There was a time when there was no such thing as traveling to Miami just for good food. Restaurants were either flashy, expensive, and about as appealing as a corner table, or they were locals-only, hole-in-the-walls. Oh how things have changed over the last 10 years.
Today, Miami is very much a food city. It’s attracted chefs from around the world, and restaurants are blending influences from the Magic City’s diverse population. You can easily find Thai tapas, Nikkei cuisine, and guava everything.
“I’ve always said Miami’s food culture is a few years behind everywhere else, but in recent times Miami’s really stepped up to the plate with the influx of new residents that’s brought new chefs from around the world,” Geoff Lee, the chef at Byblos Miami, said. “We are starting to see the food culture develop to what you’d normally find in Chicago, LA, Toronto — more diverse types of food and smaller sharing style dining.”
To get a feel for the best of Miami’s food, we caught up with three chefs working in the city. Each are notable in their own right and run restaurants worth a visit. Our experts are Lee, Jose Icardi, executive chef at Diez y Seis at Shore Club South Beach, and Richard Hales, chef at Bird & Bone at The Confidante Miami Beach.
The best time for eaters to visit Miami
There’s not really a bad time to visit Miami, but oppressively hot summers make April through October less than ideal.
For food lovers, fall through spring is when “you’ll find the freshest seafood, delicious seasonal ingredients, and of course, amazing weather. You really can’t beat enjoying a great meal outdoors with a breathtaking ocean view.”
You should especially pay attention to the latter half of that time range.
“January to March, the weather is amazing,” Hales said. “It is our season for great vegetables and stone crabs too.”
The must-have cuisines in Miami
“I wish it was seafood but it’s not,” Hales said. “Cuban roast pork rules Miami, my favorite besides Cuban pork is Haitian griot.”
When it comes down to it, follow the food of the population. That means, in many cases, Latin food.
“Latin food is an obvious type of food I believe Miami does best,” Icardi said. “Being the melting pot of many Latin countries, it is a no brainer that most cuisines in Miami are in some way or another infused with a Latin flair.”
Specifically Peruvian and Mexican. “Miami has a really good grasp on Peruvian and Mexican cuisine,” Lee said. “There are a ton of great places to grab some amazing bites. Miami has a vast Peruvian population, so, naturally, they brought their unique customs and delicious cuisine along with them. As for the Mexican culture, many of the workers in various industries are of Mexican origin. And again, the easiest way to share culture is through cuisine, so many chefs grab hold of that cuisine and express it in their own distinct way.”
Where chefs eat on their day off
“I typically eat close to home and I don’t go out much to the fancier type restaurants so I enjoy eating at a few of the small eateries close to my house,” Lee said. “One place in particular is an Argentina steak house called Puerto Madero. You can’t go wrong with a classic skirt steak accompanied with a side of rice and plantains.”
When you work the Miami scene day in and day out, it can be nice to get away from the Miami scene for a change.
“In my opinion, Mandolin is a true Miami staple,” Icardi said. “Besides the food being delicious and fresh, they take the guests’ dining experience to an entirely new level with their beautiful outdoor dining terrace. The design and ambiance of Mandolin’s outdoor terrace area creates an atmosphere that seemingly transports you to the Greek islands. Additionally, if I’m looking for good authentic food, Macchialina is another one of my go-to’s. Macchialina offers authentic Italian food with an intimate setting.”
Along those same lines, simple is sometimes best.
Where to eat a quick meal in Miami
“Honestly (I kid you not), I’ve been asked this question a lot and people are always surprised by my answer,” Lee said. “I love Popeyes chicken! If I’m not at Popeyes, you can find me at a small sushi spot on Miami Beach grabbing some salmon nigiri and a small bottle of dry sake.”
We all have our vices. Luckily there are plenty of places in Miami where the need for speed doesn’t disqualify good food. Icardi’s choice is Fiorito, a place for “simple Argentinian food with a hint of Italian flair. The place is cozy. The wine is good. The food is great!”
If nothing else, know that you can pick up something to go.
“An hour or two?! That sounds luxurious,” Hales said. “I go home and eat Cuban Pizza from Tio Colo with my kids.”
The Miami chefs to look out for
There are plenty of big-name chefs to follow in Miami. Equally worth watching are their proteges, said Hales. “They are the next big stars, like Karla Hoyos, who is now under chef Jose Andres [at Bazaar]. Her suckling pig is out of this world.”
For Indian cuisine, Lee’s a fan of Niven Patel, the chef at Ghee. Then there’s Michael Lewis, the chef at the Asian-inspired restaurant KYU. “I think that group understands the business and the culture, and their food is spot on without being over the top,” Lee said.
With all of the talent in Miami now, it’s hard to pick just one. Icardi lists Ryan Brooks, chef at Makoto, Guillermo Eleicegul, chef at Leynia, and Atilio Padra, chef at Diez y Seis. Padra studied in Mexico and “offers a lot of outside the box ideas and techniques that have made a huge impact in Diez y Seis’ menu,” Icardi said, “offering a more modern twist to the Mexican style cuisine we serve.”
As Miami grows, the list of incredible chefs will only grow with it.
“Miami right now is blooming — with areas like Wynwood, the Design District, Brickell, downtown Miami,” Icardi said. “All these areas are growing more and more each day. People are investing and moving down from all over the world, creating a demand for unique experiences and an undeniable opportunity for fresh talent to showcase themselves.”