Ninety percent of people who move to Miami are full of secrets. Maybe you just got divorced. Maybe you barely escaped indictment for a Ponzi scheme. Either way it always makes dating here an adventure, but it's also why we've got cool stuff like secret bars and entire menus you don't even know about. Until now.
We asked chefs, restaurateurs, longtime regulars, friends in the know, and now we're spilling the beans about these secret, off-menu foods and drinks you can covertly order throughout South Florida.
Crab-crusted tomahawk steak
RED the Steakhouse
Never one to scrimp on indulgence, Miami’s best steakhouse is topping a gargantuan 29oz dry-aged certified Angus beef prime rib-eye with a king crab cake then finishing it in the broiler. Equinox gym memberships are available a few blocks away.
We’re not going to think too hard about why “Million Dollar Chef” Walter Martino wanted to put this special menu item at his brand-new Miami outpost in a women’s stiletto heel. We’ll just tell you the shoe is filled with vegetable tempura including green and white asparagus, scallions, baby beets, baby zucchini, and baby carrots, and the platter next to it is a bresaola Wagyu beef roll made with truffle honey.
Yeah, it’s one of the best burgers in Miami, but that doesn’t mean Chef Phil Bryant needs to tell any pesky tourists about it. The secret burger at The Local Craft Food & Drink changes frequently but in-the-know guests can always order whichever burger graces the menu "secret style," which adds a fried egg and switches out the regular bun for The Local’s Mc'Discos - two disks of melty housemade pimento cheese, hot pressed between a potato roll.
Breakfast of Champions
MO Bar and Lounge
Most “champions” who start every day with a cocktail haven’t been champions of anything since Spring Break 2005. Or are David Wells. But you can near that level of greatness/notoriety with this beast. It's made with French toast-flavored bourbon which has been fat-washed with bacon, and is then topped with a bacon maple waffle.
Chef Bee's long awaited return to South Beach has brought a menu full of some of the freshest, hottest Thai food Miami’s ever seen. But you won’t find this Oshi Thai favorite -- made with simmered glass noodle and Vietnamese swine fish with ginger and sesame oil -- anywhere on it.
You might think putting sea urchin in a croissant is gross. But you might also think something called “duck in a jar” or "chicken and waffles made with pork" would be a little weird too. Don't, and instead trust Cesar Zapata, he knows what he’s doing, and this off-menu invention with Maine sea urchin, chive, and cilantro on a hot buttered croissant is yet another reason step out of your comfort zone.
Shishito Pepper Tempura
That one (out of 20) shishito pepper that makes you feel like a chili bomb went off in your throat will be SLIGHTLY more palatable when served tempura style. Not that we can promise it’ll soak up all the fire in your mouth, but at least the breading, dashi broth, sesame, and shaved bonito can give you something to taste other than pain.
Ham and egg ravioli
Valentino Cucina Italiana
You think it took you a while to figure out how to make your “famous buffalo chicken dip?” Chef Giovanni Rocchio tried this stuff at a restaurant in Italy TWENTY years ago, and has been perfecting it ever since. The tweaks continue -- as the dish isn’t anywhere on his menu -- and until now only longtime regulars to one of Lauderdale’s best Italian restaurants even knew about it.
You’re all excited to take your date for some big, meaty tacos at Coyo, and when you get there she says something like “Oh, yeah, I don’t eat meat. Or carbs. It’s cool I’ll just have a water.” Order up this bowl with quinoa salad, grilled cactus, corn esquite, guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled onions, salsa, and chopped cilantro, and you’ll not only look knowledgeable, but also probably save your boring date.
Even if you look at a menu that touts its options for raw, vegan, and paleo eaters and think “That rabbit food ain’t for me!”, there’s still something for you at Dirt. Stop by after a long day on the beach to cool off with this iced tea made with chamomile, rooibus, and lavender, then mixed with ruby red Florida grapefruit juice, and Madagascar vanilla simple syrup.
