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An Asian American’s guide to Asian food in Miami

It is said Miami is not known for its Asian food, to which I say: well, duh. You don’t go to China to eat ropa vieja, so with that same logic you don’t necessarily go to Miami to have amazing Asian food.

That said, for folks who grew up eating Asian food, like anyone that moved here from New York or the West Coast, or the 15 Asians living in Miami-Dade county — it’s kind of a big deal. As a San Franciscan ex-pat, decent Asian food is the No. 2 thing I miss most about San Francisco, sandwiched between “family and friends” and “the ability to answer questions in the form of another question.”

Every so often, I still get asked where there’s decent Chinese/Japanese/Korean/whatever restaurants in Miami, and there are still not a lot of options, Miami globalization be damned. While there are Chinese influences in Latin & Caribbean cuisine — Peruvian chaufa is literally Chinese fried rice, or chaofan, for example — a lack of major Asian immigration to Miami means what we get are “concept restaurants” where some Manhattan bro puts Peking duck breast in a steamed bun like a street food taco and you pay sixteen dollars. And after three years here, I still need to travel the next county over to get authentic Korean BBQ. That is just as much of a travesty as the Miami WorldCenter project.

It has taken a couple of years, sure, but this is a list of all the Asian restaurants that have stood out for me as a Miamian.

Lutong Pinoy, North Miami Beach

I may be Chinese, but I’ve had more than my share of Filipino food. The first meal I ever cooked was chicken adobo, and I have no problems frying a slice of spam, eating it with rice and calling that breakfast.

Lest ye hate, I’m shocked that more Cubans don’t seek out Filipino food. There’s a Spanish influence, both cultures roast giant pigs whole and call them lechon, and there’s a fear of using a vegetable unless it’s stewed in pork or related to a potato. Filipino food just has some flavor profiles that fit its locality — soy sauce, fish sauce, sometimes coconut milk.

There haven’t been any Filipino restaurants in Miami for a while, so when I found out about Lutong Pinoy on a Google search for Filipino restaurants in Miami (Because I Google for Filipino restaurants in Miami on a regular basis, just in case.), I drove 30 minutes to a strip mall where a delightful couple served Filipino food cafeteria-style. I may have bought a couple extra servings of crispy pork to freeze, also just in case. I also may have tipped them 40%, in the hope that they don’t go out of business like many Asian restaurants seem to go out of business here.

Tropical Chinese

When I was doing the long-distance dating thing, my excuse for not making the leap was that there weren’t any good dim sum options in Miami. Then my boyfriend took me here and I had one less excuse. So thanks, Tropical Chinese.

 

Other Miamians will argue that Kon Chau, in the strip mall across the street is better. It is definitely not as expensive. Tropical still gets my vote for the experience — a good amount of Miamians still haven’t had proper dim sum and whenever I hear that, I bug my eyes out and exclaim “You haven’t had dim sum?!” You may as well have the full experience, with the old ladies pushing dumplings around in a cart and calling you out when you call dishes the wrong thing in Chinese.

Tropical is pretty good for dinner too — get the fish in chili oil if you love spicy food — but it’s one of those places where they have white tablecloths for dinner and the servers speak fluent English, so it can be a little pricey.

 

Dragon 1

Sure, the FIU campus out in Kendall Westchester may be in the middle of nowhere, but it does have some of the most authentic Chinese restaurants, thanks to the small population of Chinese grad students. When I went in there the first time, it was all FIU Chinese grad students. This is a good thing.

I saw one college dude, sitting in one of the booths in the back eating a bowl of cherries while playing a MMORPG on his laptop. The only way Dragon 1 could have been more authentic was if there were three guys sitting in front of the restaurant doing the Asian squat, smoking cigarettes and gambling.

Pro-tip No. 1: Most Chinese restaurants will have an American menu and a Chinese menu. The American menu will have all that Panda Express stuff which you can get anywhere, and let’s be honest, is usually only good when you’re stoned out of your mind.

What you want is the Chinese menu — sometimes they do have it in English, or photos. Barring that, don’t be afraid to casually look at other people’s tables and ask if what they’re having and if it’s good or not. So long as you’re not a jerk, they’ll be cool with it for the most part. You’re the adventurous white people, curious about their culture! And if they’re still haters, be passive-aggressive about it on Yelp. That’s what we Asian Americans do!

King’s Palace BBQ

Dragon 1 is authentic, sure, but King’s Palace in North Miami Beach is my go-to Chinese restaurant. Why? Because we live in Little Haiti and don’t feel like driving forty minutes every time I crave Chinese food, that’s why.

It was also the one restaurant on Chinese New Year with a two hour wait in line. Always trust the one place that all the Asians go when it’s Chinese New Year.

