The croquetas at Islas Canarias. // Photo: Andrew Giambarba
This story is republished from resy.com, your source for restaurant bookings and discovery.
By Evan S. Benn
There’s something about being in Miami that makes people want to go big: order the deluxe seafood tower, splurge for the colossal stone crabs, try the gold-encrusted filet. There’s a time and a place for those meals, but you can find so much joy in Miami restaurants right now without going over the top.
The simple beauty of a fresh mahi sandwich along the Miami River, of dim sum in a strip mall, of croquetas at a ventanita, of griot and pikliz on the beach — these are the experiences that define eating in Miami.
Need “fancy?” You can have seared foie gras with guava in Hialeah or wagyu short ribs in Coconut Grove, and both will be cooked for you by the people who own those joints. People who live and work and eat in Miami. People who know that this town’s best food requires no gold foil to stand out.
Step aside, colossal crabs. (There’s always time for you later.) Here’s our guide to 17 dishes that make Miami truly delicious.
The dish: Pulpo al olivo
Sister-brother chef duo Val and Nando Chang, along with their father, Fernando, cemented their place among Miami’s food destinations when they opened Itamae in a food hall in 2018. And they’ve been on a tear since moving the Nikkei-inspired restaurant into its own space in the Design District last year: a spot on The New York Times’ 2021 Restaurant List, a Star Chefs “Game Changer” Award, a collaboration with New York’s Llama Inn to celebrate Peru’s 200th anniversary of independence, and more.
Since Day One, the can’t-miss order at Itamae is the Changs’ Pulpo al Olivo. Seasonal avocado from nearby LNB Grovestand is rolled into maki and topped with thin slices of octopus and a purple-tinged olive aioli. It’s the octopus-and-olive dish for people who think they don’t like octopus or olives.
2. Islas Canarias
The dish: Croquetas
In Miami, you wake up with cafe con leche and a few croquetas — preferably at a ventanita where you can stand, sip your coffee, nibble your croquetas, and catch up on the latest neighborhood chisme. The best place to do exactly this is Islas Canarias, a family-run Miami institution that’s been churning out hot and crunchy croquetas since 1977.
Islas and its menu of Cuban favorites is now in the hands of third-generation sibling owners Jonathan and Eileen Andrade (she’s chef-owner of West Kendall’s popular Finka Table + Tap), who keep croqueta quality top of mind. You can choose from ham, chicken, and fish croquetas — they’re all exemplary, but it’s the jamón that you’ll be craving morning, noon, and night.
3. Josh’s Deli
The dish: The Jewban sandwich
Sure, you can get “traditional” Jewish fare at Josh Marcus’ shoebox of a deli: his matzo ball soup is schmaltzy and nourishing, his latkes are crispy and salty and come with the appropriate accoutrements of apples and sour cream.
But in Miami, where Cuban roast pork reigns supreme, even deli purists must acknowledge the greatness of the cultural culinary mashup that is The Jewban. Marcus layers his own hand-cut pastrami onto house-baked rye bread, then adds the signatures of a Cuban sandwich — roast pork, Swiss cheese, sliced pickles, and mustard — before giving it a toast on the griddle. It may be unorthodox, and lord knows it’s not kosher, but this remake of a quintessential sandwich is the best thing on the menu at Miami’s best deli.
The dish: Manti dumplings
Few restaurants are quite as transportive as Mandolin, where the sun-warmed, breeze-kissed patio demands that you have a cool glass of rosé in hand, as if you were actually on the Aegean Sea. You’re not, of course, but this vibe and this menu will make you think you are, especially when you catch your first whiff and taste of Mandolin’s outstanding manti dumplings.
Owners Anastasia Koutsioukis and Ahmet Erkaya were inspired by the manti from Erkaya’s native Turkey — pillowy little dumplings filled with minced beef or lamb (Mandolin has served both, but the beef version is on the current menu). The spoonable manti are sauced with a garlicky yogurt for tanginess, and brown butter and Aleppo pepper for a warming heat.
