Chef Brad Kilgore just wants guests to feel comfortable. More interested in genuinely delicious food and welcoming energy than pomp-and-circumstance fine dining, the James Beard-award nominee steers clear of stuffiness in his restaurants. This, he says, is the pinnacle of what makes a meal truly enjoyable—and what brings people back again and again. “I took away all the clutter of fine dining and left it behind, and we’re still here.”
“Here” being Miami—a city where wealth and pageantry are around every corner, from the toned and tanned bodies that stroll the beaches to the yachts zipping up and down the shores. Still, Kilgore has found room to stick to his laid-back values, carving out space for himself and his projects in two of Miami’s hippest neighborhoods: smoky, wood-fired American bistro Ember and Japanese-inspired kitchen and cocktail lounge Kaido in the Design District, along with casual but top-class American fare restaurant Alter in Wynwood, Miami’s art district. “Wynwood’s a neighborhood that harbors creativity and artists,” he says. “It’s the sort of place where you can do something a little bit creative, or a little bit edgy, or a little bit new-thought.”
Kaido marks the newest addition to a slew of restaurants helping to establish Miami’s flourishing culinary culture—one Kilgore takes great pride in contributing to. “There are so many up-and-coming chefs and restaurants that are putting this food scene on the map,” he says. “There are people from all over the world cooking here.” Below, the acclaimed chef shares his top picks for what’s best and what’s next in the city where he’s built a culinary empire.
Unpretentious and family-owned, Las Olas Cafe on Miami Beach dishes out tasty Cuban staples. A heads up: The kitchen closes at 4 p.m. every day, so plan to stop in for lunch (Kilgore specifically recommends their empanadas with beef, chicken, spinach, ham, and cheese). However, Las Olas owns several restaurants throughout town, including in Miami Beach, Brickell, and Key Biscayne—meaning that no matter where you’re staying, there are plenty of opportunities to get a taste.
Located in the Design District, Mandolin Bistro brings the Aegean coast to Miami. “It’s a really beautiful and quaint outside space that transports you to Greece,” says Kilgore. Built inside of an old 1940s bungalow, the restaurant specializes in Greek and Turkish cuisine; for dinner, dig into grilled halloumi, fried calamari, seafood kebabs, baked feta cheese, and grilled catch-of-the-day fish straight from the water.
When he’s not the kitchen working on his own plates, Kilgore and his wife frequent this spot—“a neighborhood Italian restaurant where you feel at home every visit.” Situated in South Beach, the Italian restaurant is a favorite amongst critics and locals alike. Start off the meal with a charcuterie board or antipasti, then take your pick of a number of Italian dishes you know and love; every meal tastes like comfort and home. If you’re wise, visit on a Thursday when all their handmade pasta is just $10 all night long.
“Sweet Liberty can always guarantee a great drink and vibe,” shares Kilgore. Founded by the late John Lermayer—the award-winning bartender that helped Miami’s craft cocktail scene blossom—the bar is a can’t-miss for those who want to experience a local favorite. The cheeky drink names—including such selections as the Sweet Potato Pain Killer, the Pear Pressure, and the Basic Bitch—are almost certain to lure you in for one more drink.
For those unfamiliar with the Spanish language—rare in Miami—know that Sabor a Perú’s name gives away their cuisine. The name literally means “Flavor of Peru,” and here, they celebrate beloved Peruvian dishes with an extensive menu that touches everything from soup and seafood to ceviche. “Get the lomo saltado, sliced beef in a rich sauce with French fries and onions,” Kilgore recommends. “I suggest ordering a side of huancaina sauce.”