Meet in Miami
The weather isn’t the only thing that’s hot in Miami. A set of up-and-coming fast casuals is also heating up the city, creating a scene that’s busy and competitive without the oversaturation and steep costs of larger cities like New York and Los Angeles. Flavor-wise, Miami’s concepts reflect its diversity. It’s entirely possible to snack on some arepas, order up a plant-based feast, and dig into a traditional Mediterranean kebab all in one day. The options here are varied and globally-inspired, and convenient-yet-adventurous culinary experiences can be found on every corner.
QSR will be in Miami next week for a Fast Casual Meet Up on October 10, bringing free eats, drinks, and networking to area operators, and there’s no better way for us to ramp up for the trip than by taking a look at the area’s most promising emerging brands. Click through this slideshow for a little taste of all that Miami has to offer, and then click here to RSVP for the QSR event.
Working off of an idea born at a family barbecue and inspired by a family kebab recipe, the founders of PINCHO have grown their Latin-inspired concept to a network of ten Florida stores with the goal of expanding to 100 units in the next five years. The brand makes Latin food accessible for all customers, with choices like the Toston Burger, (Angus beef patty, Monterey Jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and house cilantro sauce sandwiched between a fried plantain “bun”) and the Pincho Trio (a steak, chicken, and shrimp kebab served with one of three signature house-made sauces).
Aside from the lively menu, PINCHO has grown a following through its community involvement. Each store offers nonprofits and charitable causes the chance to host the store for an evening and walk away with 20 percent of profits from that night, and individual units are spiced up with murals from local artists.
Grown’s strong convictions about food are summed up in the first part of its mission statement: “We believe food should be delicious, organic and inspiring. It's not made, it's not manufactured, it's grown.” Opened in 2016 by Shannon Allen and her husband (former Miami Heat player Ray Allen), the brand merges farm-to-fork cuisine with fast service, offering soups, salads, sandwiches, cold-pressed juices, and other organic menu items in both counter-serve and drive-thru environments.
Since opening the Miami flagship (the first-ever USDA Organic Certified drive thru on the East Coast), Grown locations have popped up inside an Orlando Walmart, Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the University of Miami’s Watsco Center, and the Wesleyan University bookstore, and a franchising process has also been put in place for future units.
With more than a dozen locations, Giardino Salads’ decked-out leafy greens, grain bowls, and wraps have majorly caught on in Florida since the brand was born there in 2004. Guests can customize their salads, bowls, or wraps with various bases, toppings, proteins, dressings, and croutons, or they can choose from a catalogue of pre-crafted options, like the My Big Fat Greek Bowl with arugula, plum tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, feta, hummus, lemon, olive, vinaigrette, and toasted pitas layered on a bed of organic quinoa.
At the core of the brand’s offerings is its emphasis on knowing what you eat—referred to by the Giardino team as Nutritional Empowerment®. Customers have access to a nearly 30-page, in-depth breakdown of each of the concept’s menu items, dressings, and sides, allowing them to quickly and easily see the role that calories, sugars, fats, and other nutritional categories play in their chosen Giardino dishes.
Miami is the perfect setting for a refreshing ceviche, and My Ceviche serves up a perfect presentation of the citrus-marinated, raw-seafood dish. The now-six-unit concept started out selling its traditional ceviche (a mix of wild-caught, fresh, citrus-y seafood and red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and tomatoes) from a take-out window in South Beach in 2012. Matching growing demand, founders Roger Duarte and Sam Gorenstein soon expanded their brand throughout the Miami market, adding to the menu as well as the unit count.
In addition to its signature, from-the-sea ceviche, the brand’s menu now touts some innovative ceviche updates, like Gorenstein’s My Ceviche Bowl that pairs a hearty grain base with the classic dish. And, to cater to guests who might not be ready to try the concept’s namesake, a range of Mexican-inspired seafood, chicken, and veggie burritos, tacos, and salads are also available.
Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and perfect for on-the-go dining, Amaize arepas are the ultimate option for fast-casual diners in a hurry. The concept’s four brick-and-mortars and one food truck location serve a gourmet, Venezuelan-inspired menu that is highly customizable and convenient. Guests fill the portable, cornmeal pockets with tastes of their own choosing, or order a signature arepa like the Shaggy, which is filled with shredded beef and fresh Gouda cheese.
In addition to arepas, the brand offers create-your-own bowls, a trio of homemade soups, and cachapas—traditional sweet corn pancakes filled with cheese and meat—to round out their simple-yet-distinctive menu.
The Shabani family knows Mediterranean cuisine. Fueled by a group of storied recipes gathered from the founding family’s Eastern Mediterranean upbringing and updated to fit a fast-casual format, Rice Mediterranean Kitchen offers a straightforward build-a-bowl experience that’s fully customizable from start to finish.
Customers choose one of six bases or a pita roll; load up on dips and spread like Charred Carrot Tahini and Sriracha Tomato Hummus; add chicken (slow-cooked or spicy), braised beef, falafel, roasted seasonal veggies, or braised lamb; pile on toppings like crumbled feta and pickled banana pepper; and choose a house dressing to finish. The brand doles out these bowls at four locations as of now, but is always looking for expansion opportunities, even keeping their inbox open for customers with new location suggestions.
Salsa Fiesta takes a personal approach to serving quality Mexican cuisine fast and in a friendly manner. The six-unit, family-owned brand offers a handmade, classic menu that’s big on taste and value—a filling Baja Fish Tacos platter with two beer-battered fish, red cabbage, habanero cream, cilantro, and lime tacos, pico de gallo, and chips will run you just over $10. Guests can also feast on nachos, salads, ceviches, fajitas, sandwiches, and a range of burritos that can all be ordered in bowl formats.
And the family behind the brand goes above and beyond to stay involved in the greater Miami market that their restaurants call home; groups looking for fundraising opportunities can fill out a simple online application to be considered for a Salsa Fiesta–planned fundraising event that will donate 20 percent of proceeds to chosen causes.
In contrast to its name, DIRT is all about eating clean. The health-focused cafe opened up in 2015 with a seasonal menu of high-quality, fresh food. The three locations (two in Florida and one in Arlington, Virginia) serve all-day breakfast, bowls, sandwiches, salads, wraps, and soups for diners of all dietary stripes, combining sustainable eats with affordable price points and efficient counter-service.
The concept’s focus is clearly on wellness, with menu items like the Matcha Protein Pancakes made with stone-ground matcha, organic chia seeds, plant protein powder, almond milk, and gluten-free flour and topped with bananas, roasted apples, shredded coconut and an optional almond butter drizzle. The brand also runs DIRT Does Fitness, a partner program with lululemon, Nike, and gyms around Miami Beach that offers free exercise classes to the community to promote the DIRT lifestyle.a