I first tried Chef Lorena Garcia’s food as tapas at a fashion and food event at Bal Harbour Shops in 2019. CHICA restaurant Miami was one of several featured and one of my favorites. So it was good news to hear her restaurant featuring cuisine from all over Latin and South America with her own accents was reopening in the MiMo district. And what a welcome surprise to find not only delicious food with new twists, but also, an attractive ambiance with several open air seating options. CHICA is a welcome addition to Miami’s Latin food offerings, and stands apart from the others that tend to feature a single Latin cuisine.
The decor with its rich wood paneled walls and furniture, ceiling greenery and flattering lighting was conceived by star designer David Rockwell. The soaring double-height restaurant has an elevated yet approachable atmosphere with tropical hues and regional inspirations ranging from Venezuela and Mexico to Cuba and Peru.
A central focal point is the bar with bar to ceiling shelves displaying some of the extensive liquor offerings, all attractively lit. As a part of the bar there are small tables with comfortable chairs and small sofas that, thanks to a window wall that can be raised, is open to the air. Adjacent to that are high top tables that hug the side of the restaurant. Loungy but not loud music adds to the ambiance. The dinner menu is divided into raw bar, hot starters, cold starters, mains, a grilling section, sides and a separate dessert menu.
I like to try unique dishes, but my friend really wanted the tuna tartar ($18) so we ordered it and, it turned out, was an excellent choice. The seasoning made for a different taste sensation, and definitely not your usual, owing to the ingredients of confit shiitake mushroom, Hass avocado, chive, Kaffir lime and ginger. It was very fresh, and served with a rice cracker making for a handsome presentation. Next up, I tried a specialty, the arepas basket. The arepas are like multi-colored little balls with flavors of beet, cilantro, black bean and cheese, and served with nata butter ($13). It’s a must.
Another favorite was the foraged mushroom quesadilla ($15) . With four large quesadillas in an order, it’s definitely for sharing. Quesadillas can sometimes be insipid. Not so here. Made with cremini, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, Oaxaca cheese blend, gochujang and crema, they were super tasty.
The soul of Latin American grilling is expressed through the distinct smoky flavors and sweet aromas from an open fire and CHICA’s wood fire grill is the beating heart of the kitchen. It’s fueled by Brazilian hardwood prized for its searing heat and complex smoke. Entrees from the grill are meant to be shared and include Chef’s signature Venezuelan Braised Short Rib with asado negro glaze, collard greens, and a habanero relish ($34). And what I’d like to have next time when I come with a group — the Argentinian Style Parrillada features rotisserie chicken, skirt steak, pork belly, chorizo, short rib, steak pinchos, charred padron and sweet peppers, and a trio of sauces including chimichurri, habanero relish, and guajillo oil ($135).
We chose the signature roast chicken in a Meyer lemon marinade with herb chimichurri and papas bravas. It was deliciously seasoned, moist,and with crispy skin ($32). We had a tough time choosing from among appealing side dishes and settled on the choclo con queso, the large kernel Peruvian corn made with chorizo gremolata, creamy cheese sauce, heart of palm and spinach ($12). Creamy and rich, it turned out to be the perfect complement to the chicken.
Desserts are a big deal and again, made for sharing. The star is the CHICA’s Churro Bouquet which is oversize red velvet churros tossed in cinnamon sugar and paired with a sweet sauce trio. It’s brought to the table with a flourish – sparklers. A great celebration dish.
There’s a signature cocktail menu and probably the most extensive menu of Latin American wine that I have seen. Glasses (5 ounce pour) start at $13 and bottles at $55. Cocktails are priced in the teens.
CHICA restaurant Miami is located at 5556 NE 4th Ct, Miami, FL 33137 and serves lunch, dinner, weekend brunch, happy hour and late-night menus along with a brand-new casual dining option with the announcement of CHICA Cantina. A welcome new addition is the Express Lunch, a 2-course lunch for $25 inclusive of aqua frescas, hibiscus or black iced tea or drip coffee. For more information on CHICA restaurant Miami or CHICA Cantina, visit https://chicarestaurant.com/