Nothing sparks good conversation like discovering the perfect meal. We tapped our top foodies and critics to call out the dishes that really got them—and Miami—talking this year.

todd erikson making buger
A sunny-sideup quail egg serves as the finishing touch to Haven's duck quail burger

Duck, Duck, Yeah
Luxurious and whimsical, Haven’s duck quail burger is good enough to make a TV foodie swoon.
By Ingrid Hoffmann

Haven is a small, little gastropub, but it’s hip and Executive Chef Todd Erickson knows how to pack a punch of flavor. His duck quail burger with foie gras butter is quintessential Todd! I love it. It’s called a slider but is really somewhere between a slider and a burger. The whole process begins with Maple Leaf Farms duck breasts, which are ground in-house with a bit of the deliciously fatty duck skin to add flavor and a rich mouth feel, and a small amount of Japanese bread crumbs to bind the mixture. For the bun, he uses a hybrid of a classic white hamburger bun and buttery brioche. When buttered and toasted, it has just the right combination of elasticity and softness to work in this dish.

And, oh, the foie gras butter! He starts out with a full lobe of grade A Hudson Valley foie gras roasted and pureed with European butter, caramelized shallots, Cognac, port, and fresh herbs. This spread of luxury is rich, savory, and pure decadence. He counters the duck and foie gras with a tangy and refreshing salad of picked Italian parsley, shaved shallots, and orange-sherry vinaigrette. “The finishing touch is a perfectly cooked sunny-side-up quail egg sprinkled with Espelette chili and pink peppercorns,” says Erickson. “These little fuchsia flavor bombs are scattered throughout the parsley salad and also sprinkled on the quail egg yolk.”

haven  burger pattie
The burger is made with Maple Leaf Farms duck breast ground in-house with duck skin for added flavor.

“When thinking about duck, my mind wandered to the classic children’s game Duck, Duck, Goose. I couldn’t shake that idea, so I started to think about what that would look like ingredient-wise,” says Erickson of the genesis of his burger. All of the produce in this dish is sourced locally, including the parsley, shallots, and citrus, as are the quail eggs. The duck and foie gras are sourced from out of state since the chef feels that they are a premium product and worth the long haul.

First I fell in love with the chef, then I fell in love with his food! Eating this burger is pure joy, indulgence, flavor, and luxury between two buns. The contrasts in texture, temperature, and acidity are complex, new and familiar all at once, making it fun to eat and to talk about. I love the whimsy of the dish, the creativity, the flavor combinations. It fits into Miami’s emerging food scene because it’s eclectic and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but delivers serious flavor. 1237 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 305-987-8885

Raised in Colombia and Curaçao, Hoffmann is the host of Simply Delicioso (Cooking Channel) and Delicioso (Univision). Her most recent cookbook is Latin D’Lite: Delicious Latin Recipes with a Healthy Twist.

catch miami lobster
Chef Hung Huynh with the pan aflame after adding sake for the scallionstudded sauce.

Tails You Win
Catch Miami’s Cantonese lobster is dynamic enough to seduce even a seafood skeptic set in his ways.
By Lee Brian Schrager

People are always surprised to find out that I don’t particularly care for seafood. Living in Miami and managing a food festival that literally takes place on the beach, I suppose it does seem a bit incongruous. But I still try to dine at new restaurants in Miami, seafood-focused or not. When Catch Executive Chef (and Top Chef winner) Hung Huynh’s ever-popular NYC Meatpacking District restaurant opened at The James Royal Palm this past January, I had to check it out.

I’m sure glad I did. Its Cantonese lobster is my favorite new Miami dish in quite some time. It consists of two fiery orange lobster tails, split down the middle and handsomely served on a simple white platter and glazed in a spicy scallion-studded sauce.

catch miami lobster
Cantonese lobster at Catch Miami.

The inspiration for this dish really came from chef Huynh’s childhood in Vietnam, which prominently featured many seafood-based meals. As Huynh explains, “Growing up, we ate crab and lobster at least once a week. We would cook it in a wok with the shell still on. When the shells are roasted, it adds another depth of flavor different from the shells just being fried.”

