Timon Balloo on his must-visit restaurants in Miami

Timon Balloo of SUGARCANE in Miami, Florida
Timon Balloo of SUGARCANE in Miami, Florida

Hometown: San Francisco, California
Occupation: Executive Chef and Partner, SUGARCANE
Years worked as a chef: 18
Years lived in Miami: 23
Awards/Accolades: Best Raw Bar and Best New Restaurant, Miami New Times (2014 and 2010, respectively)
Distinguished Visiting Chef, Johnson & Wales University (2012)
People’s Best New Chef nominee, Food & Wine (2012)
Best New Restaurant semifinalist, James Beard Foundation (2011)

Go to Chef Balloo’s shortlist

What do you love best about Miami’s food scene?

The variety and how the food scene has grown.

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

The duck and waffle. It’s a pure ode to my upbringing mixed with my formal French training. The dish has a flavor spectrum that goes from sweet to sour and texture of crunchy to soft.

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

El Palacio de los Jugos: This, to me, lets you know that “you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.” Sit outside, grab a fresh coconut and munch on cleaver-chopped lechon.

Pubbelly: José Mendín is a dear friend and one of the most talented chefs in the country. Order anything and you can’t go wrong. One of my favorites is the buffalo sweetbreads with blue cheese celery salad.

Joe’s Stone Crab: Iconic institution. Walking in is to take a trip down memory lane and is as if you’re driving down to Key West in a convertible, having the wind hit your face! Eat the fried chicken for take-out, as well as key lime pie and obviously, stone crabs.

Blackbrick: Chef Richard Hales’s version of Chinese food but with an ode to Florida ingredients, like the General Tso’s alligator.

Imagine you had a limitless appetite and describe your perfect “dining out day” in Miami.

I would start my morning off at jugofresh with a fresh pressed juice. Then onto Zak the Baker for an array of toasts and spreads. Then I would head over to La Camaronera for fried oysters and fish rice. Then to El Palacio de los Jugos for a tamale, chicharron and guanabana juice. Then catch some dim sum at Kon Chau. Then head to South Beach for stones at Joe’s. Then wobble up the street to 27 at Freehand to drink and jump into the pool.

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

I like to eat a lot of ethnic food. I go to Panya Thai for Thai food, Myung Ga Tofu and BBQ for Korean and La Camaronera for a Miami-style fish shack.

Any great watering holes you like to visit often?

Hands down for me is The Broken Shaker. All of their drinks are hand crafted so you can’t go wrong with anything you order.

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

Garcia’s fried snapper, yellow rice, black beans and tostones.

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

At Miami International Airport, you can get your Cuban fix with La Carreta, a longtime Cuban favorite. 

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

I love a good banana cream pie and the best is at Fireman Derek’s. It’s so good because of the banana pudding!

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

I love things like fried plantains or yucca chips.

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

If you go at the right time while on South Beach, you can see the beautiful neon lights on Ocean Drive … then turn your head as the night disappears and let way to the morning sun!

Chef Balloo’s Shortlist:

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

El Palacio de los Jugos, 5721 W Flagler Street (Flagami); Latin American, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Multiple locations throughout Miami.

Pubbelly, 1418 20th Street (South Beach); Asian/Latin, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Sunday, closed Monday.

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

Blackbrick, 3451 NE 1st Avenue (Midtown); Chinese, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday, dim sum Sunday.

jugofresh, 40 South Pointe Drive (South Beach); juice bar and health food, open daily.
Multiple locations throughout Miami.

Zak the Baker, 405 NW 26th Street (Wynwood); bakery/café, open daily.

La Camaronera, 1952 W Flagler Street (Little Havana); seafood, lunch daily, dinner Friday-Saturday.

Kon Chau Chinese Restaurant, 8376 Bird Road (Olympia Heights); Chinese, lunch and dinner daily.

27 Restaurant & Bar, 2727 Indian Creek Drive (Mid-Beach); new American, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Panya Thai, 520 NE 167th Street (North Miami Beach); Thai, lunch and dinner daily.

Myung Ga Tofu and BBQ, 1944 Weston Road, Weston, FL; Korean, lunch and dinner daily.

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

Garcia’s Seafood Grille & Fish Market, 398 NW North River Drive (Lummus Park); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.

La Carreta, Miami International Airport, Concourse D by Gate 37; Cuban, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Multiple locations throughout Miami.

Fireman Derek’s Pies, 2818 N Miami Avenue (Wynwood); bakery/café, open daily.


About the Chef: Chef Timon Balloo’s passion for food and cooking was evident early on. While most kids spent their Saturday mornings watching cartoons, he was glued to the TV watching “Yan Can Cook.” A child of Chinese and Trinidadian parents, Balloo grew up eating a wide range of dishes from both cultures; “My mother would always cook things like brown stew chicken, rice and pigeon peas, and steamed fish with ginger, scallions and soy sauce.”

It came as no surprise, then, when he eventually enrolled in culinary school, leaving a career in the finance industry. Upon graduating, he refined his skills in Belgium and later returned to the States, working in kitchens in Miami and New York City, including Miami’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel under Chef Michelle Bernstein and SUSHISAMBA. In 2010, Balloo opened SUGARCANE with the SUSHISAMBA restaurant group. The menu features the familiar Asian-Caribbean flavors from his childhood, and he uses techniques and flavor combinations that hark back to the food he grew up eating, such as marinating oxtail and braising it low and slow for hours. SUGARCANE opened to wild acclaim and has remained a popular Miami dining destination ever since.

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