Editor’s Note: This article is part two of Thrillist Miami's year-end look at the best of our city’s local food and drink scene in 2016. In addition to our annual Best New Restaurants award, this year, we’re spotlighting the men and women behind the dishes we love to tell you to eat. Whether they bucked the national trends, revived classic local flavors, or otherwise drove the city's culinary scene, these are the chefs that stood out this year. Check out our picks for the rest of America’s 2016 Best Chefs, and then catch up on Best New Restaurants.
If you happen to be an outsider who thinks that Magic City cuisine is namely Cuban street food, Cuban food from Versailles, Cuban-influenced food, and the occasional overpriced cocktail on South Beach, then… well, you've definitely been to Miami. But ask the locals and you'll find that Miami is blowing up with award-winning restaurants, chefs, and tasty hole-in-the-walls that finally give diners a reason to go out to eat that doesn't involve a Chris Bosh sighting or a waterfront view. 2016 was yet another fantastic year for Miami's culinary scene. And if you're wondering who you can thank for it, start with these guys: the real MVPs of kitchen supremacy and Thrillist Miami's Chefs of the Year.
Aside from a handful of tasty taco spots, Miami has never been known for real Mexican food. That is until Scott Linquist entered the scene. Starting as a dishwasher at an LA pizza spot in high school, Scott worked his way up through the kitchens of some of the best restaurants in America: Lutece and Gotham Bar and Grill in NYC, Boulevard in San Francisco, and Citrus and City in Los Angeles. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and was executive chef at Border Grill in LA, Arizona 206, and Pershing Square in NYC. He led the opening of seven Dos Caminos Mexican restaurants during his 10 years as national corporate executive chef and partner of BR Guest, released a modern Mexican cookbook, and even taught classes at Le Cordon Bleu to mold the minds of future chefs. Basically, he's the go-to guy for all things Mexican in Miami.
Today, he's redefining Mexican cuisine in South Florida. First with his fast-casual spot Coyo Taco, and most recently with the upscale authentic Mexican spot on Lincoln Rd, Olla, which opened in November 2016. In short, Linquist has taken the Miami Mex scene by storm, which is not surprising when you get a taste of his out-of-the-box tacos (like Coyo's charred octopus tacos with salsa veracruzana and pickled jalapeños), made-from-scratch guac, King crab marisco enchiladas, and, of course, his moles.
"Moles are possibly the most misunderstood dishes in the Mexican repertoire," Linquist says. "Most people believe it to be a weird chocolate sauce, but of all the moles, there are very few that actually contain chocolate, and for the ones that do, the chocolate is actually a very small component of the recipe." And yet, despite how hard they are to make, the guru himself put four on the menu. "I'm working on a mole tasting menu with wine pairings," he says. "I really want people to understand that certain wines pair beautifully with the cuisine."
And when you head to Coyo or Olla and try Scott's modern twist on real Mexican cuisine… trust us: You'll understand.
What's your favorite restaurant right now in Miami? Scott Linquist: I like a lot of them! It's not new, but my best meal in recent memory was at Pubbelly, the original one. Jose Mendin's flavors are always on point and the ingredients are interesting. He does this one short rib soup dumpling with a sweet corn broth that is killer. The restaurant that I go to most often, though, is Toni's Sushi. The fish is awesome, I love its old-school Japanese sushi bar vibe (without all the bells and whistles of the trendy spots), and I love drinking my sake out of a box! Lastly, MC Kitchen. It reminds me of some of my favorite NYC spots. Plus, chef Dena Marino's pasta is the shit.
What makes the food scene in Miami so special? Linquist: "It's on fire… finally. Miami has long been an outpost for NYC restaurants that overcharge and underdeliver, and it's nice to see young chefs and restaurateurs on the scene that actually live in Miami and are excited to be here. It reminds me of NYC about 15 years ago. The camaraderie among chefs is special and everyone in the scene here is super-excited about it. Not to mention that Miami is not just about tourists anymore. We have a multifaceted dining scene and the locals can no longer be overlooked. They're as important as the tourists.
