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Local dining and nightlife enthusiasts will be adding a new name to their list of hot neighborhoods in downtown Fort Lauderdale, as Progresso soon will be home to Miso Japanese Tapas from Chef Thuan Lam, best known for creating Phat Boy Sushi & Kitchen.
Specializing in small plates and Lam’s trademark cultural cross-pollination (hence the name), the restaurant will be housed in a recently remodeled, multi-tenant building on Progresso Drive, which runs along the north side of the Brightline/FEC tracks across from the hustle and bustle of the MASS District and Flagler Village. The building, at the corner of Northeast Second Avenue, is notable for an exterior covered in bold slashes of bright blue.
A native of Vietnam who grew up near Los Angeles, Lam has been operating Poke Lolo at the Hive just across the tracks since early 2019. He sold the original Phat Boy Sushi in Oakland Park, a word-of-mouth hot spot he opened in 2016 after owning Kirin Sushi in Coral Springs for several years.
Seated at a table inside Poke Lolo recently, Lam says Progresso is ready to take off. Call it a gut feeling.
“That location is a hidden gem right now. I have a good feeling about it,” says Lam, a charismatic 41-year-old, brawny arms layered in tattoos and LA headwear a signature. “Within the next year or two that location, this whole area, is going to be the new place to be.”
Miso will be set on what has been a lonely stretch of Progresso Drive several blocks east of a cluster of trailblazers that includes American Icon Brewery Kitchen & Taproom, Laser Wolf craft beer bar and 27 Lounge.
A few hundred feet from Miso’s building, a mural by Purvis Young goes mostly unseen on the facade of 725 Progresso Drive, once home to a gallery of work by the famed South Florida painter.
Lam expects to open Miso in December, and he’ll soon be joined by a high-profile eatery at the corner of Progresso Drive and Andrews Avenue. New York restaurateur Alan Philips (Friedman’s, La Salle Dumpling Room) purchased the former auto garage at 700 N. Andrews Ave. in January for $1.7 million.
Lam has also heard rumblings about a pizzeria and a bar looking at property along Progresso Drive.
“I’m the first restaurant that’s going in over there. This is what life’s about, taking chances. But I have a following here in Fort Lauderdale. A lot of people stand behind my food, and I stand behind it, too,” he says.
Lam notes that one of his longtime friends and mentors, Chef Takeshi Kamioka, former owner of Wilton Manors’ Gaysha New World Sushi Bar, does very well when he parks his Kaminari Ramen food truck outside Laser Wolf.
“People are hungry over there. What the Flagler area is lacking is a bunch of restaurants. We have a lot of bars, clubs and stuff, but there’s not that many restaurants. People are relying on food trucks. But sometimes I don’t want a food truck. I want to sit down in a restaurant,” Lam says.
Miso will have a sushi bar, which Lam will supervise, and he is planning to host a monthly omakase series and offer brunch on a patio out front. His head chef will be longtime partner Julien “Jay” Barashari.
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It was at the original Phat Boy that Lam started intertwining his affection for Japanese and Latin cuisine, illustrated in the popular sushi burrito. While he’s still developing the menu, expect more of that at Miso.
One of the dishes he’s playing around with is a roll called Colombia Cali, which employs soy paper, plantains, snow crab, Kobe beef and jalapenos.
“Our flavors, with Asian and Latin, are so close,” Lam says.
It probably doesn’t hurt that his girlfriend is from Cali, Colombia.