Where to eat like a local in Midtown, Design District (plus Wynwood)
Miami.com | By Carlos Frias
On any given day, I’ll get a text from a friend or a family member asking, “Where should I eat?”
If you’re near Midtown or the Design District, I’ve got some thoughts. I’ve also added some suggestions in Wynwood, since that hot dining district is also close by.
This is a list of my favorite spots, places where I actually eat, my go-tos for an average Tuesday when I don’t have the time to cook for my daughters or when I want to treat myself midweek. Among them are unadorned comfort classics to menus meant for special nights out.
If you’re venturing into other neighborhoods, check out my full list, ‘Here’s how to eat like a local in (almost) every neighborhood in Miami’.
Food halls are all the rage in Miami, and inside this most-luxurious St. Roch Market in the fashionable Design District, you’ll find a host a good spots. One of my favorites is Itamae, run by the Peruvian Chang family (father, daughter, son). You’ll find everything from sushi to Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) and chifa (Chinese-Peruvian).
I don’t get over to the Design District often, but when I do, I always want to eat at MC Kitchen. Dena Marino goes beyond classic Italian, turning seasonal ingredients, fresh pastas and modern cooking techniques into elegant, thoughtful cuisine that is as comforting as it is clearly skilled (thinking of the pear, four-cheese and truffle fiocchi). Sometimes I just sit at the bar for the largest collection of Dogfish Head craft beer in South Florida.
Timon Balloo, who also learned alongside Michelle Bernstein, opened this wonderful spot in Midtown that combines a host of cultures (Chinese, South Asian, Latin, Trinidadian) in small plates. This is a great place to come with a big group that likes to taste lots of different dishes. You can order seasonal oysters from the raw bar, sushi rolls (shrimp tempura with habanero), alongside hokkaido scallop crudo, crispy pig ears, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with linguica Brazilian sausage and Manchego and finish with torrejas.
When the weather’s beautiful and you want enjoy the glory of living in South Florida in the winter, that’s when I head to Lagniappe. It’s a sort of outdoor wine garden with a cozy wine shop, where they play live jazz, blues, you name it. Grab your specialty cheese and cured meat, and they will slice it up for you and present it on a fantastic charcuterie board with honey and fruit. Buy an affordable bottle of wine and sit outside under a canopy of trees. Bliss.
They don’t pay me enough in this gig to make dining at Alter a regular thing. And that’s probably a good thing for my bad cholesterol. But for special occasions, you can bet I’m going to splurge on a tasting menu from Brad Kilgore, who has rightfully been named a James Beard semifinalist. Kilgore experiments with flavors, textures and even temperatures (tzaziki ice cream appetizer!) for diners who treat eating like going to a Broadway play. These are gourmet-sized portions but don’t let that fool you. The five-course menu ($75) is the sweet spot for your wallet and belly, with a side of Kilgore’s signature Soft Egg (sea scallop espuma, truffle pearls, Siberian caviar). I nearly hurt myself trying to finish the 7-course ($95) — but I did, indeed, finish it. I can’t even fathom the $165 a person “full chef’s experience.”
Beaker & Gray (Wynwood)
Brian Nasajon took his Uruguayan-Jewish background and used those influences to open a sharable-plates restaurant in the heart of Wywnood before it was cool. There you’ll find influences from all over Latin America turned into interesting and delicious food: glass noodles with chili and mint, brown sugar-tamarind chicken wings, short rib with tempura avocado, cauliflower with huancaina sauce. I made the mistake once of sending my oldest daughter here for a special dinner and now she always asks me when we’re going back. This isn’t a bad thing.
Boxelder Craft Beer Bar (Wynwood)
The OG craft beer bar in Miami has also become a sort-of incubator for restaurant pop-ups out back. So while you’re ordering a couple great craft beers from small, independent breweries from around the country, you can try some of the best up-and-coming food concepts, depending on the day of the week. One day, it may be Steve Santana’s (Taquiza) Super Good Chicken. Another, Michael Ombia’s United States Burger Service. Friday nights are for pastry chef Devin Braddock’s Tricycle Ice Cream cart (gourmet versions of childhood favorites like choco tacos and ice cream drumsticks). And Saturday mornings are for homemade sandwiches from El Bagel (10 a.m. until they invariably sell out in under an hour. Be prepared for a 30-minute wait, though.)