Like everything in Miami, finding a good restaurant is always an exercise in separating hype from reality. Did we see a cluster of celebrity- and influencer-packed hotspots open this year, boasting high-priced entrees and mediocre food? Duh. We’re Miami, the world would be disappointed if we didn’t.
But we also saw a solid crop of fantastic new places we sincerely hope outlive the overhyped competition. Y'know, stuff from local chefs at reasonable prices aimed at people who enjoy eating more than being seen. If you fall into the former group, peep these 14 places around the city that stood out -- some surprisingly so -- as Miami’s best new restaurants of 2019.
Buena Vista A tiny restaurant with food that’s way bigger Marked by a single neon exclamation point in a nondescript Buena Vista strip mall, this restaurant from the team behind the smash popup La Pollita is hands-down the best new date spot of the year. With only a few dozen seats, it feels like a tucked-away find, where you and your special someone can huddle together and enjoy modern Italian twists like sweet corn agnolotti with lobster and mushrooms, and pappardelle alla lepre with rabbit and rosemary. Take it one step further and order a hard-to-find wine off Boia De’s impressive list, boasting boutique winery selections seldom found in spaces this size.
Wynwood Amazing Cuban cocktails with a menu of solid standards When we heard the vaunted Cocktail Cartel -- aka the guys behind the drinks at Rhythm and Vine and the Fontainebleau -- were teaming with Giorgio Rapicivoli to open a Cuban-themed restaurant in Wynwood, we almost didn’t need to try it. But we did, obviously, and found a Cuban joint that’s approachable to anyone, with a menu of stuff like plantain chips and guacamole, churrasco tiradito, and croqueta buns. Behind the bar, you’ll find the best Cuban cocktail menu in the city, highlighted by the Cafeteria Old Fashioned that combines the Cuban staples of coffee, tobacco, and rum, and serves it in a steaming coffee pot.
Midtown A Michelin-starred chef brings high-end Indian to Miami The concept of upscale Indian food might be hard to conceptualize for anyone who grew up going to all-you-can-eat $8.99 Sunday buffets. But Indian cuisine has a lot more to offer than trays of samosas, evidenced by Hemant Mathur’s midtown palace of chandeliers and plush seats. Amidst all that, he’s serving 21st-century advancements on Indian classics like rosemary paneer cooked in a tandoor, stacked Kheema Baida Roti filled with spiced beef, and braised short ribs in Himalayan herbs.
Design District The most photo-friendly new spot of 2019 Anyone who’s lived in Miami for more than a week knows to be wary of anything that trades on a photogenic reputation. But unlike our population of Instagram “models,” Le Jardineir lives up to its looks, whether it’s the ambience among the soft whites and sci-fi cocktail bar, or the masterfully plated food whose flavors match their presentation. Start off with the melon salad to give a blast of color to your story and a blast of flavor to your mouth, then move onto the fingerling gnocchi and heritage chicken to ensure your stomach and your IG feed both leave full. You’ll drop a good chunk of change here, but can you really put a price on great content?
Design District Brad Kilgore plays with fire, makes lasagna The most intriguing new menu item of 2019 had to be the fire-roasted lasagne at Ember, the flame-inspired open-kitchen eatery from Alter’s Brad Kilgore. And while the smoky, salty layered entrée has flavors as novel as its name, you’d be remiss to go here and stop at the pasta. The grilled meats are spectacular, whether you’re opting for the Certified Angus Beef filet mignon or the massive 34oz porterhouse. The food landed Ember on the New York Post’s list of the best new restaurants in Miami recently, which would kinda be like us naming the best pizza in Brooklyn, but is nice to see regardless.
South Beach Omakase in the Versace mansion that’s much cheaper than you’d think In theory, eating sushi on Ocean Drive at the Versace Mansion would be like a tourist trap cubed -- an essentially-guaranteed recipe for price-gouged mediocrity. But head upstairs into the private counter at Sushi by Bou and you’ll find the exact opposite: a 17-course sushi experience in a lavish setting for $125 per person. Can’t stomach 17-courses, or $125? They’ve also got a 12-course offering for very-un-Versace $50, which is less than pizza and a beer at a lot of places on Ocean Drive. That makes Sushi by Bou possibly the best new value of 2019, and hands-down the best place for first-timers.