Though it would be pretty fantastic if Gaston Acurio brought stuff from a drive-thru in Lima all the way to Miami just so we could taste what fast food is like abroad, it would also be REALLY soggy. And, now that we think about it, not fantastic at all actually. Better that it’s delicious fried chicken coated in a fiery sauce made with three Peruvian chili peppers and gochujang Korean chili paste.
Though most people don’t go to a steakhouse for seafood -- or tacos -- there’s always that one person in the group who just has to be different. Tell your contrarian buddy to go all crazy off-menu and order these fish tacos served carnitas style with mashed avocado, fresh tomatoes, and treated onions.
The typically unreachable Azul has opened up an Izakaya Nights special on Thursdays where you’ll get a five-course Japanese menu for a reasonable $55. But that stuff’s available the rest of the week too if you ask (priced a la carte), and the highlight is this bowl made with yellowfin tuna, avocado, sushi rice, furikake, and ponzu.
Fooq’s is already a go-to for impressing a date with a cozy little place in an otherwise-skethcy neighborhood. But you’ll double your cool points by ordering this off-menu specialty, made with Schaller & Weber bacon, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and black pepper. Though we can’t be held responsible if she asks how often you go there to know stuff that’s not even on the menu.
Chef Benjamin Goldman describes this as beautifully as we’ve ever heard a rice ball described:
"It was a one of the last minute ideas, conjured up with some fresh Uni and leftover coconut rice from service one night. My purveyor brought these beautiful ramps one evening which became useful for a simple pesto. The rice ball and pesto came together in perfect unison. The inspiration came from eating classic Italian Arancini as a child. My neighbor down the street used to make the best arancini and gravy. I would crave it."
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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist who's just excited to order from a menu he doesn't have to look up at. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.
Once voted Sexiest Steakhouse of the Year (by Playboy, no less) and beloved by A-listers, Red delivers on all the swanky fronts. But we suggest you let the food -- from appetizers like seared foie gras and caviar with crème fraiche to the steak and seafood entrées -- do the talking. Throw in a fully-loaded wine list, and the fact that Red is one of the few places in the country to use Miyazaki beef (like Kobe but more marbled), and you've got a steak night to remember.
2. Kaori 1250 S Miami Ave, Miami, FL 33130 (Downtown)
This high-end sushi restaurant in Brickell looks relatively normal from the outside, but inside, it's a futuristic purple-lit space with electronic music faintly bumping in the background and art projecting onto the wall. The over-the-top hotspot could only come from Walter Martino, a former private chef in Dubai famous for creating the most expensive dish in the world (which he reportedly sold to an Arabian prince for 2013). Kaori's sushi is colorful, bold, and so pretty you almost don't want to eat it...until you do and it tastes unlike any fish-and-rice duo you've had before.
Rumor has it that the guys behind The Local used to go to DC on the weekends to drink affordable craft beer and revel in laid-back nightlife, both of which Miami sorely lacked back in the day. No more, thanks to their Coral Gables gastropub that serves a rotating selection of 18 craft beers, small-batch wine, and innovative comfort food like fried spare ribs, hen & dumplings, and fried chicken with bacon and cornbread dressing. The Local's burger, made with a short rib and brisket-blended patty and topped with two slices of American cheese, pickles, and Mississippi Comeback sauce, is one of the best in the 305.
Located inside the luxurious Mandarin Oriental, this bar-cum-lounge boasts gorgeous, panoramic beach views from an expansive floor to ceiling glass facade enveloping the entirety of the bar. The cocktails are equally impressive. Try killer spirits like their Ramos Gin Fizz or a Lemongrass Gin and Tonic. And take the opportunity to enjoy one of these carefully-crafted beverages before, or after, soaking up the sun.
Piyarat Potha Arreeratn, aka Chef Bee, is doling out street food-inspired eats from his native Thailand at this cool and airy Sunset Beach restaurant. Expect an extensive menu filled with spicy curries, noodle dishes (pad thai, drunken noodles, you know the drill), and untraditional sushi rolls. As for drinks, NaiYaRa's bar serves up Thai beer and cocktails that come with a definite Asian touch.
