Here’s one headline that few saw coming at the start of 2021: Miami is the most exciting food city in the country.
This year, Miami also welcomed the Michelin Guide, which announced it would start bestowing stars on the city in 2022; it’s only the fifth U.S. destination to be graced by the tiremaker’s restaurant rating wing.
Tables are packed with dishes of varying colors, flavors, and textures at chef Vural Aydogan’s vibrant Turkish cafe. “Everything in this little shop is delicious, from the Turkish coffee to the freshly made pastries and bread,” says Michelle Bernstein. “You can see the chef preparing everything daily.”
Turco is open all day, but Bernstein recommends it for morning people like herself. “I would absolutely go for the Turkish breakfast platter that has something for everyone,” she says. The restaurant’s specialty includes fresh baked bread, homemade jams, a variety of cheeses, and steak tomatoes. “It really feels like your grandma is cooking for you.” Recommended by Michelle Bernstein, chef-owner of Café La Trova and Michelle Bernstein Catering
In a Design District building whose entrance suggests a spaceship, this Korean steakhouse has a high-octane vibe and USDA Prime steak menu, like its Manhattan flagship. “My favorite restaurant this year,” says chef Valerie Chang. “They just bring it, from their immaculate hospitality to their dishes that are pungent with flavor. You can’t help but feel excited as you exit that hallway and enter the restaurant and feel the vibe.” The kimchi stew and janchi somyun (angel hair in broth) from chef David Shim are among Chang’s favorite dishes. Recommended by Valerie Chang, chef-owner of Itamae and B-side by Itamae
At this Vietnamese hotspot in Little River, the room is decorated with huge, circular light fixtures and metallic animal heads. The place is named for chef-owner Jon Nguyen’s grandfather, who encouraged him to open a banh mi shop. Pubbelly chef José Mendin appreciates the overstuffed versions with such fillings as barbecued pork with maggi butter and char siu jackfruit with tofu mayonnaise. “The flavors are authentic in a cool and playful way,” says Mendin, who also shouts-out the green papaya salad and chicken pho. Recommended by José Mendin, chef and co-founder of Pubbelly Restaurant Group
The restaurant at the Rubell Museum has a terrific al fresco vibe, whether you’re sitting in the plant-filled outdoor patio or the airy white dining room. “The menu brings me back to Basque Country,” says Cerveceria La Tropical chef Cindy Hutson. “The croquetas are amazingly creamy and crisp outside. The beet tartare is very balanced with acidity and flavor; I am not a vegan, but I order it every time we go.” Alongside Mikel Goikolea’s starters are a selection of entrees such as bacalao, or confit cod, and 50-day, dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye. The cocktails are inspired, with an emphasis on macerated gins in such flavors as basil and strawberry, with a choice of tonics. Recommended by Cindy Hutson, executive chef at Cerveceria La Tropical
“As a New Yorker spending large amounts of time in Miami these days, [I find that] Eleventh Street Pizza is serving an elevated version of the classic New York style pie,” says Major Food Group’s Mario Carbone. The brainchild of David Foulquier and Danielle Hultman, the pizzeria has whole-pie options, as well as by the slice, including the Carmine, a cheese pie on blistered crust. The pepperoni has a top dominated by little sausage cups, Calabrian chile paste, and honey. Recommended by Mario Carbone, chef and co-founder, Major Food Group
The outpost of chef Tyson Cole’s sushi spot in Wynwood has an unconventional menu much like the one at the place he started in Austin, Texas. In Miami, the busy kitchen is overseen by Dina Butterfield. Leku chef Mikel Goikolea applauds the innovation. “The akami of bigeye is a surprising combination of sliced tuna with a housemade granola of assorted seeds baked with agave and miso, dressed with a balanced light aji amarillo sauce; and the pork belly comes with toasted kabocha squash in a sweet pepper gastrique.” Recommended by Mikel Goikolea, executive chef-partner, Leku
This casual spot in Coral Gables’ Giralda Plaza takes its pasta seriously. Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli makes the shapes in-house and serves such preparations as pappardelle with short rib Bolognese and mortadella butter. Niven Patel, chef of nearby Orno, is excited about the restaurant: “Chef Giorgio offers a rotating menu based off of what is fresh and in season, which is important to me.” He loves Rapicavoli’s pasta al limone, made with the ribbon-shaped mafaldine. “He tops the pasta with lemon sauce, a 24-month aged parmigiano reggiano, and a little bit of black pepper. The dish showcases the lemon, which balances the salty flavors of the cheese—it’s bright and delicious.” Recommended by Niven Patel, chef and owner of Orno
In a sunny cottage on Miami Beach, this cafe features specialties from the Middle East and the Mediterranean. “For me, the combined flavors and spices used in dishes from Israel, Turkey, Greece are unparalleled,” says Michael Schwartz of Miami’s foundational restaurant Michael’s Genuine, who worked with Abbalè chef Sam Gorenstein. “They influence my cooking.” He adds: “The Moroccan garbanzos, roasted beets, and sumac chicken shashlik are the winners. I paired my meal with the La Vie Blanc from Jerusalem.” At lunch are housemade pita sandwiches; brunch features a terrific shakshuka with Jerusalem bagel. Recommended by Michael Schwartz, chef/restaurateur, Genuine Hospitality Group
Positioned amid the luxury stores in the Design District is the vibrant Itamae, where the flavor-packed food is served on tin Peruvian plates. “I love this Nikkei restaurant from chefs Nando and Valerie Chang,” says chef Makoto Okuwa. “They are incredibly talented, and the way they are presenting Japanese and Peruvian cuisine to Miami is inventive and delicious.” He cites standouts baby romaine with shiso green goddess dressing; fluke tiradito—fish served sashimi style in a spicy sauce—with murasaki potato and corn nuts; and cremolada, the Peruvian slushie containing starfruit, mango, and makrut lime leaf. Recommended by Makoto Okuwa, executive chef, Makoto
The menu at Zitz Sum mashes up inspired dim sum—pork potstickers, enlived with Calabrian chil, or seared brisket bao with ginger jam hoisin—with such plates as karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and tamarind-glazed chicken cooked over Japanese charcoal. “I love Zitz Sum because you can feel the passion chef Pablo [Zitzmann] has for his food,” says Dallas Wynne. “This project really shines through after he was selling dumplings through social media during the pandemic. Then it blossomed into this hybrid of dumpling and izakaya.” Recommended by Dallas Wynne, pastry chef-partner, Toothfairy Bakery
Helmed by former Azabu corporate sushi chef Yasu Tanaka, this high-level fish spot is located in the middle of MIA food hall in the Design District. “Tanaka serves up perfect nigiri and appetizer plates,” says Luciana Giangrandi. “He sources great fish, and cooks and seasons his rice perfectly. You can get the same food as a $300 omakase for less than a third of that, and he and his team still provide courteous and attentive service, despite being in a food hall.” An eight-piece nigiri platter with options such as o-toro, salmon, and hamachi goes for $38; a la carte options including charcoal aburi toro and double-smoked salmon are available, too. Recommended by Luciana Giangrandi, chef and co-founder of Boia De restaurant
After selling inspired sourdough-crusted pies at pop-ups during the pandemic, chef Greg Tetzner and partner Jackie Richie have created a brick-and-mortar location in the Design District, with such pies as Shroomz with maitake and oyster mushrooms and wild ramp salsa verde. “Old Greg’s Pizza was one of the first to hype natural leavened square dough,” says Timon Balloo. His favorite order is classic pepperoni with basil and cheese. Recommended by Timon Balloo, partner at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill and chef-owner at the upcoming Katherine