Miami prides itself on being flashy, so it’s no surprise that the menus at the city’s high-end Japanese restaurants often include glitzy accents—think caviar, gold leaf, and torched bone marrow. Álvaro Perez Miranda is bucking that trend, though, focusing not only on serving authentic cuisine at his four restaurants, but also on representing Japanese culture as a whole. Clearly, he has succeeded: Earlier this year, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries named him a Goodwill Ambassador for Japanese Cuisine. A mere 187 people hold this honor worldwide; only 21 of those are in North America, and Perez Miranda is the first Latino in the U.S.
Perez Miranda took a unique path to get here. Born into a modest family in Venezuela, he left home to study art—first in Italy, then in Los Angeles. He began working in the restaurant industry to pay the bills, and as he rose through the ranks he landed an opportunity to open Italian restaurants in Tokyo. Over the course of nearly a decade, he would go on to build a 33-restaurant empire in the Land of the Rising Sun.
“I was playing the part—the Italian, because I was Venezuelan,” Perez Miranda remembers with a laugh. “Everyone in Japan thought I was Italian, because I spoke Italian.”
He spent a total of 15 years promoting Italian cuisine in Japan, but what came to captivate him during this time was his adopted country’s dedication to excellence—especially when it came to food. “I was impressed when I first saw a mango for $300,” he recalls, noting that in Venezuela mangoes will fall into the streets unnoticed.
Eventually, yearning to reconnect with his Latin American roots, Perez Miranda made his way to Miami, where he first opened a restaurant in the emblematic Vagabond Hotel. Upon the suggestion of his teenage son, he decided to pivot to Japanese cuisine with his next venue, Wabi Sabi, which opened in 2018. Now his Miami portfolio also includes the fast-casual Midorie, the high-end Hiyakawa, and the new omakase restaurant Ogawa, which debuted just last month.
No matter which of these restaurants they’re visiting, diners are immersed in three Japanese principles: omotenashi (selfless hospitality and anticipation of guest needs), komakai (attention to detail), and sensai (delicate balance of flavors). The chefs, all brought from Japan, use fish (with the exception of tuna and salmon) flown in from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market, and every six months Perez Miranda travels to Japan with a member of the front-of-the-house staff so they can experience the country firsthand. “I want the whole experience to be Japanese,” he emphasizes.
Perez Miranda is very much aware of the weight his ambassadorship carries. “It is a great honor to have my restaurants recognized by the Japanese government,” he says. “The goal has always been to educate not just the U.S. but South America, as well, on the nuances of Japanese cuisine and culture—to transport the diner, as if they were in Japan, keeping it as authentic as possible.”