La Mar by Gaston Acurio
Dinner at Brickell Key’s La Mar can be a really special experience—as long as a couple things happen. One, you have to sit outside (that is absolutely non-negotiable). And two, you’ve got to know what parts of the menu (mainly ceviches, tiraditos, and Limeño classics) to stick to. But if you choose the right dishes and mother nature cooperates, La Mar can feel like being in the City Of Miami’s very own VIP section, which also happens to serve some of the best Peruvian food in town.
La Mar is a chain of Peruvian restaurants that started in Lima 15 years ago, and the Miami location is a reimagining of a traditional seaside cevicheria made a little bougie. As such, the ceviches and tiraditos are the stars here. You’ll find a mix of flawlessly executed traditional ceviches along with Limeño classics, like Miami’s best lomo saltado, and a reimagined chupe de camarones, a creamy, spicy shrimp chowder from southern Peru made into a sauce for perfectly al dente bucatini. The ceviches all feature a perfectly balanced leche de tigre that is tangy but not overly sour, tingly but not overly spicy, and savory without feeling like you’re sucking on a cube of Maggi. And the fish itself is so fresh you will want to kiss the plate if you’re used to the stuff made with frozen tilapia.
But if you veer away from the ceviches, tiraditos, and more traditional staples, you could run into trouble. While about half the menu feels fresh and exciting, the other half features many of the same dishes that debuted at the original Lima location 15 years ago. Tastes have since changed, and what may have been exciting in 2005 no longer has the same appeal, especially in a city with so many Peruvian restaurants. Dishes like the chaufa aeropuerto are crowd-pleasers—but also seem a little boring now, almost like something you’d find at P.F. Chang’s.
As we’ve already been over, requesting an outdoor table on La Mar’s patio is a requirement. This is both because the waterfront view of the Brickell skyline is sublime and also because the interior has that same dated vibe the chaufa gives us. It feels very early 2000s, with a turquoise and chocolate brown palette. It can also feel uncomfortably quiet inside, probably because the majority of diners also know that al fresco is where it’s at.
But it being Miami, we can’t always depend on perfect skies. And the thought of eating outside in the summer is a nightmare scenario most locals are all too familiar with. So you kind of need to be an amateur meteorologist leading up to your reservation, and we won’t blame you for rescheduling dinner if the weather isn’t ideal.
La Mar is far from the only (or cheapest) Peruvian restaurant in Miami. But almost no other Peruvian spot in town brings the same exquisite quality to so many familiar dishes. And you’re certainly not going to enjoy those dishes with anything close to the view La Mar offers. Just pray for clear skies.
Bachiche is a Peruvian nickname for Italian immigrants, but this dish goes against that old Italian legend that you can’t combine fish and cheese. They put aged parmesan in the leche de tigre, which adds richness, breaks up the acidity, and also provides a whole lot of umami. Along with some basil oil and golden fried garlic chips, this tiradito seamlessly combines everything we love about Japanese, Peruvian, and Italian flavors.
This street-style mixed seafood ceviche is topped with rings of fried calamari. The leche de tigre tastes just like what a traditional Limeño ceviche should: tart, umami, and spicy. The garnishes are diced, de-kerneled, and mixed into the ceviche, so you get a nice combo of flavors and textures in each bite. And the octopus is that perfect balance between chewy and tender.
This lomo saltado ticks all the boxes for a proper saltadito. It includes chunks of sirloin, blistered onions, wedges of peeled juicy tomatoes, and crunchy fries in a generous pool of soy sauce-spiked gravy.
Anticuchos de Corazón
This is an upgraded street food staple with super tender and juicy veal heart that has none of the mineral taste or grit you’d find in other organs. The accompanying rocoto sauce is damn near perfect: not too spicy while retaining all of the rocoto chile’s unique flavors. We wish we could order these by the skewer and just get a dozen for the table.
This dish will teach you a very valuable lesson: chupe de camarones was made for pasta. The traditional creamy shrimp chowder is typically made with rice, but La Mar replaces the grains with perfectly al dente bucatini. It also includes a dump truck worth of fantastic seafood. Don’t ask for an additional sprinkling of parmesan. This dish is perfect as is.
The causas at La Mar look like an abstract art project with squiggles, dollops, and squirts rather than the neat little potato layer cakes you’ll typically find at Peruvian restaurants. However, the flavors stick very close to tradition, so if you love causa this dish still delivers on tart, spicy potatoes and creamy filling. Don’t be put off by the mention of beets. They add a beautiful fuchsia color to the potato base.
La Mar has a small selection of Nikkei sushi rolls, and this one includes a light lobster salad and a conservative amount of rice, giving each bite an ideal ratio of each. There are a lot of textures and flavors going on in this roll—from cool, crunchy cucumber to popping smoked trout roe. The rice, however, is a little too firm and almost borders on crunchy. It’s not a must-try dish.
You’ll find this on the menu at every La Mar location, and it’s one of the dated dishes that’s too meh for such a special occasion spot. It’s a big bowl of fried rice and quinoa with crispy noodles topped with the Peruvian version of shrimp egg foo young. There’s nothing about it that really sets it apart from any good Chifa or Chinese-American food. It kind of reminds us of when we combine all our takeout into a single bowl. It’s tasty, but not what you should be ordering here.
These are another example of some of the more dated items on the menu. It’s disappointing that La Mar serves boring fried little turnovers instead of the shortbread crusted baked versions that are traditional in Lima. They remind us of the forgettable empanadas you can find almost everywhere in Miami.