Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
The hottest restaurant on South Beach doesn't serve ceviche and caipirinhas but rather green papaya salad, drunken rice noodles, and fish roasted in banana leaves. Khong River House, steps away from tourist-clogged Lincoln Road and takes a heady detour into the flavors of Thailand, Laos, and Burma. It turns out that a Southeast Asian torrent of chile and lemongrass and fish sauce cuts through Miami's muggy nights thrillingly.
John Kunkel, owner of the 50 Eggs restaurant group, built his success on a chain called Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, which he sold to Ruby Tuesday Inc. in 2012 for $24 million. In 2011 he opened Yardbird, an instant South Beach smash whose fried chicken, meatloaf, and red velvet cake reminded locals and visitors that, yes, Florida is part of the South. He followed suit with Swine Southern Table & Bar in Coral Gables last year. But in between, Kunkel built this paean to the three years he spent rambling around the Asian tropics in his twenties. Local critics raved: Khong River received a rare four-star review from Miami Herald critic Victoria Pesce Elliott.