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.
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.
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.
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!