Continuing our series on finding Chinese food in cities without a historic Chinatown, we now move on to Miami.
Interestingly, most of the Chinese food in Miami is Cantonese, with authentic non-Cantonese food quite rare. This is contrary to the current trend in most other Chinese American communities where the influence of Cantonese food has greatly receded. All the more unusual, the only other locales in the United States where you see such a bias towards Cantonese food are in the historic core Chinatowns of cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and New York, all of which were founded by Cantonese immigrants over 100 years ago. Because Miami never had a historic core Chinatown, something must be vastly different about Miami’s Chinese populace, but what? Anecdotal evidence points to the Miami Chinese community being originally founded by Chinese from Cuba, many of whom fled after the Castro regime came to power. The Cuban Chinese community was exclusively Cantonese, and they were joined by Chinese from New York who came to Miami during the era that Cantonese restaurants were still dominant in the Big Apple.
A word of caution in regard to Chinese food in South Florida: most of the Chinese restaurants that serve authentic Chinese food utilize the dual menu system — one menu for non-Chinese diners full of typical Americanized fare (often containing one regional dish not often found outside the southern United States, honey chicken), and a separate menu with authentic Chinese food. Quite often the Chinese menu is supplied only on request. So if you’re used to eating in the Chinese restaurants in California or New York and are unaware of this system, you may end up getting stuck with some terrible Americanized fare — which helps explain the many one-star ratings from non-Chinese diners at these otherwise good restaurants.
You might interpolate from my previous article on finding Chinese food in Atlanta and Dallas that concentrations of Chinese food in cities without historic Chinatowns may be found about ten to 15 miles northeast of downtown. While this is not a valid rule nationwide, it is true in the case of Miami, though it’s a longer trek, as you need to head almost 20 miles northeast of downtown Miami on I-95 to the community of North Miami Beach. As you get off the freeway at N.E. 167th St. and head east for a mile, you will then come to a three-mile stretch with some of Miami’s best Chinese restaurants, first on N.E. 167th St., then where N.E. 167th St. effectively turns into N.E. 163rd St.
Exiting I-95 at N.E. 167th St. and heading east, your first stop will be at what may be the consensus favorite Chinese restaurant in the Miami area, King Palace Chinese Bar-B-Q. The “Bar-B-Q,” of course, does not refer to American barbecue, but rather Cantonese roast meats, such as pork, duck, and chicken, often seen hanging in Cantonese deli windows all over the United States. And while it is known for roast meats, King Palace is really your typical Hong Kong-style seafood restaurant with tanks of live seafood like you would find in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York. Progressing less than a mile further east onto N.E. 163rd St., you arrive at the closest thing Miami has to a Chinatown, the south side of the 1200 block of N.E. 163rd St. Indeed, this area is often referred to as “Chinatown” by locals with a sense of humor, or perhaps prone to exaggeration. The highlight of “Chinatown” is Hong Kong Noodles which serves dim sum, noodles, and Hong Kong-style seafood, among other dishes. A few blocks further east on 163rd is another longtime favorite for dim sum and Hong Kong-style food, Sang’s Chinese Food. And towards the eastern end of 163rd is something new under the sun, Empire Szechuan Gourmet of New York, one of the few authentic non-Cantonese/Hong Kong-style restaurants in the Miami area, serving dumplings, beef noodle soup, pig ears, and other specialties.
While even many locals are unaware of the North Miami Beach Chinatown, it’s not exactly a secret, as an internet search for “Miami Chinatown” will lead you there. However, what does appear to be a secret is that there are a greater number of authentic Chinese restaurants than in North Miami Beach as you move northwards into Broward County and even into Palm Beach. Over the years I’ve found authentic Chinese restaurants in a variety of communities, including Hollywood, Davie, Plantation, Lauderhill, Boca Raton, North Lauderdale, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, Coconut Beach, and Coral Springs. Obviously, these restaurants aren’t as densely concentrated as those in North Miami Beach, but you can consider State Road 7 and, to a lesser extent, University Dr. as corridors to good Chinese food.
Once again, the premier restaurants in this part of the Miami metropolitan area typically serve Hong Kong-style food. On State Road 7 in Lauderdale Lakes, perhaps the best of many choices is Silver Pond, specializing in Peking duck and a wide variety of seafood items. If you’re more partial to Chinese barbecue and dim sum, Hong Kong City BBQ in Tamarac is the place for you. For perhaps the best dim sum in the area, try Singing Bamboo on Military Trail in West Palm Beach with a full array of other Hong Kong style-favorites also available. Other recommended dim sum restaurants include Pine Court Chinese Bistro on Sunset Strip in Sunrise and China Pavilion in Pembroke Pines.
If North Miami Beach, Broward County or Palm Beach County are not convenient for you, you’re not entirely out of luck. Hakkasan in Miami Beach is the single best Chinese restaurant in the Miami area. In Southwest Miami, restaurants like Tropical Chinese Restaurant, Kon Chau, and South Garden can fill your hankering for good Cantonese food. And for those partial to authentic Sichuan-style food, head out towards Florida International University to Lung Gong Restaurant. However, for the widest selection and best quality Chinese food in Miami, my best advice is “Go North, young man.”
David R. Chan is a third-generation American who has eaten at 7,000 Chinese restaurants and counting. He maintains a spreadsheet of each of his culinary conquests — a document he began in the early 90s, when he bought his first home computer. "When I entered the workforce in the 1970s, that coincided with the rise of what we think of as authentic Chinese food in North America," Chan told the LA Weekly Squid Ink blog. "As such, my goal was to try every authentic Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area at least once." He has extended his list to New York, San Francisco, and thousands of restaurants beyond. Still, Chan admits, he can't use chopsticks.