When we’re here, we always get the same thing: salt and pepper shrimp, roast pork, and sauteed garlic chives. I’m usually the type to be adventurous, but the ritual is comforting, especially in a city where nothing is ever the same, in the name of progress.

Tasca De Espana

Tasca De Espana is not an Spanish/Indian fusion restaurant, but a Spanish restaurant that also serves Indian food. Let me repeat that: It’s a Spanish restaurant that serves Indian food. As in, the restaurant was once a delightful Spanish restaurant full of tropes like flags with bulls on them, barrels of wine and people talking loudly, but at some point, an Indian chef took the restaurant over, placed a tiny statue of Vishnu on one of the wine barrels and just started to put Indian food on the menu, because damn it, it’s his restaurant and this is America.

When we went to this restaurant with my friends Saba and Anish — literally, the other Asian couple I met in Miami — we had chicken tikka masala, saag paneer and a bunch of naan brought out to a band playing flamenco music. And while we all agreed it’s not the best Indian food we’ve ever had, I’m pretty sure it’s the only Indian restaurant where you can order a tiramisu for dessert without a hint of irony.

Cake Thai Kitchen

Miami does indeed love Thai food. But why is it served with sushi? Actually, why is mediocre Chinese food served with sushi here? Here’s a pro tip — 80% of the time, if a non-Japanese restaurant serves sushi, it’s a giant red flag that the food is going to be mediocre. (Refer to the Oatmeal cartoon.)

As of July 2015, Cake Thai Kitchen satisfies any Miami hipsters need for authentic Thai. I appreciate a Thai place where the chef recognizes the necessary balance of sweet, sour, saltiness and, well, funkiness in a cuisine, rather than some generic green curry drowning in coconut milk. Since I also just ate there tonight, I can also appreciate a place that doesn’t overcook prawns to the consistency of pencil erasers. All this from a hole-in-the-wall storefront on Biscayne Boulevard run by a mother and son team. You’ll still get a sketchy Biscayne loiterer come in to avoid a freak thunderstorm every so often.

Momi Ramen

Hey kids, I have a haiku for you all! Imagine this with a bonsai tree you picked up at Home Depot and clip of one of those Japanese flutes playing from YouTube:

It kills me to eat
twenty-two dollar ramen
But what can you do?

While technically a bunch of Chinese people own and run the place, and I’m getting into some gray area on the “authenticity” front (Oxtail ramen, while delicious, moves this to being more fusion.), Momi Ramen is an example of supply and demand. When you are — literally — the one place in the Miami metropolitan area serving decent ramen, you can charge however much you want.

And you can charge twice that when you are open until 5 a.m. and serve alcohol within a walkable distance from the Brickell bars. A lot of people give it low ratings on Yelp for this sin alone. My strategy: Go there, eat the ramen while sighing about how you can get bowls of ramen for literally one fourth the price in California. Then get over it, because you’re in Miami, bitch.

And there you go, folks! Now give me a place that serves legitimate Korean BBQ without needing to drive to Broward County and a banh mi sandwich that doesn’t come with happy hour cocktails and I’ll be set. I’m sure you have some places you recommend as well — have at it in the comments! 

  • GOO GOO GAGA

    Maido is missing from this list and the part 2 list. Please fix this.

    And I thought Gabose was just OK :/

  • Great scope of choices. Parts one and two. One of my favorites: SHOKUDO. Long standing dedication and wonderful crew. Location on NE 2nd Avenue worth a lovely visit.

    • Ernie

      Shokudo was fantastic! The chef is Filipino and made a kick-ass spam fried rice (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). I heard rumors that he left Miami for Brooklyn though – is the new chef any good?

      • Armando Litiatco is now in Brooklyn with his restaurant f.o.b. I heard it’s amazing. SHOKUDO menu very strong and ‘yummy’ with owner Yoko Takarada and new chef always exploring and referencing Asian street food delights. Yoko is also actively traveling and tasting.

  • RGonz

    Great Indian food at Saffron on 126th and US1, Ayesha on 141st and US1. I haven’t been yet, but looks amazing is Ghee in downtown Dadeland…https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/ghee-indian-kitchen-miami-2

  • ThomasRodrigues

    Any thoughts on Lung Yai Thai Tapas on Calle Ocho or Lan Pan Aisan Cafe at Dadeland Station?

  • Damon Davison

    Broward has at least one good Vietnamese place: Pho 78 on University Dr / Sunset Strip in Sunrise. There are others around, but I don’t think they’re as good. Service tends to be a bit crap, unless the Old Man is around. They do great warm bánh mì.

  • Damon Davison

    Broward has two excellent Cantonese restaurants: Dragon City and Gold Marquess. Go to Dragon City for everything except dim sum. They have *three* menus, one of which is largely untranslated Chinese medicinal dishes. Go to Gold Marquess for the dim sum, and while you’re there, order some Puer tea, or maybe half Puer and half Chrysanthemum, as we tend to.