At Catch Miami, Huynh prepares the dish much in the same way. He begins with fresh lobster flown in daily from Maine. He then cuts the tails in half, dredges everything lightly in cornstarch, and deep fries them for a few minutes (this method cooks the meat while sealing in all the juices). He then takes a large cast-iron pan, adds ginger, garlic, jalapeño, and scallions, and flames it up with lots of sake or mirin, oyster sauce, and lobster butter in order to create the glossy sauce that coats the lobster.

The finished product is both visually stunning and tastes heavenly. Taking the traditional Maine lobster out of its American context makes the dish a bit more fun and exotic. The meat, still in the shell, is succulent, its natural sweetness shining through the spicy kick of the jalapeño-scented sauce. Huynh’s expert balance of flavors is enough to silence even the most stringent of seafood haters, including this one. 1545 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 786-224-7200

Schrager is the creator of both the Food Network South Beach and New York City Wine & Food Festivals.

box park soup being prepared
Hinckley pours extra-virgin olive oil into a pot of Cajun trinity (bell pepper, onion, celery) to make the stew.

Where the Wild Things Are
Don’t let the name scare you—the Everglades gumbo at Box Park is both hyperlocal and hyperdelicious.
By David Rosendorf

The high-rise towers of downtown Brickell are about the last place you would expect to stumble onto a taste of Florida wilderness. But that is what you will find at Box Park, a new restaurant on the ground floor of the Axis condominium complex. The menu focuses on some of South Florida’s wild and less utilized resources, and several of them end up in one of my favorite new dishes, the Everglades gumbo.

The intimate, elegantly modern dining room at Box Park is the polar opposite of an Everglades roadhouse. But you wouldn’t know it from the ingredient list for its gumbo, a traditional Louisiana stew. Executive Chef Matt Hinckley’s version, like a lot of things at Box Park, from the house-made charcuterie to the “Brickell pickles,” uses almost all locally sourced ingredients, some from rather unusual places. He makes his own andouille sausage using invasive feral pigs trapped by local farmers. Ruby-red shrimp are seasonally harvested from deep waters off Florida’s east coast. Those “nuisance gators” that are often removed from local golf courses and swimming pools also go into the pot. Okra comes from independent Homestead farms. The sassafras for the gumbo filé is supplied by a local family farm, then dried and ground into a powder at the restaurant. Even the salt comes from solar-evaporated seawater in the Florida Keys.

box park gumbo
Everglades gumbo at Box Park.

Hinckley, who cooked at local favorite Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink before taking over as chef at Box Park, says, “The gumbo really introduces people to something that might be a foreign ingredient, but it does it in a very familiar platform. If you like gumbo, you’re going to like this dish.”

The result might not be much to look at, but what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in flavor: the tender, curled shrimp, the mildly aquatic alligator meat, the intensely porcine wild boar sausage, the vegetal snap of the okra, the subtle aroma of sassafras, all supported by a backbeat of peppery heat and bound in a velvety, tomato-speckled broth. It’s a perfect combination of surf and turf that is truly of this place. 1111 SW First Ave., Miami, 305-356-8385

Rosendorf created and writes foodforthoughtmiami.com, a blog about dining in South Florida and beyond. When he’s not eating, he’s a commercial bankruptcy lawyer in Miami.

tiradito at jean paul's house restaurant being prepared
Chef Jean Paul Desmaison plating his white fish tiradito.

Fierce Fish
The tiradito with leche de tigre at Jean Paul’s House Restaurant and Market earns its stripes.
By Linda Gassenheimer

“Every dish should have a perfect bite. Too many flavors will kill the others,” says chef Jean Paul Desmaison of Jean Paul’s House Restaurant and Market. His tiradito with leche de tigre is a perfect example. I fell in love with it after the first bite. The raw white fish is delicate and supple, yet carries an explosion of perfectly balanced flavors from the sauce and toppings.

