The Best New Restaurants in Miami, for Art Basel and Beyond
A few years ago, if anyone had asked me to make a bet on what major city would resist America's current culinary craze and forever serve mediocre food, I would have put the odds on Miami. After all, the city has appearances to think about: beach bodies! The plastic surgery industry! (It has the second-highest number of certified plastic surgeons, per capita, in the country, at 4.62 per 100,000 residents; in some surveys it is ranked as the world’s No. 1 city for plastic surgery.) With a few notable exceptions—those Cuban cafes, Michael’s Genuine—Miami was never a place you went to for the food.
Good thing no one offered me that bet, because I would have lost. Miami has emerged as one of the most dynamic food cities in the U.S., with a mix of homegrown talent and notable chefs from around the country setting up shop. Renowned art collector, philanthropist, and Miami resident Dennis Scholl has an explanation: “Developers here have discovered the power of a chef's brand and aligning it with their project. An SLS Hotel becomes markedly more interesting to locals and tourists alike when it is associated with amazing chefs like Jose Andres and Michael Schwartz.”
Scholl noted via e-mail that developers are focusing on incorporating high-quality art into new projects, too. “It shows that the developer gets it and frames the property as part of the zeitgeist,” Scholl added. What was once a transient spot is now a place where people stay, and the city is increasingly known for destinations beyond a few blocks of South Beach sands: Think Wynwood, the Design District. Whatever might bring you down there—Art Basel, the terrific craft beer scene, a good plastic surgeon—here are some new restaurants to look out for.
Reason enough to head to Miami: Los Fuegos, the first restaurant outside South America from famed live-fire chef Francis Mallmann. It’s set in the glam Faena hotel, part of the $1 billion dollar Faena District in Miami Beach. Whether you knew it or not, the city has a steakhouse culture. Mallmann’s modern Latin joint gives most of the dishes a good dose of wood smoke: scallops a la plancha; roasted half-chicken with grape sauce, from the wood oven; 30-ounce ribeye with chimichurri, from the grill. Not surprisingly, the fillet-filled empanada is a popular starter.
Another wildly talented chef transplant, Spanish-born José Andrés, has built a restaurant empire in Washington with spots such as MiniBar, which just won two Michelin stars. Bazaar Mar is his second Miami Bazaar restaurant (the first is Bazaar by José Andrés at South Beach, if that helps avoid confusion). Here, in the new, fancy SLS Brickell hotel, the vast 7200-square-foot, 200-plus-seat space is designed by Philippe Starck. It features vibrant blue murals that dominate a sweeping white room, as if you’re in some kind of wacky, beautiful Mediterranean tavern. Andrés’s menu is seafood-focused, with an array of starters such as ceviche with tiger’s milk, uni soufflé, and “seafood offal” like monkfish liver. The most dramatic main course is the salt-baked whole fish. The wine list leans heavily on Spain, and there the futuristic cocktails include liquid nitro caipirinhas.
Hotels have begun stacking their decks with big name chefs as if it’s all a Vegas-style arms race. In New York, at the new Beekman, we have both Tom Colicchio’s Fowler and Wells and Augustine, from Keith McNally. Likewise at the SLS Brickell, local hero chef Michael Schwartz has a new spot alongside Andrés. His food has always had an Italian accent, and his Harry’s pizza mini chain is excellent. At Fi’Lia, Scwartz goes into full red-sauce mode. The menu is divided by size, from such snacks as heirloom tomato bruschetta through table-side Caesar salad with crushed anchovies and garlic croutons and house-made pastas like tender, corn-filled agnolotti with roasted lobster sauce. The classic-style, mozzarella-smothered chicken parm is big enough for two. Likewise, the bar has a whole section of Spritz cocktails, and even the breakfast menu skews Italian, with cacio e pepe-style soft, scrambled eggs.
Brava by Brad Kilgore
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now; I moved from Chicago just to be in Miami,” says rising star-chef Brad Kilgore. He’s had monstrous success with Alter, in the graffiti decorated Wynwood neighborhood. His newest restaurant is Brava by Brad Kilgore, in the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Inspired by the Broadway shows that come to the center (Jersey Boys and Beautiful, the Carol King musical, are on deck), Kilgore serves reimagined classics such as whipped clam chowder, with black truffle butter-glazed clams on a bed of pomme puree and the option of osetra caviar garnish, and poached halibut with zucchini scales on a Bernardaud plate with bubbles that evoke the sea. Soraya Kilgore, Brad’s wife, makes desserts that are likewise show-stopping (sorry), such as chevre cheesecake with morella cherry crema under a dome of white chocolate. For big party-throwers, the concert halls can be rented out for dinners for hundreds, and the Kilgores cook.
Chef Justin Smillie has very accurately described his full-flavored, California-style cooking at Upland in New York as “craveable.” At his just-opening restaurant in South Beach, Smillie is replicating some of those craveable dishes—which have earned him such fans as President Obama—such as pappardelle with kale and spicy sausage ragu and succulent roasted short ribs for two, with horseradish and olive. Here, he’s also preparing dishes that highlight the similarities between southern Florida and Cali, such as snapper wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over coals with lemon-caper sauce. The interior will make all the Upland regulars feel at home: Just like at the flagship, there are jars of preserved lemons and artichokes and lots and lots of wine bottles.
The Deck at Island Gardens
Billed as Miami’s newest superyacht marina and the first deepwater mooring in the Western Marina, Island Gardens sits across the bay from Miami on Watson Island, from which the views of the skyline (and the yachts) are forever. There’s 5,000 linear feet of slips, allowing 500-foot-plus boats to dock. At the marina’s restaurant the Deck, chef Alfredo Alvarez is preparing a “yachting-infused menu,” which means he’s conjuring up such destinations as Ibiza and Bodrum while fusing Mediterranean and Latin flavors. Alvarez’s seafood menu includes shellfish casserole in tomato saffron broth, served in a clay pot, octopus a la plancha, and seared tuna with fruit caviars. In the future lie plans to source seafood, especially locally: A fish market, as well as a mega-resort, is in the works at Island Gardens.
Opening in early December in the Miami Design District: OTL, a collaboration between the teams behind Miami clubs LIV and Story, plus the partners from New York’s groovy the Smile cafe. The bi-level, 7,000-square-foot space is shaping up to be a community spot with lots of coffee drinks, smoothie bowls, and sandwiches and pastries, plus yoga classes and designer pop-ups.
Gloria and Emilio Estefan have been talking about a fine-dining Cuban restaurant for years; in December they’re opening one in the Design District. Look for a traditional Cuban menu featuring recipes from Gloria Estefan’s family recipes, lots of cocktails ,and (no surprise) live music. Meanwhile, the Estefan Kitchen Express is open for business at the Miami International Airport.
On the roof of the Townhouse Hotel in South Beach, a new bar and lounge will open in early December, run by SBE, the hospitality group behind Bazaar Mar and Fi'Lia. Focusing on a menu of haute cocktails and craft beers instead of bottle service, the Cape hopes to distinguish itself from many of the area's other nightclubs.