal applied his success with burgers and craft beer (and a love of everything local) to craft ciders and seafood at The Spillover. It excels at fried Bahamian conch and pan con minuta fish sandwich (tail on, naturally, as an homage to La Camaronera). Finish with a locally brewed cider.

2911 Grand Ave #400d, Coconut Grove

Coral Gables

Eating House: Westchester native Giorgio Rapicavoli opened his first restaurant with money from winning Food Network’s “Chopped.” There he creates food inspired by his upbringing (Argentine dad, Italian mom, Miami boy through-and-through) but styled with his culinary skill. I love how he mixes genres here: cauliflower “elote,” croquetas with smoked pork belly, chicken and waffles with spicy buttermilk, pasta carbonara with black truffles. The seasonal menu promises you’ll always have something new to treat your tastebuds. It’s a small restaurant so use Open Table to make same-day reservations.

804 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables

Madruga Bakery: Naomi Harris makes my favorite croissant in Miami. (I went again the day after returning from Belgium, where I subsisted on a diet of croissants, and I stand by my statement.) Wake up early on Sunday, get her killer croissant and a pain au chocolat and bring them home to have with your morning coffee. You won’t regret it. If you want something heartier, the bacon quiche is fluffy, flavorful and the crust buttery and delicate. They mill their own flour here, and all that means to you is fresher, delicious bread.

1430 S. Dixie Highway, Suite 117, south Coral Gables

The Seven Dials: This and Eating House are in my eat-a-little-nicer-but-don’t-break-the-bank list near my house. It’s not just the delectable fish and chips at this true-to-form British spot, where chef Andrew Gilbert (a Michelle Bernstein protégé) and wife Katie Sullivan embrace the diversity of London. It’s falafel, foie butter and date toast, housemade charcuterie, jerkies and pates, bangers and mash. The place is a little off the path, on a side street in the Gables, but don’t give up on Waze. Go find it.

2030 Douglas Rd. #102, Coral Gables

Tinta y Café: This a perfect spot for fluffy egg breakfasts and incredible sandwiches. Their cafe con leche is sweet and creamy, maybe the best I’ve had that doesn’t come out of my kitchen. I’m also a breakfast sandwich guy, and I love the Bori: prosciutto and eggs on toasted Cuban bread. It’s a bit hidden in a residential neighborhood and the hours are weird, so double check before you go.

1315 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables

Design District/Midtown

Itamae: Food halls are all the rage in Miami, and inside this most-luxurious St. Roch Market in the fashionable Design District, you’ll find a host a good spots. One of my favorites is Itamae, run by the Peruvian Chang family (father, daughter, son). You’ll find everything from sushi to Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) and chifa (Chinese-Peruvian). It’s this restaurant that brought this family together: It’s a great story.

140 Northeast 39th St., inside St. Roch Market, Design District

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The patio at Sugarcane

Sugarcane: Timon Balloo, who also learned alongside Michelle Bernstein, opened this wonderful spot in Midtown that combines a host of cultures (Chinese, South Asian, Latin, Trinidadian) in small plates. This is a great place to come with a big group that likes to taste lots of different dishes. You can order seasonal oysters from the raw bar, sushi rolls (shrimp tempura with habanero), alongside hokkaido scallop crudo, crispy pig ears, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with linguica Brazilian sausage and Manchego and finish with torrejas.

3252 NE First Ave., Midtown

Lagniappe: When the weather’s beautiful and I want enjoy the glory of living in South Florida in the winter, that’s when I head to Lagniappe. It’s a sort of outdoor wine garden with a cozy wine shop, where they play live jazz, blues, you name it. Grab your specialty cheese and cured meat and they will slice it up for you and present it on a fantastic charcuterie board with honey and fruit. Buy an affordable bottle of wine and sit outside under a canopy of trees. Bliss.

3425 NE 2nd Ave., Midtown

Downtown

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Bluepoint oysters with pomegranate at Mignonette.

Mignonette: After a show at the Arsht Center this is the place to go. You can order high-end items like caviar and blini or seafood towers of oysters, clams, snow crabs, all the way down to comfort dishes such as a bouillabaisse that will warrant extra bread to sop up every last saucy drop. It’s not cheap. But if you share some super-fresh oysters ($3 a piece), an app (shrimp cocktail), a main dish (seared red fish in a brandy sauce) and a dessert (Meyer lemon squares with berries), you can make it out for under 100 bucks and have a fantastic meal.