5. Casablanca Fish Market & Restaurant
The dish: Mahi sandwich
There’s a good chance if you stop into Casablanca that you’ll spot a chef from one of Miami’s top restaurants picking up a haul of local fish, a good indicator of the quality at this family-run fish market and adjacent seafood grill.
Grab a table at the restaurant — or dock your boat onto its deck if you’re coming by water — and order the freshest mahi sandwich you’ll ever wrap your hands around. It’s a low-frills affair, the mahi grilled and dressed simply with lettuce and tomato on a ciabatta roll, to let the fish be the star. Pair it with a mojito and watch the boats float along the Miami River.
6. La Fresa Francesa
The dish: Foie gras pastelito
At their adorable French bistro in Hialeah, co-owners Sandy Sanchez and Benoit Rablat keep on the menu one of the most only-in-Miami dishes in Miami. The best one, too, if you’re asking.
It’s a seared lobe of foie gras sandwiched inside a flaky pastelito that’s filled with local Redland guava jam. It’s salty and sweet, smooth and crunchy, warm and cold, fatty and tart, French and Cuban.
The dish: Ous
When NIU Kitchen moved into its neighboring sister restaurant, Arson, during the pandemic to consolidate space, chef Deme Lomas made some tweaks and changes to his mashup menu. One thing that didn’t change: Ous, a signature NIU dish since its earliest days that exemplifies the restaurant’s playful energy and serious kitchen chops.
Lomas takes gently warmed, poached eggs and layers them under truffled potato foam, topping the bowl with flakes of salty Ibérico ham and earthy black truffle. You’ll want to make sure you have bread on the table to scoop up every last bite.
The dish: Wagyu short rib
The pastrami-style short rib, a staple on chef-owner Michael Beltran’s flagship restaurant menu since Ariete’s opening day in 2016, got a presentation face-lift this fall. At the center of the plate is off-the-bone wagyu short rib, which — true to the original recipe — Beltran brines for four days before hanging, spicing, smoking, and cooking under sous vide for another three days.
Short-rib trimmings are mixed with East and West Coast oysters and bechamel, then breaded and fried to serve as a croqueta accompaniment to the short rib, along with a gem lettuce Caesar. The original dish may not have been in need of an upgrade, but it sure did get one.
9. Boia De
The dish: Potato skins
Chefs Luciana Giangrandi and Alex Meyer used to serve one of the city’s best fried chicken sandwiches from their La Pollita taco cart in the Design District (and they still have it! But only on Sundays!). So it goes without saying that they know how to make comforting food with a crunch.
That’s what’s so pleasurable about the potato skins on the menu at Boia De, the 24-seat restaurant they opened in the summer of 2019. The spuds are baked, then scooped out and hand-ripped (essential for getting maximum-crispy edges) before being quickly fried and topped with creamy stracciatella, grated egg yolk, and — plot twist! — dollops of caviar. It’s all crunch and pop, and the flavor will make you forget any potato skins you’ve had before.
10. Tropical Chinese
The dish: Dim sum
Celebrating its 38th anniversary in November, Tropical Chinese has been pushing Hong Kong-style dim sum carts for longer than most Miami restaurants have been in business. The 50-some-item dim sum service is available daily during lunchtime and for an extended brunch on Sunday.
Delicately shaped dumplings of different forms are perfect two-bite vehicles for shrimp, pork, vegetables, and more. Highlights include the translucent and ethereal har gow, succulent and craveable pork buns, and pan-fried leek dumplings. From chicken feet to stuffed tofu skin, you’re going to find something to love.
11. 27 Restaurant
The dish: Griot and pikliz
There’s no restaurant that effortlessly showcases Miami’s varied culinary influences as well as 27 does. The menu bounces from Peru to Cuba to Israel to China to Jamaica to India to Italy to Korea, but no dish is ever muddled or confused or — dare say it — fusion-y. But the magic happens when you land in Haiti, represented here by a devastatingly good griot and pikliz.
