2020 was the year of ethnic food for me judging by the dishes which scored for the best dishes in Miami 2020. Laotian, Turkish, Ethiopian, Greek, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines (plus pizza and hot dogs) all had their winners. Here’s my list of the top eleven along with my reviews of each restaurant in case you want to read more.
A relative newcomer to the restaurant scene, L’il Laos, that started first as a popup and then moved to The Citadel food hall in Little River, came through with a number of great dishes. My favorite, though, is the crispy rice accompanied with their krog muu pork sausage . The rice is made with chunks of crispy coconut rice mixed in with Lao spam, dried chilies, and peanuts. The sausage is the perfect complement.
Wynwood is becoming an exciting food scene. Getting high marks is Buya featuring Japanese street food. I like everything there but if I have to choose, one favorite is the Kaarage, their signature double fried chicken in mouth size pieces. It is marinated in ginger, garlic and soy, breaded, seasoned with salt, and served with a side of kewpie mayo. It had just the right kick and was ever so crispy. Duck pot soup is also a winner, with mini dumplings and a divine, rich broth with mushrooms and noodles.
I’ve probably been to Tur Kitchen in Coral Gables a half a dozen times which is lot for me to go to one restaurant. I always order the pide. It’s like a long, narrow boat of the pita- like bread that’s chewy, and in different versions, filled with everything from Taleggio cheese and speck charcuterie to shrimp and mascarpone and braised lamb and goat cheese. Though I also loved the lamb version, my favorite is the one with forest blend mushrooms, truffle cream, thyme and gorgonzola. It has a deep, rich flavor of earthy mushrooms and a nutty zip of the truffles. And they, as well as all of the dishes are artistically presented, often with edible flowers.
Estiatorio by Milos in South Beach is known for its swimmingly fresh seafood, perfectly prepared. What is less known is their signature zucchini tower. Thinly sliced, perfectly fried zucchini are stacked to form a tower that rests on tzatziki . It’s then garnished with kefalograviera cheese puffs. Superb.
For my birthday dinner I went to Forte dei Marmi in South Beach which is always outstanding. My favorite, the star for Mr. W and I, is their signature dish, the truffle cacio e pepe bucatini served in a pecorino wheel. It’s prepared tableside, with the black truffles generously shaved on top. The pasta is always perfectly al dente, the seasoning and the sauce just right.
Though I’ve been to Spain for several decades, often having paella, I’ve never had mushroom paella, now a favorite thanks to Leku in the Rubell Museum. The dish is refined and very tasty. It’s made with Bomba D.O. Calasparra rice from Murcia whose small fine grain looked like barley, and it had a rich, deep unmistakably mushroom flavor.
I also found my new top pizza, Roman style, from Block’s Pizza and Deli. This means square and crispy, non floppy crust. One key point of difference is their crust, what they call Mother Dough. The whole process takes over 3 days of slow fermentation and natural proofing with just a handful of ingredients — unbleached and unbromated flour, extra virgin olive oil, salt and water. The long and slow leavening process makes the crust an airy and light structure . They say it also makes the pizza rich in nutrients and incredibly easy to digest. A second big factor is slices are baked to order, not reheated, so they taste very fresh. Ingredients are also prepped daily and are fresh, no freezer. A bite confirms the freshness of the cheeses and pepperoni. I prefer the 100 Pepperoni which, besides the usual, included provolone , feta, shaved parmesan and olive oil.
Awash, named for an Ethiopian river, is exotic in the very best sense of the word. It excels in vegetables, stewed meats and chicken and beans. In fact, they make beans exciting, not an easy task in my book. Many dishes have the spice symphony of Indian and the subtle, sweet smokiness of barbecue. My best dish pick is the vegetarian combo which includes dishes such as red lentils, yellow split peas, cabbage, green beans and collard greens.
The two part Peking duck experience at Hutong on Brickell Avenue is one of my celebration meals. The first course features the pancakes with the usual accompaniments and a large plate of the thin sliced succulent pieces of duck with crispy skin on. The second course is tiny pieces of chopped duck with lettuce leaves for making wraps. You can order half or a whole duck. Dumplings get high marks too.
The grass fed Wagyu beef hot dog from Lo Melo’s Meat Market in South Miami takes the popular comfort food to a new delectable level. Made from a mixture of the better cuts of Wagyu beef, it’s plump, with a skin that crunches and dense texture with a slightly smokey flavor. Eat it naked, except for perhaps your favorite condiment. Watch for my upcoming writeup on Lo Melo’s.
In case you missed my post on the best desserts of 2020, click here.