210 NE 18th St, Downtown

Hialeah

Morro Castle: I’ll always have soft spot for this Cuban restaurant in Hialeah because it’s the first place where I had fresh-made churros and creamy hot chocolate on one of those freezing (sub-60 degree!) Miami nights. To this day, they’re still my favorite. But that doesn’t mean they don’t crank out some of the most flavorful Cuban food in Miami, from a killer frita (priced at $3.05, of course) and a fat, meaty Cuban sandwich to a humongous bistec milanesa (a breaded, fried thin steak, covered in a layer of sliced ham and melted Swiss cheese) that hangs off the plate.

1201 W 44th Pl., Hialeah

Kendall/West Kendall

Amelia’s 1931: I’m almost never this far west, but when I am, I can’t pass on Amelia’s, the little sister to the Kendall-favorite Finka, 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. I’ll kill for those yuca tots, topped with roasted pork and drizzled in garlic aioli.

13601 SW 26th St, West Kendall (if that’s a thing)

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Chilean empanadas are among the many empanadas from throughout Latin America that Empanada Harry’s recreates faithfully.

Empanada Harry’s: No need to hit several bakeries to buy your favorite empanadas when a drive to the western suburbs to Empanada Harry’s bakes them all in one place, including authentic Peruvian dusted in powdered sugar, crispy Colombian corn, hearty Venezuelan, and even riffs from the baker that include things like a Cuban sandwich empanada with pork, ham and pickles. Harry also makes such a fantastic guava tres leches (made with Flor de Caña rum) that I drove 30 minutes west just to buy it for a loved one’s birthday.

4009 SW 152nd Ave, West Kendall (I guess it’s a thing)

Ghee Indian Kitchen: Niven Patel was a James Beard award finalist in only his first year after opening Ghee, a twist on Indian cuisine that highlights South Indian food. He grows a huge portion of his produce at his house in Miami’s farming country and uses it in his restaurant. Order everything that lists it was grown in his Homestead yard, even if you don’t know what it is. Let me help you get started: order pani puri, charred ribs, short rib dosas, lamb kofta, and the Rancho Patel vegetable poriyal. And get plenty of naan bread.

I recently reviewed his excellent pasta and veggie-focused restaurant, Erba. It may be even better.

Ghee: 8965 SW 72nd Pl, Kendall. 3620 NE 2nd Ave, Design District

Erba: 8975 SW 72nd Pl., Kendall

Little Haiti

Bon Gout
Lovers of roadside barbecue followed Bon Gout Barbecue all over Little Haiti for their barbecue ribs and smoked brisket. So with development encroaching, the owners decided to open a full restaurant of what they’re calling Haitian barbecue — American Southern barbecue made with Haitian seasonings, and serving sides like bannan peze, collards with Haitian ingredients and extra-hot pikliz. Carlos Frías cfrias@miamiherald.com

Bon Gout: Visit within fifteen minutes of its noon opening and you’ll already find a line waiting for barbecue hot off the grill at this neighborhood spot. For two years, the partners in this business, Jean “BJ” Lucel and Wesley Bissaint, hauled their smoker and grill around Little Haiti to cook roadside barbecue true to its name. They unhitched their grills in December 2018 and anchored them to this storefront in the neighborhood where they grew up. I struggle between their slow-grilled pork ribs and the Haitian griyot and bannann peze cooked daily by “Mama Chef” Miselie Marseille. Luckily you can order both. Just do it.

99 NW 54th St., Little Haiti

Little Havana

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Empanadas are filled with steak, sweet corn and chicken or roasted calabaza at Cafe La Trova.


Café La Trova: Rather than a traditional sit-down restaurant, Miami chef Michelle Bernstein and her chef-husband David Martinez partnered on this old-world Cuban music lounge in a still-sleepy part of Little Havana with mixed-drink master Julio Cabrera. From its Spartan menu, go with empanadas with roasted calabaza, melting croquetas filled with paella or jamon serrano with fig jam, and her mom’s perfect arroz con pollo. Pair it with one of Cabrera’s cocktails — I’d go for the Guayabero (tequila, guava marmalade, lime) topped with a timba (a tiny bit of guava with cream cheese speared with a tiny umbrella). Go on a Thursday night for live classic Cuban music.

971 SW Eighth St., Little Havana

Doce Provisions: I was predisposed to love this place because it replaced a terrible pizzeria and took up the mantle from the dearly departed Little Bread, which made the most delicious twists on Cuban sandwiches. Doce (pronounced in Spanish, as in 12th Avenue) does the neighborhood proud by fusing the flavors you find on Calle Ocho with modern interpretations: Chorizo croquetas, shishito peppers, lechon asado buns, and shrimp or short rib mac and cheese that’ll make your eyes roll back in your head.