Midtown Indian street food you’ll crave for days A year that saw great gourmet Indian food come to Miami also introduced us to the food you'd find on the streets; spicy, savory handheld morsels that fill you up just enough to make it to the next stand. Cho:Tu gives us a taste of what it might be like wandering markets of Mumbai, plating up dahi vada (lentil fritters with yogurt and tamarind chutney) and pani puri (a fried bread filled with potatoes or chickpeas, sweet and sour tamarind chutney, spicy mint chutney, and topped with a masala flavored water mixture), alongside a full menu of curry-filled dosa. The food comes from the same culinary minds behind Maska next door, but here you’ll get the same quality for about $14, with no wait for a table.
Coconut Grove Cuban diner food that’s veggie friendly too A cuisine that starts most of its recipes with some version of “sautee half a pound of lard” doesn’t initially seem like the kind of place to find great vegetarian options. But we live in the era of the Impossible Whopper™, and also places like Chug’s, where chef Michael Beltran serves up burrata avocado and sweet potato salad with rice and beans that are free from pork fat. Don’t get us wrong, the mojo pork, braised oxtail, and pan con lechon are as good as you’ll find at any greasy cafeteria. But if you’re not up for grease, you can still enjoy a damn fine meal here.
Downtown Danny Serfer’s sub shop may be his best effort yet Bold, we know, to say that the guy who brought us Blue Collar and Mignonette might have topped them both, but this unassuming sandwich spot in the DuPont building Downtown is a habit-forming lunch counter. The ingredients are what make it a place you'll be back to time and time again, with imported 18-month prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and Calabrian salami with Scamorza cheese all served on fresh La Parisienne bread. The sandwich offerings here might be the best we’ve seen since the sad departure of Gardner’s Market.
South Miami Late-night comfort food from Miami’s firecracker chef Perhaps wait until after you’ve broken your New Year’s resolution to try out Adrianne Calvo’s tribute to herb-inspired ordering. Because if you’re even attempting to count calories you won’t find much on the menu at a place that’s best known for its pepperoni pizza truffle fries. The small space smells like calories -- a bit of a cross between a Cuban cafeteria and a steakhouse -- boasting a menu stacked with too-baked-to-care creations like braised short rib grilled cheese or shredded chicken and cheese empanadas. But rather than the drive-thru or stuff you make on your stove at 3am, the food here will still taste just as good as leftovers.
South Miami Miami’s renowned southern chefs go Italian. And it works. Just because Jeff McInnis made his name slinging fried chicken at Yardbird doesn’t mean he’s a one-trick pony. Miami’s culinary power couple opened Mi’talia this year, and it's far and away the best new Italian entrant of 2019. The fresh pastas steal the show led by a pumpkin agnolotti in sage and brown butter sauce. But the meatballs and whipped ricotta are equally as cheat-worthy, as are any of the stone oven pizzas. The crowd is almost all locals, meaning you won’t find anything overpriced, and might just make some new friends at the table next door.
South Beach A seafood restaurant for the non-seafood crowd When you open a restaurant at the Kimpton Anglers in tourist-heavy South Beach, you’ve gotta cater to a variety of people. Mission accomplished at Seawell, where the name might imply nothing but seafood, but the menu delivers on all fronts. Granted, you’d be missing out if you left without trying the baked oysters bingo topped with ham, parm, and an herb glaze. Or the lobster poutine. But venture outside the suggestions and you’ll find fried chicken that could make a claim as the best in the city, and a cocktail menu that’s surprisingly inventive for a South Beach hotel restaurant. The menu’s not huge, keeping it simple for everyone, but still offering enough to make it the best new seafood spot of the year.
MiMo Food that’ll almost make you forget about the mural Though technically Jose Mendin’s tribute to his home island opened in late 2018, because of the situation regarding the Puerto Rican flag painted on the entire building, it was really by 2019 that La Placita got its mojo working. Once the mural issue was resolved, Miami was free to enjoy the make-your-own-mofongo bar, where guests can throw everything from ropa vieja to criollo lobster into a savory plantain mash. Or you can just sit outside at one of the metal tables and sip rum-based drinks with Puerto Rican music, observing the occasional domino tournament inside.
South Beach A New York sandwich shop that’s as good as advertised Forgive us in South Florida for not immediately fawning over everything that comes down here from New York claiming to be a “big deal.” But unlike literally everyone at Art Basel and the Knicks, this NYC-transplant backs up its claims, serving big, meaty Italian-stlye sandwiches in the lobby of the Meridian Hotel. The short menu is full of smoked hams, beef, and turkey on bread from Bouchon bakery, crafted like the stuff you’d find in Little Italy. Sit down at the counter and try the Cousin Anthony with smoked chicken, fresh mozzarella, arugula, balsamic, and Regina’s pesto. And wash it down with a crisp, fruit-flavored Italian sparkling water.
Sign up here for our daily Miami email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.