Taste Test: How to Cool Down a Spicy Mouth
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.