This is your second Mexican concept in Miami. Why are you so passionate about Mexican cuisine? Linquist: Mexican food is so misunderstood and poorly represented in many cases. I have been studying the cuisine and culture of Mexico for over 20 years; the complexity of flavors, the multitude of chiles, and the unique ingredients that exist in Mexican cuisine are like no other cuisine in the world. It is truly special. And of course, there are great tequilas, mezcals, and margaritas... enough said!
What's your favorite dish on the menu to prepare? To eat? Linquist: Mole, mole, and more mole. More specifically, my favorite dish at the moment is our duck two ways, with mole Coloradito and sour cherries. Mole Coloradito is a very complex, fruity, nutty red mole that includes Mexican chocolate and about 27 other ingredients. We have a mole section that will feature four of the "seven moles of Oaxaca." My favorite to eat is menudo, a rich broth made with three types of feet and tripe. So in this case, yes: I do have a foot fetish.
It's your last meal. What are you eating? Linquist: Sushi would probably be my answer; either Izaka-ya in Manhattan Beach, Takahachi in NYC, or Toni's in Miami. So really, I guess it would depend on my location when I meet my demise. Of course, the other obvious choice is Taco Bell! Seriously, I'm not joking.
While most Miamians in their early 30s are happy to drink and not get a hangover, 31 year-old chef Giorgio Rapicavoli has already won Food Network's Chopped and Chopped Champions, been listed on Forbes' "30 Under 30," opened a series of pop-ups and three must-try restaurants (Taperia Raca, Eating House Miami, and earlier this year, Glass & Vine), and been a James Beard Award semi-finalist… three times. So yeah, he's somewhat of a big deal.
Of course, those who knew Rapicavoli as a child aren't surprised at all. While most kids were watching cartoons, Rapicavoli was already an overachiever; watching cooking shows and spending Sundays in the kitchen with his Italian "Ma" nailing down her pomodoro sauce. And for a chef known for his out-there plates -- Cap'n Crunch pancakes and Tang mimosas -- it seems fitting that his path to get where he is today was a little out there, too. As a top student at Johnson & Wales University, Rapicavoli dropped the program a semester short of graduation to dive right into the chef world. And considering this Miami native helmed the kitchen at Chispa Doral at just 21 years old, nabbed a three-year stint as executive chef at 660 at The Angler's on Miami Beach, and today, is a household name for some of the best brunches around (because seriously, those pancakes)… well, it's safe to say he did something right.
What's your favorite restaurant in Miami right now? Giorgio Rapicavoli: That's a tough call. I love so many places; Kon Chau, El Atlakat, Rio Cristal, Chinese Guy, Yakko-San. It's impossible to name just one.
What makes the food scene in Miami so special? Rapicavoli: Miami has always harbored creatives, but in the past few years, a lot of the creativity has been geared towards food. Today, there are lots of young, ambitious chefs trying to help create a real food culture in Miami.
You're known for your creative, out-of-the-box plates. What foods do you like to experiment with the most? Rapicavoli: I love to cook vegetables. They are just great to work with. So versatile. Vegetables are often an afterthought, as a side dish to meat or chicken, blandly sprinkled with salt and pepper. I love making them the star of the show, like our charred head of cauliflower with chickpeas, tahini, and dehydrated olives. It's flavorful and satisfying, regardless of whether you're a vegetarian or not.
What's your favorite dish on the menu to prepare? Rapicavoli: My favorite dish on the menu is the grilled sweetbreads, both to cook and prepare. I like the challenge of using underutilized cuts, so it makes me happy to surprise guests with something they love and don't usually eat.
It's your last meal. What are you eating? Rapicavoli: Simple is best: fresh pasta with butter, Parmigiano, and white truffles.
Some people believe cooking is a work of art and when you try Brad Kilgore's dishes, you'll understand why. Hailing from Kansas City, Kilgore has spent more than 10 years firing up the kitchens at fine-dining spots across the country, like L2O, Alinea, Epic, Boka (in Chicago), Azul (in Miami), and finally, J&G Grill, where he served as executive chef. What more can we say about Kilgore? OK, well he started cooking at a diner at the age of 12, graduated from Johnson & Wales University, is the brains behind Wynwood's famed Alter, and after this past year, became a two-time James Beard Award semifinalist. Let's not forget he opened BRAVA by Brad Kilgore in the Adrienne Arsht Center where he was named culinary director. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you... the incomparable Brad Kilgore.
