Chef Diego Oka admits that he was dubious about the dining scene in Miami when he moved there one year ago. After opening restaurants for celebrated chef Gastón Acurio around the world, including in Colombia, Mexico and San Francisco, the Peruvian native was skeptical about what Florida had to offer besides Disney World (he's been there five times - "Peruvians love to go to Miami for vacation") and South Beach's non-stop party atmosphere. A year after accepting the position of executive chef at La Mar by Gastón Acurio (where we're obsessed with his Chinese-Peruvian fried rice), he's been blown away by the food culture there, including the 200 or so Peruvian restaurants. Here, his top seven spots to eat and drink around his newly adopted hometown.
1. Dr. Limon - a ceviche bar with an unusual medical theme. The Yellow Fever ceviche is made with a yellow pepper cream sauce; the Psychiatrist is a three-layered concocoction. "It's a couple of young, cool Peruvian guys cooking," says Oka. doctorlimon.com
2. Panya Thai - a tiny Thai spot in an unassuming strip mall in North Miami Beach. "It's hard to find good Asian food in Miami," says Oka. "I love everything here - the fried rice, fried fish and pad Thai. I eat a little of everything." panyathaimiami.com
3. Mandolin Aegean Bistro - for Greek and Turkish food. "I always order the moussaka," he says. mandolinmiami.com
4. CVI.CHE 105 - "It's one of Miami's most successful Peruvian restaurants," he says of this South Beach spot. "And Miami knows how to eat Peruvian." ceviche105.com
5. The Broken Shaker - a tiki cocktail haven in the Freehand Miami Hostel, with a backyard and a swimming pool. Mixologist Gui Jaroschy was recently named one of F&W's Best New Mixologists. "I love the ambience," says Oka. "It's not that 'Miami'-feeling. It's got a very relaxed, California vibe." thefreehand.com
6. 1826 Restaurant & Lounge - F&W Best New Chef 2012 Danny Grant's elegant Miami Beach restaurant. "In Miami," says Oka, "I'm not generally in awe of the fine dining options. But the tasting menus at this place are on another level. Danny serves an egg shell filled with savory custard, brioche croutons and caviar, topped with sheets of gold leaf. It's amazing. I could eat ten of them." 1826 collins.com
7. Swine Southern Table & Bar - "Awesome Southern cooking. I get the 14-hour smoked brisket with cornbread." runpigrun.com