Makoto Okuwa’s favorite restaurants in Miami’s South Beach and Design District

Makoto Okuwa of Makoto in Miami, Fla. Photo courtesy of Makoto.
Makoto Okuwa of Makoto in Miami, Fla. Photo courtesy of Makoto.

Hometown: Nagoya, Japan
Occupation: Executive Chef, Makoto Restaurant
Years worked as a chef: 25
Years lived in Miami: 5
Awards/Accolades: New York Rising Star, StarChefs.com (2007)

Go to Chef Okuwa’s shortlist

What is your earliest memory about food? 

My grandmother was an excellent cook and cooking teacher. She would visit us in Nagoya a few times a year and taught me to cook, so it was always a part of my life. She inspired my love of great food.

Name the top restaurants that you think every visitor in Miami should try. 

Mandolin: Simply prepared Mediterranean food in a beautiful garden setting. They have two locations, one in the Design District and one at Soho House.

Beachcraft: A great new addition to Miami and fantastic for breakfast.

Joe’s Stone Crab: A Miami icon.

The Continental: My partner’s (Stephen Starr) restaurant in South Beach with really great cocktails and global cuisine!

SUGARCANE: My go-to spot in Midtown.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?

Wynwood and Design District really stand out because they are really cool and hip. Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, Mandolin, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, and Alter are all there.

If you had to name one favorite dish from Makoto, what would it be and why?

I think it would be frosty kobe fried rice. It’s full of flavor, and [the] combination of hot and cold is really my favorite.

Frosty kobe fried rice from Makoto. Photo courtesy of Makoto.
Frosty kobe fried rice from Makoto. Photo courtesy of Makoto.

Imagine you had a limitless appetite. Where would you go on your perfect “dining out day” in Miami?

Maybe I’d go to South Beach, just because so many good places are nearby so you don’t have to drive a lot. Joe’s Stone Crab, Drunken Dragon, Beachcraft (that’s where I would eat breakfast!).

You’re originally from Japan. Are there any specific places you like to go to when you want a taste of home?

I would say one of the most traditional Japanese spots is Yakko-San.

What other cuisines do you enjoy eating or cooking, and where do you go for these foods?

One of my absolute favorites is Italian. Il Mulino at Acqualina Hotel is pretty good.

Any great watering holes you like to visit often and any specific drinks you like to order?

I would recommend The Broken Shaker. Their drinks are absolutely unique and delicious!

Since it’s Miami, we have to ask: what’s your go-to place for Cuban and what do you like ordering there?

Absolutely famous and very historical Havana 1957. Everything is good there. For those who come to Miami, an absolute must-try is the Cubano, a traditional-style Cuban sandwich.

What’s one dish that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with it yourself?

The carbonated oyster at Tongue & Cheek!

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars in Miami-area airports or hotels you would recommend?

The Continental at the Aloft Hotel recently opened and has brunch every day which is amazing! Other notables include The Setai Grill at The Setai and The Dutch at W Hotel.

What’s your guilty pleasure and where in Miami do you go to get it? 

Momi Ramen. It’s not the same as traditional Japanese ramen, but that fatty broth is definitely the one.

Are there any foods native to Miami that you particularly like and that visitors should try to find?

Miami’s famous Cuban sandwich and mojito!

Finally, what would you say any visitor must see or do before leaving Miami? 

Miami is absolutely amazing all the time. Just go out and enjoy hot weather, white sand beaches, and beautiful people around you!

Chef Okuwa’s Shortlist:

Makoto, 9700 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour, FL; Japanese, lunch and dinner daily.

Mandolin Aegean Bistro, 4312 NE 2nd Avenue (Design District); Mediterranean, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: Soho Beach House, 4385 Collins Avenue (Mid-Beach); all day menu served daily.

Beachcraft, 1 Hotel South Beach, 2395 Collins Avenue (South Beach); American, breakfast and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Joe’s Stone Crab, 11 Washington Avenue (South Beach); seafood, breakfast daily (take-out only and closed during summer months), lunch Tuesday-Saturday (closed during summer months), dinner daily.

The Continental, Aloft South Beach, 2360 Collins Avenue (South Beach); global, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

SUGARCANE raw bar grill, 3252 NE 1st Avenue (Midtown); Asian/Caribbean, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, late night Thursday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, 2550 NW 2nd Avenue (Wynwood); Latin American, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday.

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, 130 NE 40th Street (Design District); new American, lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

Alter, 223 NW 23rd Street (Wynwood); American, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Drunken Dragon, 1424 Alton Road (South Beach); Korean, dinner only daily.

Yakko-San, 3881 NE 163rd Street (North Miami Beach); Japanese, lunch, dinner and late night daily.

Il Mulino, Acqualina Resort & Spa, 17875 Collins Avenue (Sunny Isles Beach); Italian, lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

The Broken Shaker, The Freehand, 2727 Indian Creek Drive (Mid-Beach); bar, open daily.

Havana 1957, 405 Española Way (South Beach); Cuban, breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night daily.
Two other locations in Miami.

Tongue & Cheek, 431 Washington Avenue (South Beach); American, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

The Setai Grill, The Setai Miami Beach, 2001 Collins Avenue (South Beach);

The Dutch, W South Beach Hotel & Residences, 2201 Collins Avenue (South Beach); new American, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Momi Ramen, 5 SW 11th Street (Downtown); Japanese, lunch, dinner and late night daily.


About the Chef: For Chef Makoto Okuwa, his culinary career started at the age of 15 at a sushi restaurant in Japan, and that early experience shaped him into the chef he is today.

“IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT YEARS BECAUSE IN JAPAN, YOU START FROM THE VERY, VERY BEGINNING AND DO THE TOUGHEST JOB. BUT I THINK THOSE YEARS MADE ME THE PERSON I AM RIGHT NOW: I CONSIDER MYSELF VERY TOUGH AND NEVER TAKE ‘NO’ FOR AN ANSWER.”

With 10 years of training with sushi masters under his belt, he left Japan to advance his career in America, working in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, San Diego, and Los Angeles. At an event in Cape Cod, Makoto-san met Masaharu Morimoto and he soon became the Head Sushi Chef at Morimoto’s restaurants in Philadelphia and New York. He considers the Iron Chef star a mentor: “I’m very grateful and thankful that I met him … because he’s the one who helped me understand how to be successful in America.” Before long, Makoto-san was opening his own restaurants, first in 2007 with Sashi Sushi + Sake Lounge in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and then in 2011 with Makoto in Bal Harbour, Fla., under a partnership with restaurateur Stephen Starr.

Having lived in Miami for five years now, Makoto-san sees big things for Miami’s growing dining scene as it grows as a culinary destination, and he’s excited to be a part of the change.

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