One of the restaurant’s Haitian dishwashers prepared it for the kitchen’s family meal years ago, and it inspired the dish that’s been a menu mainstay ever since. Chunks of pork are marinated in citrus and chiles before being simmered and fried, served with a pickled and spicy chayote-based slaw and Haitian-style fried green plantains.
12. Benh Mi
The dish: Xtra crunchy fried-chicken bánh mì
Chef Benjamin Murray’s pandemic pop-up this summer turned into a permanent sandwich shop, where he and co-founder Michael Kaplan have created a tightly curated menu of ::chef’s kiss:: bánh mì.
Try the xtra crunchy fried chicken version, whose juicy-crispy base of fried tenders is further crunchified by pickled veggies, fresh herbs, cucumbers, and jalapeños. A slather of umami mayo on a fresh roll from Bettant Bakery — four blocks from the restaurant — finishes off a top-shelf Miami sandwich.
13. Blue Collar
The dish: The Corben
Miami filmmaker Billy Corben of Cocaine Cowboys has been a regular of Blue Collar since it opened in 2012. He stopped by enough in that first year for chef-owner Danny Serfer to name an off-menu dish after him. Word got out about the secret “Corben” — Twitter gossiped about it, and the media picked up on it — and Serfer dutifully gave it a permanent spot on the Blue Collar menu.
Forever a favorite, The Corben combines slices of braised brisket and squiggles of Dijon mustard on twin Portuguese muffins — a little sturdier and a little sweeter than English muffins — with a bowl of jus for dipping. Served with latkes and applesauce, The Corben is more like a meal and a half.
The dish: Smoked lamb neck
The five-day process to brine, dry, smoke, and braise lamb necks — think osso buco turned up to 11 — pays off in the hauntingly flavorful final product served at chef Niven Patel’s Ghee in Downtown Dadeland.
Acidic tomatoes complement the dish’s earthy depth of spices, including green cardamom, ginger, and turmeric. Available a la carte or as a supplement to Ghee’s family-style tasting menu, the fall-apart lamb is a showstopper that comes in a pool of its rich braising broth, dotted with black-eyed peas.
15. Joe’s Stone Crab
The dish: Fried chicken
Joe’s Stone Crab has been Miami Beach’s premier see-and-be-seen-and-eat-stone-crabs destination since 1913. And now that stone crab season is back (Oct. 15 to May 1), the venerable icon is again packed to the gills with people paying top dollar — $120 for an order of jumbos! — for hard-shell delicacies.
Here’s the thing that locals know: stone crabs are very good, but Joe’s fried chicken is outstanding — and a steal. For $8.95 you get half a bird, free-range, battered and fried the right way so the meat is hot and juicy and the outside shatters on contact.
The dish: Totopos
Since 2014, Taquiza has been stone-grinding organic, non-GMO blue corn into masa, and hand-pressing it into tortillas for tacos and for totopos.
Start with the totopos, puffy blue-corn chips that are fried to order and can be amped up with Taquiza’s house salsa, beans, queso, and/or guacamole. With two locations in Miami Beach and nationwide shipping through Goldbelly, Taquiza gives you plenty of ways to get your hands on those totopos, tacos, churros, and more.
17. El Rey de las Fritas
Little Havana and multiple locations
The dish: La Original Frita Cubana
The family-run El Rey de las Fritas has been making Cuban-style hamburgers known as fritas in Miami since the 1970s. One key to a proper frita is ground beef that’s smash-cooked on a griddle. Another is the seasoning — there’s enough Spanish paprika (and maybe hot sauce?) in El Rey’s frita patties to tinge them red.
After a quick cook with some diced onions, the frita is flipped onto a soft Cuban roll and topped with freshly fried shoestring potatoes. This is Miami fast food at its finest.
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