The Phuc Yea! crew's homey spot on Biscayne is serving comfort food that you can wash down with 15 wines, beers on tap, and cocktails... just not all at once. Their light, fluffy biscuits have been ranked as some of the best in the country and are just a little sweet with a honey apple cider glaze. This modern American tavern serves up lunch, dinner and boozy brunch, and their Bloody Mary, made with Southwestern-style chipotle, cilantro, horseradish and agave wine, is not one to miss.
Situated in Bal Harbour, this refined, modern restaurant offers elevated Japanese entrees, sushi, and robata. Pretty much everything on the menu is worth ordering (hello, matcha tiramisu and cauliflower robata!) when you hit up this Miami Beach spot, so bring a large menu and get to sampling the goods. Service here is friendly and thoughtful; we won't be surprised if you make this your regular place.
After years of watching his father cook in the original Valentino, Tony Rocchio opened this fine dinning restaurant in 2006. Serving high quality Italian food with careful attention to detail in the kitchen is the standard that chef Rocchio and his staff strive to meet each day. Sidle into a plush velvet booth and take in the elegant refined surroundings while you dine on a meal that's sure to be just as classy.
Coyo is a grilled-meat taco emporium whose house-made tortillas are filled with everything from crispy duck and grilled cactus to charred octopus and slow-roasted pork shoulder. Tacos come two per order, and if you prefer your meat-and-tortilla combo in another form, you can "convert" it into a burrito, salad bowl, or burrito bowl. The Wynwood original has a bar in the back where you'll usually find a weekend DJ set.
Organic, macrobiotic eats rule the menu at Dirt, a hip veggie resto in South Beach. This modern, minimal spot serves eclectic fare -- the menu's broken up into sections for vegan, paleo-friendly, gluten-free, vegetarian, and seasonal dishes-- in a bright, welcoming setting. Dirt also presses their own craft juices, which are perfect for sipping on the go.
Peruvian culinary maestro Gaston Acurio is mixing Andean and Asian flavors into a bold menu that highlights his home country at this chic restaurant inside the Mandarin Oriental. The menu includes made-to-order ceviche; tiraditos, or Peruvian-style sashimi; and causas, a traditional dish of potatoes whipped with seafood, avocado, tobiko, tomato, and egg. The drink selection is equally quintessential Peru, offering various takes on the pisco sour.
This Mexican slash Argentinian steakhouse and seafood spot is an elegant spot to enjoy some of the best surf 'n turf fare in Miami Beach. Since 1986, PM Fish & Steakhouse has been one of Miami's mainstay restaurants for a classy night out, great steak, out of this world seafood, and sinfully satisfying desserts. The cavernous, brick-walled interior is warm and welcoming, as is the service you'll receive.
Don't pre-judge Azul, inside Mandarin Oriental, as just another overly priced, elaborate hotel restaurant. Because it's not. The menu boasts a range of Asian fusion dishes, like yellowfin tuna carpaccio and hibiscus-glazed short rib, available à la carte or part of a multi-course tasting menu. Then of course, there's the waterfront ambience: the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Biscayne Bay.
Right around the corner from Club Space, this spot is serving up some pretty awesome seafood dishes in an airy, modern setting. The bright and eclectic diner/bistro vibe of Fooq's also extends to its menu, which features ramshackle selection of pretty much all your faves across French, American, and Italian cuisine. This friendly and charming spot also boasts a super satisfying brunch, plus made in house rosé sangria "breakfast booze."
This waterfront restaurant serves globally inspired, high-end seafood just feet from the Miami River. It also offers an incredible outdoor patio, and even got space to tie up your boat. Also: it boasts a "crudo lounge" in the form of the sister restaurant it shares a space with, Modern Garden. That's right: an entire area of the restaurant devoted to raw sashimi, crudo, and tartare. If that's not decadent, we don't know what is-- in the words of Donna from Parks and Recreation, treat yourself!