541 SW 12th Ave, Little Havana

La Camaronera: Four buddies and I spent the afternoon helping my cousin move into nearby Little Havana, and when we were done, we were sweaty, spent and starving. We hit La Camaronera, the spot where you can come as you are and order a killer minuta fried-fish sandwich (tail still on!) that is often imitated, never duplicated. I know it says “market price” on the board, but it’s always $7.35. Don’t sleep on the fried shrimp sandwich or the fried oysters, in which I once found an actual pearl. True story!

1952 W Flagler St., Little Havana

Mi Rinconcito Mexicano: You don’t have to drive to the Redland to find a Mexican place worth its salt. Rinconcito Mexicano is as authentic as Mexican cuisine gets in Miami, including the weekend-only pozole soup and cochinita pibil roast. A Mexican-Cuban friend of mine doesn’t love that they don’t heat up their tortillas, but I don’t mind. The meats — especially the carnitas and carne asada — are beautifully seasoned and roasted. And there’s no better way to start a Sunday morning than with an order of chilaquiles (smothered in salsa roja, verde or combo of both).

1961 SW 8th St., Little Havana

Union Beer Store: Craft beer bars come and go, but this spot in the heart of a resurgent Little Havana is the real deal. Great beers locally and from around the country are the reason it’s my actual local bar. If you love pro wrestling, bonus points, because that’s their theme here. I don’t like or dislike pro wrestling, but there may or may not be a 30-year-old cassette tape of my cousins and me doing impersonations of Randy Savage, the Junkyard Dog, Hulk Hogan and “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

1547 SW 8th St., Little Havana

Little River

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Cindy Kruse, with her partner Eric Paige, turned a 25-year career as a pastry chef at high-end restaurants into baking some of Miami’s most delicious cookies at her Cindy Lou’s Cookies in Little River.

Cindy Lou Cookies: Tired of making lavish desserts for 25 years, Cindy Kruze and her life partner Eric Paige decided to turn all that pastry chef expertise toward the humble cookie. Don’t let it fool you. The flavors are layered and complex, and could be served on Wedgewood china. Also, they’re as big as your head.

7320 NE 2nd Ave., Little River

Miami Beach

The Local Cuban: Alberto Cabrera grew up feeling deeply Cuban in Miami, raised with the flavors his parents brought from the island, but also inspired by the dishes he found in the homes of his Venezuelan, Colombian and Nicaraguan friends. The result is a Miami palate, which he shows off at his stall in the Timeout Market. Spherical media noche croquetas, served with mustard aioli, melt in your mouth. His Cuban-style empanadas are crispy and deep-fried. His Arroz Imperial, usually a take out food by the pound, is rice covered in duck ham, duck fricassee, covered in melted smoked gouda. Indulge in one of Miami’s best Cuban sandwiches (although he calls it a cubano and that irritates me) and finish off with a cafecito for about 20 bucks. It makes me excited for his upcoming Brickell restaurant, Marabu.

1601 Drexel Ave., Miami Beach

Lucali pizza: It’s hard to justify paying $24 for a pizza, so if you want to move on to the next recommendation, I can’t stop you. But at least hear me out: This offshoot of the original Brooklyn spot really is something special. You’ll be hard pressed to find better pizza in Miami than Lucali’s, making pies that are doughy inside, perfectly charred outside (from a cold fermentation process), and with such fresh, simple toppings. All the ingredients are imported from Italy, including the San Marzano tomatoes. But, yeah, I hear you: $24. It’s pretty big, though.

1930 Bay Rd. Miami Beach. 305-695-4441. info@lucali.com

Cavatelli Macchialina at Macchialina
Cavatelli Macchialina (meatballs, porchetta and pecorino) at Macchialina

Macchialina: This is the way I love to eat Italian. Macchialina unleashes creativity in every Italian-inspired small plate, from meatballs to write home to Mama about, to a tiramisu topped with coffee granita that is as unique and delicious as any you will have in Miami. Yes, you can have a delicious hunk of lasagna, but the small plates meant to be shared mean you can taste so many things on the menu and not leave feeling bloated.

820 Alton Rd, Miami Beach

Mister O1: This pizza is so good the U.S. government granted the chef an O-1 visa for “individuals with extraordinary ability,” to bring his pizza making skills stateside. Each thin-crusted, Neapolitan-style pie is made to serve one person (two if you’re not so hungry). My favorite is the Carlos (not named for me) with spicy chorizo. The “exceptional” pies are shaped into stars where each peak is stuffed with delicious ricotta cheese. I love that it’s set in a teenie-tiny eight-seat restaurant inside a nondescript office building on Miami Beach (though they have opened other locations).