At Alter, Brad has coined a style of cuisine that he calls "food with no boundaries," serving artistic dishes that are as fun to look at as they are delicious to eat.
"The Fallen Tree course at Alter is fun, intriguing, and a collaboration between me and an artist. Mark Diaz, of MAD Design, made the box-plate it is served on," said Kilgore. "It looks like a fallen tree in the forest, and is presented in a glass-topped box made with birch trees and lichen. The main component is heart of palm, which is also a tree, so you are eating a fallen tree on a box of fallen trees. The dish took six years from the first time I thought of it to its current stage."
Outside of your restaurants, what's your favorite restaurant in Miami right now? Brad Kilgore: I have always loved the calzone at Lucali, but La Mar and Pubbelly are always great. I'm also excited to try Upland.
What makes the food scene in Miami so special? Kilgore: It's so eclectic. There are people of so many cultures and, in general, the food is robust and aggressive, with lots of flavor.
You've worked at many different restaurants in Miami, all with different styles. What is your favorite type of cuisine to cook and why? Kilgore: I really like to cook inventive, thought-provoking cuisine like the tasting menus at Alter and the re-creation of classics, like at BRAVA. These styles are what I love as a chef. They keep me driven and inspired.
It's your last meal. What are you eating? Kilgore: Caesar salad, roast chicken, and mashed potatoes.
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Jennifer Agress is a Miami-based food and drink writer who can’t cook to save her life. She counts on Miami’s chefs to make sure she eats. Follow her on Instagram at @jenniferagress.
People from outside Miami are sometimes shocked we don’t have an abundance of Mexican restaurants like they do in, say, LA. Because having so many Spanish speakers means we must also kill the quesadilla game, right? Riiiiiight. But while we may not have as many taquerias as we do ventanillas, we still boast a solid crop of Mexican restaurants in Miami, for almost any occasion. So whether you want to impress a date with the fanciest Mexican food they’ve ever seen, or get tacos on a dented folding chair on Calle Ocho, here are the best Mexican restaurants in Miami.
Des Moines’ Zombie Burger Will Create the Burger Of Your Dreams… Or Nightmares
Burger creations (or mad-scientist monstrosities, if you prefer) have come alive in Des Moines. Zombie Burger is creating ridiculous mashups involving chicken-fried bacon, cheese curds, fried pickles -- you name it, they’ve included it in their Frankensteinian burgers. One specialty? The Undead Elvis: peanut butter, banana, egg, bacon, patty. Spooky.
ell 2017, it’s been real. As we head down the homestretch of perhaps the most surreal year any of us can remember, it’s time to forget about things like Brickell Avenue becoming the Brickell River, headlines beginning “Senate Hopeful Kid Rock,” and literally anything involving the Dolphins. Rather, let us shift our collective focus on the highlights: The Marlins finally got sold. We’ll soon have a train that gets commuters from Dade to Broward in 20 minutes. And we got a plethora of amazing new restaurants, many of which are owned by locals and charge reasonable prices (really!). While we can’t promise playoff baseball or on-time trains, we can guarantee a trip to any of the 15 best new restaurants of 2017 will be time well spent.
South African eats and wine in a dimly lit space
Until Ernie Els opened up his namesake spot atop Brickell City Center, nary a South Floridian could tell you what South African food was. Or that it even existed. But thanks to this dark, wine bottle-lined restaurant with an open kitchen and a blazing hearth, we not only know what it is -- we want much more of it. The highlights here are easy: The piri piri chicken -- a sweet/spicy sauce draped over fire roasted poultry; pork belly popsicles; and the Durban bunny chow, a giant lamb shank served in a bread bowl with a uniquely flavored tomato sauce.