How does the magic happen? It’s a simple layering of ingredients. Desmaison first makes the leche de tigre (literally tiger’s milk), a Peruvian term for a citrus-based marinade. He says his is a balance between lime juice, celery, garlic, ginger, limo chili pepper, and salt, which he blends and strains. He then makes the colorful topping of diced red onion, tomato, avocado, and cilantro, adding a little of the leche de tigre and olive oil to it. To finish the dish, he spoons the leche de tigre onto a square-shaped glass plate, places very thin slices of fresh white fish filet in a diagonal line across the plate, and spoons the topping over the fish.

tiradito at jean paul's house restaurant
White fish tiradito with leche de tigre at Jean Paul’s House Restaurant and Market.

Growing up in Peru, Desmaison developed his love of cooking while spending time in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. He explains that his tiradito is a variation of an original Peruvian recipe and is something like a ceviche, but with a twist. A ceviche is made with cubed or chopped fish, but in this dish Desmaison slices the fish filets thinly, similar to a carpaccio. He was inspired by the original and created a modern temptation.

He sources his ingredients from local purveyors, with whom he has developed close relationships during his eight years as a restaurant owner in Miami, including a stint at La Cofradia in Coral Gables.

Desmaison’s dishes are not too complicated and show the fresh flavors of top-quality ingredients. This light-on-its-toes plate is no different, and fits the Miami scene perfectly: refreshing on a hot day with a chilled white wine or glass of beer. 2426 NE Second Ave., Miami, 305-573-7373; jeanpaulshouse.com

Gassenheimer is a food-focused TV personality and best-selling author, as well as the producer and host of the weekly segment “Food News and Views” on WLRN. Her latest book is Fast and Flavorful: Great Diabetes Meals from Market to Table.

porchetta sandwich at porketta
Umbria native Giuseppe Cagnoni behind the counter at Porketta

Heavenly Hog
The bombardino porchetta sandwich at Porketta proves there’s always room for succulent deliciousness in Miami.
By Lee Klein

You might say Miami needs another iconic pork-based sandwich like Rome needs a new shape of pasta. We’ve already got our signature sandwich Cubano and its sweet-breaded sister, medianoche. But if you were to say that, you’d be very, very wrong.

Behold the porchetta-plumped bombardino sandwich at Porketta, downtown. For the uninitiated, porchetta is a deboned pig stuffed and roasted with garlic, fennel, and wild herbs, the meat traditionally sliced thin and placed with crackly skin into a ciabatta bun. Porchetta originated in central Italy, blossomed into a beloved national street food, and has since been successfully exported to cities around the globe.

Now it’s Miami’s turn, thanks to Giuseppe Cagnoni. Last December, the Umbria native opened Porketta, a bright and tidy shop that proffers little but the namesake meat. Some seating is provided in the small space, as is a shiny counter where you place your order, but most people lounge at tables and chairs set up on the downtown street.

porchetta sandwich at porketta
The Bombardino sandwich at Porketta.

In Cagnoni’s hometown of Trevi, the porcine specialty is prepared and sold by the local meat vendors. “We make our porchetta exactly the same as in those artisanal butcher shops,” Cagnoni boasts, with “fresh rosemary, garlic, fennel pollen, kosher salt, and black pepper.” He rolls and sews the aromatics into fatty midsections of Berkshire hogs from Iowa (“the best in America”), then roasts them for three to four hours. “The fat dissolves during the cooking process. That’s the flavor.”

It sure is, though potent fennel and garlic notes add a delectably rustic redolence to the room-temperature pinwheels of pork, which he slices and piles into crusty bread to comprise the bombardino. Cornichons and skin cracklings cram alongside the sandwich in its paper-lined basket (skip the Americanized dressing options in favor of the parsley sauce pungent with anchovies and capers).

Sitting outdoors with a bombardino and Peroni beer proves that while you can’t always get what you need, sometimes, if you’re patient, you can get what you really want. 43 NE Third Ave., Miami, 786-317-2705

Klein wrote restaurant reviews for Miami New Times for 14 years. He is currently contributing to the Miami Herald and Bon Appétit, as well as returning to his roots as a chef.

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