New Restaurants: Japanese Tapas, Bright Tacos, and More

A Corner of Japan 

Walking into Mai Sushi Tapas & Bar, you’re met with a low-light ambiance popping with color, thanks to the namesake neon sign and colorful kimonos draped over the bar seats. On the right wall, anime scenes are projected, an homage to the cultural phenomenon. As the name suggests, there’s sashimi — both traditional and elevated — as well as sushi rolls (including the Crunchy Coral Gables roll; $14). However, our visit here was dedicated to exploring Japanese tapas.

For appetizers, we ordered the wonton tuna tartare chips ($11.50) and the deep-fried chicken ($9.50), but the star was the calamari and shishito duo served with squid ink sauce ($12). The cocktails menu showcases beverages made with shochu, the distilled Japanese spirit popular for its variety of flavors, including sweet, sour, and bitter. We stuck to the tapas theme with the sweet passion fruit sangria ($12).

A large portion of the menu is on sticks, a variety of skewers and sushi pintxos. Keeping it lean, we went for the grilled pork belly ($4) and chicken thigh ($3.50); we’ll be back for the teriyaki bacon-wrapped scallops ($8.50). The sushi pintxos are inspired by the Spanish bar snacks — albeit reinvented to spotlight sea ingredients like freshwater eel, sea urchin, and octopus ($8.50-15).

Japanese Tapas
Tempura soft shelled crab served over tofu chili paste.

The passion in the kitchen is apparent, with owner Khoa Duong whipping up specialty items. We tried crunchy chicharron chips topped with sauteed sea snails coated in black bean and lemongrass sauce. More surprising was the tempura soft shell crab served over tofu chili paste. Can’t wait to see what Duong cooks up next! — Natalia Clement

Mai Sushi Tapas & Bar
98 Miracle Mile

Chala Taqueria

Chala Taqueria’s dazzling hot pink interior.

The first thing that catches your eye when you walk into Chala Taqueria on Giralda Plaza is the vibrant ambience of the restaurant. The floor, walls, ceiling, tables, and everything in between — it’s all submerged in one of the liveliest shades of hot pink we’ve ever seen. This dazzling, somewhat overpowering decor is, however, an apt representation of Chala’s simiarly flavorful food, which incorporates locally-sourced ingredients and recipes inspired by 10 different Mexican states.

The menu features Mexican classics like tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, but, given that we were at a taqueria, we decided to stick with what they’re known for and ordered some of the 10 different taco options. Our favorite was the birria taco, which featured a consomé that was so flavorful and well-seasoned that it had us wanting to drink it like soup when there was no more taco left.

We also give a ribbon to the fried shrimp taco, which was perfectly coated in tempura and drizzled with chipotle mayo on top, as well as the pork belly taco, which was filled to the brim of the soft-shell corn tortilla with meat, making it the best bang-for-your-buck item. We squeezed a lime over it for added flavor, which gave it some tang.

For the vegans, the mushroom taco was a solid alternative. We coated that with Chala’s salsa verde — one of three options at their salsa bar. Each taco cost $5, and we suggest ordering three to four to sufficiently satisfy your hunger. — Luke Chaney

Chala Taqueria
153 Giralda Ave.

Los Ranchos

This South Florida chain has now opened a location on Ponce right across from The Plaza. Though it’s a sure bet for The Plaza’s office crowd at lunch and happy hour, it’s also surprisingly refined inside, with white tablecloths and an upscale ambience. The plastic menus threw us a bit, but nonetheless, we’d categorize the dinner here as fine dining.

Los Ranchos makes the bold claim that it has “Miami’s best steaks,” and while we’re not sure if we’d go that far, they’re certainly delicious. Its signature churrasco with a side of chimichurri was our choice for lunch — though we got the “baby” portion at eight ounces ($25). It was the perfect size, considering we first filled up on the cerdo frito: chunks of fried pork served with plantain chips and fresh chile criollo. A steal at $9.50.

Los Rachos churrasco with a side of chimichurri.

Lunch specials, to which you can add a salad for $4 more, are wonderfully affordable as well, ranging from $10 to $17. And we’ve been reassured a new happy hour menu is soon to come. There’s something called a “mojito experience” we’re dying to try, and we’ll definitely be back for dinner, which has eight different churrascos (including pork and chicken) and an entire section devoted to shrimp. — Kylie Wang

Los Ranchos
2728 Ponce De Leon

Sansa Bakery

Featuring a selection of croissants, cookies, macarons and more, Sansa Bakery takes the cake in affordability without sacrificing taste. With all its pastries made in-house, Sansa is known for its pastéis de nata ($3.50), a rich Portuguese egg custard that was the highlight of our experience. We sprinkled a dash of cinnamon over it, which only amplified the overall saccharine flavor.

From there, we moved on to the dessert that first caught our eye when we made our selections: the gianduja ($6), a charcoal croissant. This flaky, all-black pastry is filled with a melted chocolate center and dusted with drops of sea salt on top for a sweet and savory combo that always delights. 

Sansa Bakery’s guava and cheese croissant.

And what’s a great Miami bakery without guava? Sansa’s guava and cheese croissant ($6) lived up to our high expectations, as the layers of cream and cheese paired with the sweet guava-based filling in a swirling, indulgent mix. We also tried the tarta nutella ($4.50), which was solid but not overly unique. If you’re really into the chocolate hazelnut spread, it’s worth a try.

Sansa also offers savory choices, such as its specialty hot-dog croissant ($7), which we’ll be back to pick up next time we’re running late on our lunch break. Otherwise, we’ll enjoy a light dessert at the laid-back bakery, the perfect spot to grab a quick bite with a friend. — Luke Chaney

Sansa Bakery
72 Miracle Mile

Looking for more places to dine? Check out our Bites section for your culinary guide in the Gables.