This year, restaurant groups across the country woke up one day with the same thought: Miami. And we were promptly overwhelmed with a rush of high-profile out-of-town restaurants flocking to our city. But you’ll only find one of those places on this list.
The rest are local concepts, mostly from folks who lived and worked in the city back when you could walk for miles and miles without hearing the word “crypto.” And the teams behind these places accomplished some amazing things this year. They’ve turned pop-ups into real restaurants, built bakeries out of thin air, and even got us excited about meatloaf again. These are Miami’s best new restaurants of 2021.
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Itamae has technically outgrown our definition of new, since it’s been around for over a year now. But the Design District Nikkei restaurant opened right at the end of 2020—the only year we didn’t do one of these lists—and what a shame it’d be if this place didn’t get the recognition it deserves. Every meal at Itamae feels like walking into a surprise birthday party. You never know quite what you’ll find on the constantly-changing menu. But there’s almost always a plate or two that’ll earn a spot in your own personal “Best Things I’ve Ever Eaten” list. Our own list includes multiple Itamae entries, including their flawless ceviche, tiradito, and the yuzu cremolada, which just might be our favorite dessert in the universe.
This is the reservation you should make when life feels mundane, and you’re going to scream if you see one more grilled octopus on a menu. Zitz Sum shocks us out of routine—and not just because their chili oil is perfectly calibrated. The food here is unlike anything else in the city. Dishes are influenced by Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Laotian, and other Asian cultures. You’ll find DIY Korean-style hand rolls that come with steak tartare, short grain rice, and Japanese egg salad. The brisket sheng jian bao made us forget everything we learned in kindergarten about sharing. And because the menu changes constantly, dinner here is still exciting even if you come on a weekly basis. Zitz Sum has not only managed to breathe fresh air into Coral Gables, but all of Miami-Dade County.
North Miami’s Paradis Books & Bread is the best kind of bait and switch. Maybe you pop by this wine bar for a drink. But then your stomach gets chatty and—would you look at that—they serve food too. Next thing you know, you’re smearing seaweed butter and piling tinned fish onto fresh bread and debating whether or not to order another square slice of their marinara pizza, a savory masterpiece of marinated eggplant, confit garlic, garlic breadcrumbs, and parsley. Paradis is small, but it packs such a punch. It’s a wine bar/bakery/restaurant/library/generally-wonderful-spot-to-hang-out-with-friends. And somehow it manages to be excellent versions of all of those things.
Chances are, you’ve heard us loudly declare our love for Luca Osteria’s patate fritte over the last six months. The dish—crispy potato balls covered in parmigiano fonduta, black truffle, and an egg yolk—might be the greatest thing anyone’s ever done with a potato since Mr. Potato Head. And even though we have petitioned for the patate fritte to have its own holiday, Luca Osteria is more than one dish. It’s a great restaurant. And, even if a tragic potato supply chain incident were to take the patate fritte off the menu, we’d still come here for a perfect negroni and any of the rotating pastas, all of which feature the kind of fresh, al dente noodles that make you want to name your first born child Bucatini. Luca could easily succeed by clinging to its patate fritte, the same way Timothée Chalamet could easily succeed on cheekbones alone. Thankfully for us all, they’re both trying harder than that.
Miami got hammered with tons of big, flashy New York restaurant openings this year. And it turned out that very few of them were actually worth the hype. Cote, however, was. Dinner at the upscale Korean steakhouse is the kind of big, luxurious event we expect from an acclaimed Manhattan restaurant. The service is so efficient that it feels like the entire staff is sharing a single consciousness. The steak is predictably incredible, but so are the cocktails and the ceviche. Plus, the $64 per person Butcher’s Feast—a 90-minute performance dedicated to all things protein—is one of the best celebratory meals you can have in Miami. It all even feels right at home in the Design District, a neighborhood dedicated to all things wealth and overindulgence. You’ll need a reservation to eat here, but (unlike some other NYC restaurants that recently came to town) you won’t have to hire your little cousin to keep refreshing the reservations page until you get one.
It’s possible to forget you’re in a restaurant at Coconut Grove’s Los Félix. The dining room feels more like the minimal apartment of a friend who knows the power of a well-placed candle and the ideal conversational music volume. The staff seem to have graduated with a master’s degree in The Art Of The Dinner Party. The only thing that may snap you out of this illusion is the food—which is just way too good to come from a civilian kitchen. The menu features Mexican dishes, most of which use Los Félix’s house speciality: fresh milled masa. It’s deployed into dishes like the overflowing squash blossom quesadilla, the tetela, and the pork cheek carnitas tacos. It’s a delicious dinner where you’ll always feel like you’re among friends, even if you don’t have the social energy to actually attend a dinner party.
If we were better at math, we could make a graph to illustrate how super expensive omakase restaurants have ballooned in Miami over the last few years. And even though there is no shortage of places to drop $300 for two hours of great raw fish, there’s no omakase experience we endorse more than Mr. Omakase. Dinner at the little Downtown counter ranges from $79 per person (for ten courses) to $139 (for 18 courses). That’s more affordable than Miami’s other upscale omakase options. But the price point isn’t why we love Mr. Omakase. The two-hour dinner here is amazing—a blur of nigiri and sashimi so delicate and tender you kind of feel guilty chewing it.
Chug’s technically did exist before the year 2020—kind of the same way a butterfly once technically existed as a caterpillar. But, after months of huge renovations, Chug’s emerged from its cocoon as a great all-purpose restaurant that also feels quintessentially Miami. The Coconut Grove Cuban spot really can do everything, from breakfast to lunch to a boozy dinner that’ll trigger all the classic diner nostalgia hiding in your subconscious. Come early for cafecito and the best pastelitos on this planet, or later for a ridiculously good meatloaf, masitas de puerco, and a guava gimlet. But what really makes Chug’s special is the way it feels informed by Miami’s Cuban identity, both the past, present, and future—which we have no doubt Chug’s will be an essential part of.