The best vegan food you'll find in Miami
Is it just us, or did it seem like every third restaurant opening in Miami this year was touting its ability to make pistachio paste taste like steak? Vegan food is likely the second trendiest thing in Miami behind butt implants, and the best entrant of the cuisine this year was Todd Erickson’s new Midtown joint. Not that we’d expect anything less out of the guy who Beat Bobby Flay -- and introduced Miami to the fried chicken taco. But Erickson’s new socially-conscious GLAM is plating the best vegan options in the city.
Forward thinking Indian food with a constantly changing menu
Though the suddenly undependable Metrorail has given Miamians something new to complain about in 2017, Niven Patel has given us one less. The city’s heretofore dearth of Indian food is no more, as this 70-seater with an ever changing menu, 240 imported spices, and a décor that feels like it was dropped in from Mumbai fills the void. Pro tip: If you’re heading to Dadeland for this culinary adventure, maybe don’t take the Metrorail.
Hip new spot serving upscale dishes at moderate prices
Little Haiti is a neighborhood on the come up. The surefire sign of a ‘hood hipsters will claim they knew about first? Restaurants like Sherwood’s, built out of an old medical office with quirky artwork, antique ceilings, and a sprawling backyard patio where group dinners can turn into all-night affairs. But there’s more to Sherwood’s than its Austin-esque décor. The food is impossibly light and filling at the same time, like the chef’s bowl filled with sweet potato and coconut curry, or the Little River ramen served with pork belly. Sherwood’s greatest contribution to the restaurant world, however, is self-serve bread, passing the onus for bread basket refilling from waiter-to-customer in a seamless move of common sense.
Interesting fusion dishes in a relaxed atmosphere
While our city’s culinary graveyard is filled with out-of-towners who thought their high-concept stuff would fly in SoFla, locals like Michael Mayta are the ones who actually make it. In Lutum, he’s created a restaurant for locals. The menu’s made up of creative stuff like falafel filled with Scotch egg, fettuccine with sage and pumpkin seed pesto, and pappardelle with short rib Bolognese -- interesting without being unapproachable. All of it at prices that won’t make you choose between dinner and your FPL bill. He does this by serving moderately sized portions of filling food, in a simple, plant-filled space that’s relaxing and inviting. For all around value and dining experience, this is our favorite new addition of the year.
Pricey waterfront restaurant that's great for dates
The year’s best new date spot is this Mediterranean gem along the Miami River. Though nobody’s confusing it for a bargain restaurant, the light, fresh menu from an Estiatorio Milos alum is full of fresh seafood and lemony sauces, all served on fluffy, elegant tables next to the water. The restaurant strikes the balance of class and approachability, a spot where you’re just as welcome in flip-flops and shorts as you are in your South Beach uniform. In a city where quality food and great views is often paired with a heaping side of pretension, Kiki is a welcomed addition.
Traditional seafood in extremely nautical digs
Back when they called it “Mia-muh" this city felt more like an extension of the Keys. And that laid-back, live-to-fish vibe is captured perfectly at Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth’s latest creation, a fresh seafood spot done up with seashell chandeliers and grey-wood walls. The spoon bread is a creamy southern specialty filled with corn and dill, an absolute must try. But for the adventurous, go with the buffalo fish wings, a crispy piece of fish covered in buffalo sauce making Stiltsville the venerable Anchor Bar of seafood. There’s also a surf-and-turf burger featuring a beef patty topped with lobster. It might seem pricey at over $30 but is easily split two ways. Add that to a tropical cocktail list long on fruity stuff you’d enjoy by the sunset, and you’ve got the most authentically-Floridian new restaurant of the year.
Miami's best steakhouse complemented by amazing people watching
To clarify: This is the same BLT Steak that used to be at the Betsy. That place is now LT Steak and Seafood, but this BLT just opened up in the Berkeley Hotel and is every bit as delicious as the Ocean Drive original. The classic steaks here are prime dry-aged heaven, served on a patio that’s perfect for South Beach people watching. Or opt to eat indoors in the historic art deco dining room and try some of the unique menu items like steak tartare tacos and foie gras empanadas. Combine that menu with the expert grilling of chef Carlos Torres, and you'll find yourself in one of Miami's best steakhouses.