1680 Michigan Ave #101, Miami Beach

Pubbelly: Ostensibly a noodle house, it’s where chef Jose Mendin fuses his Puerto Rican culture with Asian fare. The result is the best kind of fusion cuisine, and a can’t-miss spot on Miami Beach. I introduced a loved one to sweetbreads here, not an easy dish to love, unless a guy like Mendin is doing it. I always over-order here: pork belly bao buns, duck confit ravioli, Brussels sprouts with bacon miso, short ribs with green curry, phew! Pro tip: Ask for the sushi menu from their next-door restaurant, Pubbelly Sushi. (The restaurant is temporarily closed while undergoing repairs. Stay tuned. — CF)

1418 20th St., Miami Beach

Via Emilia 9: I never tire of recommending this spot to folks headed to South Beach. A chef born in Bologna with several family restaurants there opened this regional northern Italian restaurant where pasta is handmade in the window every morning. He takes so much pride in his work, you can see it in the perfectly folded tortellini. The taste reflects it in dishes such as the aforementioned stuffed tortellini in cream sauce and a luscious lasagna.

1120 15th Street, Miami Beach

Miami Springs

Airport Liquors & Cafe: I love taking people here because it’s the most-Miami place I can think of: a former liquor store that added a restaurant, where the owner’s son was once on “Food Network Star.” Reuben Ruiz makes fantastic fried chicken sandwiches and burgers, like a huge Jameson apricot-glazed monstrosity, that he serves alongside classic Latin food, like bistec empanizado. I brought our intern, Jacob, here once, just to see the look on his face when they carted out that tasty burger. It was classic. Not to mention you can order a bottle of whiskey with your meal. Don’t call HR.

4427 NW 36th St., Miami Springs

Northeast Miami-Dade

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Combination injera platter with wats at Awash Ethiopian Restaurant. Linda Bladholm

I still have a lot of eating to do in this part of the county. (Ironic since I grew up in Miramar and Carol City.)

Awash Ethiopian Restaurant: Miami seems to be able to hang out to only one Ethiopian restaurant at a time. I guess I’m fine with that as long as we get to keep Awash. Give me the combination injira platter, a mandala of colors, flavors and textures that includes doro wat (stewed chicken), shiro (split yellow peas) and misir (red lentils). Plenty of spongy rolls of injira rolls to sop it up and Ethiopian coffee to finish.

19934 NW Second Ave., Miami Gardens

Palmetto Bay

Babe’s Meat & Counter: You don’t have to be Canadian to appreciate a steaming, hot bowl of comfort food like poutine, even amid the smoldering cauldron of a Miami summer. (Add 2 bucks for housemade bacon chunks.) They make it every Sunday at this meat market, where you can buy homemade sausages and meat butchered to order. Don’t sleep on two unexpectedly killer sandwiches: a round Cuban sandwich made with their house-cured ham and roast pork, and a brisket/chuck/short rib burger with gooey American cheese (the best cheese to melt on any burger — come at me, bro) and bread-and-butter pickles.

9216 SW 156th St, Palmetto Bay

Shenandoah

Maria’s Greek Restaurant: You know a restaurant believes in itself when it closes for two weeks in the summer for vacation after faithfully preparing wonderful, down-home Greek classics. It’s a family-run spot, where they do their best work with slow-cooked lamb gyros, roasted eggplant baba ghanoush, flavorful spanakopita and a sticky-delicious baklava. Nothing fancy, everything flavorful.

2359 Coral Way, Shenandoah

South Miami

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Whisky crushes at breakfast

Whisk: These guys were doing Southern food in Miami before it was cool, and they do it well. The fried green tomatoes with seasoned buttermilk dipping sauce are a must. So is the fried chicken, however they’re serving it (they vary every few months between a platter, chicken and biscuits and an open-faced fried chicken sandwich). And the shrimp and grits is always a winner. The menu changes with the season, which I love.

7382 SW 56th Ave., South Miami

Upper East Side

Blue Collar: The chef turned a former by-the-hour motel and his training as chef under James Beard award winners into this comfort food haven, where there’s always a roasted meat of the day, parmigiana of the day, and veggies of the day. I love this spot for a late breakfast or early lunch. I’m a sucker for they heavy dishes here, diet be damned: pulled pork eggs Benedict, whatever the parmigiana is, and the Corben sandwich (braised brisket on a Portuguese muffin), named after Miami filmmaker Billy Corben, a regular.