  • Damon Davison

    Lauderhill is about 10 miles from Fort Lauderdale, but I second this nomination. They now have a Korean bar next to the restaurant called “Pocha”, which means, er, ‘bar’.

  • gordonweib

    Asian Thai Kitchen 2 on SW 8th Street is the most authentic Thai in Miami. It is a real hole in the wall with very limited seating but the food is great. Pho Thang for Vietnamese in Palmetto Bay is excellent and Dumpling King on NE 167th Street has a very passable pork soup dumpling

  • Little Saigon in North Miami Beach serving amazing Vietnamese food by cranky old ladies for 20+ years!

  • Kyle Maharlika

    There’s a really tasty, casual viet place that opened right by Lutong Pinoy in NMB, called PhoMi2Go. It’s cute and small, and their food is pretty tasty. Their drinks are also pretty good. Really great for cheap lunch/dinner.

  • Stuart Sheldon

    Thank you for dropping Asian knowledge whilst being utterly HILARIOUS!

  • Kathy

    Thank you for writing this article and opening it up for discussion and other wonderful recommendations. I just moved here from Los Angeles and was feeling so homesick last night because the “asian” food in Brickell is so terrible! So grateful for this article!

  • Carlos Augusto Diaz

    She need to visit Kong Chau and South Garden, Tropical is expensive compared to those two! Also, if you want to try Chinese with Spanish taste, try Chi-fa, there are at least 3 restaurants that serve.

  • Thanks for this, Ernie! I only knew about Tropical Chinese.

    We love Mike’s China Beach in Mid Beach. I don’t know if it’s authentic, but the proprietors are.

  • Michelle Yan

    also tony chan’s is the place to go for chinese new year

  • Michelle Yan

    one big vote down on tropical, totally overrated. kon chau is much better!
    also, they missed my favorite chinese place – tien kue inn… they just got a chef from hong kong!

  • FunkyFlorida917

    I would add Shilla Korean BBQ, on a strip mall next to Mall of the Americas. It’s the only place in Miami that I can get my kimchi and bibimbap fix. They also have a great makgeolli unfiltered rice wine that I recommend.

  • Ana Paula

    You missed First Hong Kong Cafe in Downtown. One of the best in town.

  • Marian Bacol-Uba

    Gabose Korean BBQ in Fort Lauderdale is delicious! Thai Kitchen in Miami Beach is actually really good. I love to get the whole fried fish

    • Ernie

      Gabose is the Korean BBQ place I would recommend but technically it’s in Broward County. 🙁

  • Joshua Kingston

    Shilla Korean 7917 NW 2 St 33126

    It’s been there since 1979, originally a sushi bar, and has the burners on the table for BBQ

    • Charles Villard

      I can’t speak to the authenticity, but I second its BBQ.

  • Yan Li

    Couldn’t agree more with your article. Love King Palace. Check out Pho Thang for authentic Vietnamese food.

  • adamold

    It’s sad that Choice Cafe in Wynwood was driven out by the incoming galleries, hipsters, and higher rents. It makes me wonder where the Korean garment workers went when they left the area, and whether there is another under-the-radar Korean lunch spot with an old lady proprietress and 100% Korean clientele lurking in Allapattah somewhere.

    • Ernie

      I have heard the legend of this mysterious Korean restaurant in Wynwood. It had closed by the time I moved to Miami. There are still some Asian folks up and down the garment district on NW 5th Avenue though though they ignore me when I give “The Asian Nod(tm).”

  • Andrew Derksen

    For dim sum, I am going to have to recommend the exceptional

    South Garden Chinese Restaurant –> http://www.southgardenrestaurant.com/
    Sunset Strip Plaza
    10855 SW 72nd St
    Miami, FL 33173

    They are delicious. Not quite Orchard Road street vendor bao, but they are the closest to Sunday brunch in Singapore that I have managed to find in South Florida. The ambiance isn’t quite up to “Tropical” levels, but not only is the food quality better, they have a greater diversity of choice on their little dim sum carts, and they are cheaper!

    • Ernie

      I finally got a chance to go to South Garden. Consider me a fan! (Except for the drive, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.)

    • Yeah I can’t bleive this didn’t get a nod – Dim Sum Cheaper than Tropical, (to matchthe cafeteria styl atmosphere) but it is Supergood. (and Old ladies with Attitude to boot.. but its all good)

  • Liz Riz

    GoBistro blows Momi Ramen out of the water..$22 for bad ramen? No thanks, I’ll drive 30 minutes to Hollywood 🙂

  • Vice-Queen Maria

    Southbound – Pho Tang. And Northbound – Little Saigon in North Miami Beach. I order the pho there almost every week! An asian market is right next to Pho Tang and Little Saigon is surrounded by Asian markets. My former roommate is Chinese and I went to several authentic places with her, but the names escape me. I gotta try that Indian food with flamenco performances. #onlyinmiami

  • Loy

    Great article . are their any Malaysian restaurants in Dade or Broward?