Extravagant small plates in an even more extravagant setting
The Diplomat Resort in Hollywood has reinvented itself like a recent South Florida transplant,. And nothing has signified the sweeping changes better than Michael Shulson’s Monkitail. The interior is an elegant Asian design of light woods and dark lighting, the kind of place you’d 100% expect to see a celebrity if it were in South Beach. The sushi and sashimi can hold their own with anywhere in South Florida, with toro caviar and the inventive hot yellowtail with garlic leading the way. The robata grill has your standard wagyu, kobe, and octopus, but you might find the pastrami bao bun more intriguing. Finish off with a big bowl of shareable short rib of the miso-glazed sea bass, then wash it down with a grilled peach mojito. It’s the kind of chic-trendy spot you’ve never seen north of the county line, and might be Broward’s best new spot of the year.
Robata and sushi with unobstructed ocean views
Dining with an unobstructed view of the ocean is harder to come by in South Florida than you’d think. But the best new place to do it this year is at the Hyde Resort, where Rainer Becker of Zuma fame has brought his robata-and-sushi game to the sand. With the cool breeze blowing off the ocean, enjoy an old fashioned made with Japanese whiskey and the black kampachi with truffle to start. Then pick from the long list of grilled meats, cooked on a giant robata grill that dominates the inside part of the restaurant. You can’t go wrong with filet mignon by the sea, but if you’ve got an herbivore among you the grilled corn is a surprising highlight.
Modern Cuban food paired with a vast cocktail menu
This semi-touristy mojito stand in the middle of the Oasis at Sawgrass Mills is the low-key best new Cuban restaurant of the year, where local boy Douglas Rodriguez has taken his modern take on traditional stuff north of the county line. If you can get past the blaring salsa and meringue, the food here is fire, with stuff like the matalo burger -- topped with ropa vieja -- and Cuban fried chicken with orange mojo glaze joining the famous Cuban sandwich on a stick on the menu. This makes it both a perfect spot to go before a Panthers game, or really any time you find yourself in Sunrise.
Argentine brunch which may be the best new brunch in Miami
Seems like only yesterday the only brunch options we had in Miami were the put-your-house-up-for-collateral spread at the Biltmore, or Cuban toast at your neighborhood ventanilla. Now we’ve got more options than we have Sundays in the year, and the best one to land in 2017 is at the new Argentine fusion spot in the Delano. The impressive spread of fresh fruit, pastries, salads, and sushi would be enough to get it near the top. But for $70 you also get two items off the a la carte menu -- like short rib empanadas or smoked salmon Benedict -- plus an entire parrilla of grilled meats by the pool ranging from sausage to steak to chicken. Plus the requisite unlimited mimosas and Bellinis.
Famed NYC street food at affordable prices
As proud residents of South Florida, we’re long trained to take any New Yorker’s superlatives with a block of salt. And unlike roughly 99.7% of the things from “the city” they claim are “the best,” Halal Guys lives up to the hype. This year we got our first taste of the Big Apple’s premier Middle Eastern food truck, and the lines have been pouring out the door ever since. It’s the year’s best new cheap eat, where eight bucks gets you a heaping plate of rice, lettuce, tomato and either beef or chicken, topped with their famous white sauce and painfully hot red stuff. Or you can throw it all in a pita if that’s more your style. For a quick meal there might be nothing better in Broward, and it’s the rare Northeastern transplant everyone here is welcoming.
Outdoor taco spot from a Mexico City transplant
The best tacos are always found in a truck outside the garden center, right? Of course this being Miami, we had to take that concept a little bit upscale, and the result is this edison-bulb lined al fresco spot in the hipster-chic midtown garden center. Here chef Omar Montero has a menu full of tacos you might find regularly south of the border, but are hard to come by anywhere else. Your best bet is the Villamelon Cecnia -- a staple at Mexican bullfights filled with dried ribeye, chicharones, and Mexican sausage. Though the smoked chile relleno is perfect if you’re not into loads of meat.
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