Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your weekly tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by top chefs. This week, we’re turning up the heat in Miami!
If you’re a fan of Chopped, Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli needs no introduction. At the age of 26, he became Miami’s first winner on the iconic show, and used his winnings to start a pop-up restaurant, Eating House, with partner Alex Casanova in 2012.
The pop-up proved so successful that Eating House is now a permanent and beloved fixture of the Miami culinary scene, featuring inventive, rapidly changing menus, a Wakin’ & Bacon brunch (think Cap’n Crunch pancakes with condensed milk syrup and Tang mimosas), and a wildly popular annual 4/20 Dinner Special (as of this writing, the 2016 event is almost sold out).
While Chef Rapicavoli’s sense of fun is all-pervading, it’s clear that he’s also very serious about his craft. He was listed as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 at the age of 27, and a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year Semi-finalist in 2013. This year, he’s a semi-finalist for a James Beard Best Chef: South award.
Chef Rapicavoli’s latest venture is Glass & Vine, which showcases his commitment to using locally-sourced, extraordinarily fresh ingredients. The restaurant is being called an “intimate garden oasis by the bay,” with menus “inspired by the natural surroundings.” This talented chef is passionate about Miami, proud to be a part of its food culture, and a perfect choice to guide us on our culinary tour of the city.
Let’s dig in to Chef Rapicavoli’s fifteen “can’t miss” Miami restaurants!
Definitely my favorite. It’s a young dude, Justin Flit, really super talented, makes ridiculously good pasta. Does my favorite pizza margherita. I only really eat pizza margherita. I’m not one that really likes pizza with toppings, so a really classic margherita is my favorite thing in the world when it comes to pizza, and his is just so delicious. That’s what I judge every pizza place on; I always go classic.
He’s actually my old chef. He left Eating House to go be the proprietor of what I think is the best taco shop in Miami, and this guy is getting artisanal blue corn from Mexico, making his own tortillas. He makes our tortillas for Eating House.
Super old-school Chinese place in Miami. Literally five minutes from my home. It’s the best, I’m actually going to go there for lunch once we finish our conversation, to be perfectly honest.
My boy Ricky. He has a street cart, always changes, you have to search through Instagram to find him. Old school, old school food truck, like before food trucks were even a trend. He’s been cranking it out probably fifteen years now. He makes off-the-chain burgers.
I’m not a huge cupcake fan, but we have a place called Buttercream Cupcakes in South Miami. Their vanilla-vanilla cupcake is on another level. They use so much vanilla bean, it’s almost woody. It’s not kid-friendly. It’s oaky, woody, vanilla—just so damn good. It’s strange, because I don’t do cupcakes, I’m a grown-ass man. But these things, man? Buttercream Cupcakes, they don’t get better than that. The buttercream, it’s just ridiculous how much vanilla they put into it. The frosting almost looks grey with how much vanilla bean is in it and the cake is super moist.
My buddy’s restaurant. Brad Kilgore; he used to work for Jean-Georges, he worked at L20, Alinea. He’s super talented. It’s in Wynwood and doesn’t necessarily look fine dining, but the food is definitely there. It’s a really, really nice experience to get to eat there.
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Three dudes, younger guys, so kind to us when we opened up Eating House. They really opened up their doors and helped me with everything I ever needed.
Super solid Asian gastropub. Can’t beat it in the city when it comes to that type of flavor. Great, simple, casual. You get to chill, drink a good beer, sit at the bar, watch a soccer game, and still get to really appreciate good food.
Another Miami-made story. He used to be a nutritionist. Like four years ago, this guy was staying up all night, hand-delivering juice out of his car to clients, and now he’s in basically every Whole Foods in South Florida. Awesome dude. He has a juice shop where they make coconut jerky and a whole bunch of cool, delicious shit. He even started taking his juices and got a frozen yogurt machine, so now you have sorbets; it’s like eating green juice. He can take smoothies with maca and hempseed and put them in there and make healthy frozen yogurt. Really cool.
It’s lavish and expensive…but it’s the shit. There’s no other way to put it. It’s incredible. If you break it down to think about the fact that you get two hours of an amazing brunch experience for $130, you would pay a dollar a minute for that experience. You are treated like a king. Incredible drinks, fine quality champagne. The food is ridiculously good. It’s just crazy. I’d prefer to eat scrambled eggs at home and get to go to brunch at Zuma once a year. Quality, quality, quality. People will pay 130 bucks to see a concert, see a band for two hours. I wanna eat for two hours. People spend that to go see the Heat play or they’ll watch the Lakers play. I’d rather watch the Lakers play on my TV and eat like a god.
ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY
There’s so many quality Cuban restaurants in the city. They’re everywhere. Every neighborhood, every area has them, a restaurant that’s just as good as another. If you’re in Westchester, you go to Rio Cristal. Westchester kids, we love that restaurant. It’s forty years old. The flan is revolutionary. It will literally change your life. I’m serious, it’s incredible. I’m sure they’re using the same tins that they’ve been cooking flans in for forty years; you’ve gotta think about how many times delicious caramel and baked custard has been poured into those tins and then re-baked. It’s just perfect. It’s the most incredible flan. It’s like room-temperature ice cream-texture. It’s got that same kind of cream luxuriousness. There’s no springiness. It’s a thick, creamy custard. To me, if you want to eat good Cuban, you go to Rio Cristal.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
Garcia’s Seafood Grille & Fish Market
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I think what could be kind of odd for some people, would be going to Garcia’s on the river, and they have their own boat, so you’re eating next to the same boat that the fish are getting pulled up in. You’re literally eating on a dock. You’re right next to the same boats they’ve been using for years. Family-run, traditional, fish house. It’s also a fish market. You buy the fish, you eat the fish, they have their own fishermen. It’s completely full-circle. 1966, the company started. Pretty amazing.
There’s never guilt when it comes to eating for me. But I like going to Shiver’s Bar-B-Q, down almost near Homestead. Barbecue beef ribs, hands all covered in barbecue sauce, sweet potato casserole, love all that. Love it. It’s my favorite barbecue joint in Miami. Keep driving a little past Shiver’s, on the way to Islamorada, like thirty minutes south of that, there’s this place called Bob’s Bunz, and they make potato chip cookies. It’s a sugar cookie with a whole bunch of potato chips crumbled up in the batter. Shiver’s is almost an hour south, and then Islamorada is thirty minutes from that. That’s a sick drive. You can leave Miami for an hour and it’s a whole different world.
I don’t really drink. I can say I’ve been very fortunate in that I haven’t been hungover in a very long time, but if I am going to be hungover, I’m going to knock down a bacon cheeseburger. Delicious, medium rare, American cheese all the way. I recently fell in love with Shake Shack.
Aaron Brooks, the chef there, has the sickest charcuterie plate in the whole city. You can sit outside, it’s super beautiful, and eat lots of charcuterie, which is all with your hands, very much about sharing. It’s a very conversational food. I think sometimes they even do s’mores on the little fireplaces outdoors if I’m not mistaken.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
A lot of my friends have very distinctive, personal restaurants that are nothing like each other, so it gives me the opportunity to really just explore them. Macchialina is an Italian place by Mike Pirolo, on the beach, it’s fantastic. My buddy, Danny Serfer, he owns Mignonette. Awesome raw bar. Really starting the game when it comes to seafood in Miami. I love Sakaya, by Richard Hales. They have this duck sandwich that’s ridiculous. I love that duck sandwich.
Thank you, Chef Rapicavoli, for sharing Miami with us!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!