    • Ernie

      No proper Malaysian I’m aware of. For Indonesian there’s Indomania in Miami Beach (Mid-Beach) which is a sitdown restaurant and has a lot of similar flavor profiles: http://www.indomaniarestaurant.com/

  • Czarina Xamantha VeraCruz Quir

    Have you visited Rick’s Thai restaurant?! Hole in the wall… crowded after 6pm for dinner… Amazing Thai food!!!

  • thank you so much for this article

  • Ana Paula

    My favorite cheap Chinese food located in Downtown – First Hong Kong Cafe http://www.firsthkcafe.com/

  • Mirella Martinez Pacheco

    Green Papaya!

  • Alexis Zee

    Hands down – Asian Thai Kitchen inside the Kwik Stop in Coconut Grove!

  • Ernie

    So I guess I should say that the other secret strategy of having some Asian American carpetbagger post his favorite Asian restaurants is to troll the four Asians who have actually spent most/all of their lives here and miss their favorite spots. So in the spirit of transparency, I’ll include those in the comments, and give props where due:

    – South Garden (via John L.)
    – Dumpling King in North Miami Beach (via John L. & Esther K.: “just get the dumplings”)

  • Micaela Stavrinos

    Best Japanese, hands down is Matsuri on Bird and 57th. My father lived
    in Japan for 11 years, and has maintained for decades that Matsuri is
    the closest thing to Japan in Miami. Should have been on the list, especially since Japanese food appears to be virtually unrepresented here:/.

    • Ernie

      Definite plus one to Matsuri! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Senor

    Sorry, best thai is:

    Panya Thai Restaurant
    https://plus.google.com/102602673016956826826/about?gl=us&hl=en
    4.414 Google reviews · Write a review520 NE 167th St, Miami, FL 33162
    (305) 945-8566

    • Deb

      +1 for Panya Thai. I’ve been going there for the past 5-6 years and it is by far my favorite in Miami.

  • Jess

    Sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine: “FIU campus out in Kendall…”? Westchester or Sweetwater maybe, but definitely not Kendall.

    • Cool. We can fix that. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Ernie

      I was going to write “the FIU campus out in the Unincorporated County Municipal Service Area,” but it just didn’t have that ring to it.

      • Jess

        Pero Kendall? Lol. Westchester or maybe even Sweetwater. Despite my peeve, thanks for the info! I now know where to go for ramen.

  • MissFern

    I love you, Ernie.

  • Christian Oliver

    Pho Tang in south Dade is a great little hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant, it’s a bit of a trek but worth it. Tropical Chinese is definitely a favorite of mine too though!

    • This is in my ‘hood, and I love it! You know it’s good because they have ALLLLLL the beef parts.

    • Ernie

      That’s another vote for Pho Tang. Haven’t been, will definitely need to check it out now. Also from Khiem N., there’s Little Saigon in North Miami Beach.

    • Deb

      Agreed. The best Viet in Miami bar none.

  • Tatiana Torne

    Ever tried Doral Thai Restaurant?

    • Ernie

      No! Do you recommend?

      I do remember liking Maido in Doral a lot. Really tasty izakaya and the restaurant owners were super polite (because Japanese restaurant). I was convinced I wasn’t in Miami until they wished us goodbye… in Brazilian Portuguese. Womp wommmp.

  • victoria fear

    thoughts on mr yum?

    • Benji Power

      Def not supposed to be on this list. Just another flashy Mimai fusion sushi spot

  • Benji Power

    To ignore Broward in this analysis is to be foolish. Broward is to Miami as Brooklyn and Queens and Bronx are to Manhattan. I happily drive the 30 minutes at 8 pm at night using the highways for better food in Broward.

    – Amazing hole in the strip mall wall Japanese Izakaya: Marumi in Sunrise

    Bring on your best Indian and Korean recs in Broward.

    • We’re down for a Broward trip, that just wasn’t the focus of this particular piece. You’re right, though, Broward has some of the best ethnic food in the region, IMHO.

    • Ernie

      I totally concede that Broward has better Asian food that Dade County. (As does Orlando. As does literally any other place with more Asians, which is pretty much any place north of Miami, honestly.) And I happily do drive 30 minutes at 9pm on I-95 for Korean food! I’ve done it before!

      On the flip side, I just can’t do that for, say, a quick office lunch or 5pm on a weekday, or any time on a Friday night. This article is for those moments, otherwise, this article would be called “Why I hate the I-95.”

    • Robertson Adams

      I have had good Asian food there, but I don’t miss Broward.

  • David tobin

    good info – thanks