6730 Biscayne Blvd., Upper East Side

Cake Thai: Few places truly get Thai cuisine right, but Chef “Cake” nails it. He is a Nobu alum who opened this tiny dive in what once was a sketchy part of town. But, people, don’t sweat the neighborhood or the six tables inside. The ingredients, preparation and flavors are as legit as you can find. When I go with a group, I like to order one veggie dish (spicy, crispy tofu), a curry (crispy duck), a noodle (flat, with pork and black bean sauce) and a soup (tom kha chicken).

7919 Biscayne Blvd., Upper East Side

Pinch Kitchen: What I love most about Pinch — a creative kitchen started by veterans of Pubbelly and Casa Tua — is that it’s the kind of place where you can go for dinner with friends and order a host of sharing plates (pork dumplings, Spanish octopus, the Pinch salad which uses local greens, a housemade focaccia), or go for lunch with sweaty kids and order one of Miami’s best burgers. Plus they look for whatever is growing seasonally in South Florida and build their menu around it, supplementing with great ingredients flown in.

8601 Biscayne Blvd., Upper East Side

Westchester

Kon Chau: What I like best about this longtime Chinese restaurant, tucked into a strip mall in Westchester, is what most people overlook: they don’t do push carts for dim sum. Instead, dim sum is made-to-order (and not just on the weekends), so it arrives at your table steaming hot, and not wheeled in a cart that has first made a tour of the restaurant. And it’s way more affordable than places that trade on the cheap theatrics of the push carts.

8376 Bird Rd., Miami

West Miami

El Mago de Las Fritas: To me, there are only two legit places to order a traditional frita cubana in Miami and El Rey de las Fritas is the other (1821 SW 8th St, Little Havana or 9343 SW 40th St, Westchester). El Mago is a personal preference because it’s near my house and I love the cumin-and-chorizo-flavored sauce they use to flavor their ultra-flat burger once it hits the griddle. Their crispy papitas are fried throughout the day (no awful potato sticks) and they carry a selection of craft beers because the owner’s son-in-law, who helps run the day-to-day operations, is a craft beer nerd. A beer and frita go a long way toward finding enlightenment.

5828 SW 8th St., Miami

Wynwood

Short rib at Alter
Every dish at Alter is camera-ready, including this short rib.

Alter: They don’t pay me enough in this gig to make dining at Alter a regular thing. And that’s probably a good thing for my bad cholesterol. But for special occasions, you can bet I’m going to splurge on a tasting menu from Brad Kilgore, who has rightfully been named a James Beard semifinalist. Kilgore experiments with flavors, textures and even temperatures (tzaziki ice cream appetizer!) for diners who treat eating like going to a Broadway play. These are gourmet-sized portions but don’t let that fool you. The five-course menu ($75) is the sweet spot for your wallet and belly, with a side of Kilgore’s signature Soft Egg (sea scallop espuma, truffle pearls, Siberian caviar). I nearly hurt myself trying to finish the 7-course ($95) — but I did, indeed, finish it. I can’t even fathom the $165 a person “full chef’s experience.”

223 NW 23rd St., Wynwood

Beaker & Gray: Brian Nasajon took his Uruguayan-Jewish background and used those influences to open a sharable-plates restaurant in the heart of Wywnood before it was cool. There you’ll find influences from all over Latin America turned into interesting and delicious food: glass noodles with chili and mint, brown sugar-tamarind chicken wings, short rib with tempura avocado, cauliflower with huancaina sauce. I made the mistake once of sending my oldest daughter here for a special dinner and now she always asks me when we’re going back. This isn’t a bad thing.

2637 N Miami Ave., Wynwood

Boxelder Craft Beer Bar: The OG craft beer bar in Miami has also become a sort-of incubator for restaurant pop-ups out back. So while you’re ordering a couple great craft beers from small, independent breweries from around the country, you can try some of the best up-and-coming food concepts, depending on the day of the week. One day, it may be Steve Santana’s (Taquiza) Super Good Chicken. Another, Michael Ombia’s United States Burger Service. Friday nights are for pastry chef Devin Braddock’s Tricycle Ice Cream cart (gourmet versions of childhood favorites like choco tacos and ice cream drumsticks). El Bagel served toasty, chewy bagels and sandwiches from a food truck and was so popular it’s soon opening a permanent location in MiMo.

2817 NW 2nd Ave., Wynwood

Latest update 10/11/2019

Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard award for excellence in covering the food industry. A Miami native, he’s also the author of “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”
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