Alberto Cabrera at Bread + Butter, where Little Havana meets Brooklyn.
Miami native and Cuban American chef/owner Alberto Cabrera uses a mantra of “Little Havana kitsch and Brooklyn chic” when he remixes quintessential dishes served at every rinconcito in town. Modernized culinary techniques and thoughtful décor elevate B+B, attracting a younger generation of Miamians. “The old-school Cubans, or los viejos, expect tradition on their plates,” says Cabrera. “But after a few bites, they warm up, and after a few dishes, they’re almost always on board.” What usually seals the deal? Cabrera’s media noche croquetas with spicy mustard aioli and soda crackers on the side, a must-have in which the beloved Cuban sandwich’s flavors (ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread) are playfully replicated. 2330 Salzedo St., Coral Gables, 305-442-9622
Every Friday at 6 pm, the same nine savvy regulars post up at the bar at Whisk in South Miami to beat the rush for seats at the small Southern-style gem. It all stems from chef/owner Brendan Connor and sister Kristin Connor’s original catering business in Coral Gables, which evolved into a restaurant. “Our regulars have become our friends,” says Brendan. “Many of them have been invited to our weddings, baby showers, and house parties.” Their intimate spot, often with a line out the door, feels like a home, offering seasonally driven and organic items such as the chef’s remarkable buttermilk biscuits and house-made jam—a special treat served during brunch on Sundays. Additional favorites include the fried green tomato salad with crumbled bacon pieces, and the blue crab and roasted-corn fried rice with okra, baby carrots, ginger, shallots, and sweet chili sauce. 7382 SW 56th Ave., South Miami, 786-268-8350
Dive on the Outside, Divine on the Inside
Hidden in a strip mall on the edge of Coral Gables, Matsuri’s soothing space fills up fast for lunch and dinner with stylish Gable-ites in search of premium slices of sashimi and a high-end twist on classic cooked dishes. Veer to the masterpieces listed in the “New World” section—the negitoro wasabi Ae is a standout, featuring chopped toro and scallions mixed with a spicy wasabi sauce and topped with a quail’s egg. Another is the unagi tofu, where the chef stuffs cubes of deep-fried tofu with unagi (freshwater eel, consumed during Japan’s hottest months to increase stamina) and drizzles it all with Matsuri’s signature ginger sauce. If you don’t speak Japanese, enter with an omakase attitude (trust the chef). 5759 Bird Road, Red Bird Shopping Center, Miami, 305-663-1615
Coral Gables Sushi Samba plates artful blends of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian cuisines in the heart of the Gables’ business district, and offers plenty of bar space for worldly professionals in suits. The irresistible happy hour, dubbed “Samba Hour,” boasts more than a dozen signature dishes, including gunkan sushi (a vertical variation of traditional nigiri with cooked and raw items), treats from the grill, and select cocktails. “We’ve been creating an accessible environment where people don’t feel like they need a special occasion to stop by,” says Shimon Bokovza, founder and managing partner of Samba Brands Management. “The happy hour often leads the crowd straight into dinner.” The Westin Colonnade Hotel, 180 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-448-4990
Catch a Caribbean vibe at Ortanique on the Mile, which has been providing the area with authentic dining experiences for 15 years. Chef/owner Cindy Hutson and business partner Delius Shirley are known for highlighting the brightest flavors from Florida’s nearby islands: West Indian pumpkin bisque; island conch and corn fritters with scallions, Holland and Scotch bonnet peppers, and roasted pepper coulis; and jerk-rubbed foie gras served over a warm mâche salad with duck confit and burnt orange marmalade. There’s even a West Indian-style bouillabaisse with diver scallops, mussels, middleneck clams, shrimp, grouper, mahi mahi, and jasmine rice in a coconut curry broth. 278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 305-446-7710
Serious meat lovers swear by Graziano’s Restaurant in Coral Gables. The family became a household name in the early ’90s after Mario Graziano began grilling for customers in the parking lot of his market on Coral Way. Many believe this bold move was Miami’s introduction to the Argentine style of cooking. At the Gables location, the fire pit and set of grills sit center stage, setting this restaurant apart from others. The family even sources Quebracho wood from Argentina for dense and superior flavors. You can’t go wrong with any of the meats or empanadas, but to really go big, they can source you a whole pig from a farm in Tampa with two days’ advance notice. 394 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables, 305-774-3599