AOL PICK from our Editors
Dining out is as much a form of entertainment for Miamians as any club or show, and if you visit any of the best Miami restaurants you'll quickly see what we mean. Over the past 10 years, the restaurant scene has been elevated to a level that attracts the world’s top chefs, “foodies” and public personalities to open locations here and A-list stars to dine in them. Celebrated chefs, such as James Beard Foundation award winners Michael Schwartz and Michelle Bernstein and New World cuisine inventor Allen Susser, innovate by working seasonal local ingredients into their own unique cuisine. With the influx of immigrants have come authentic French, Italian, Spanish and South American eateries. But by no means should you ignore the mom-and-pop spots that have been around for decades—not only do they offer great bargains, but they will give you a flavor for the neighborhood as most of these family-owned places are run with pride and love that are consistently reflected in the service.
Neighborhood: Little Havana Price: Expensive
An institution in South Florida for over 40 years, The Forge recently reopened after a year-long, multimillion-dollar renovation. The kitchen is now led by Chef Dewey LoSasso, long lauded in SoFlo for being part of the original “Mango Gang” of chefs who put tropical-accented cuisine on the map. LoSasso has revved up The Forge’s menu with 65 items, among them a lobster, peanut butter & jelly sandwich (the “jelly” being onion marmalade), a $55 bone-in 18-ounce filet mignon with Grand Marnier au poivre sauce and a lobster hot pot with lobster, clams, calamari, oysters and matzo balls. Previously a jam-packed “scene,” in addition to a fabulous place to eat, the new incarnation of The Forge has 100 fewer seats, an updated, artsy décor and the new Enomatic Wine Bar offering 80 wines by the ounce. Expensive, yes—and worth every dollar.
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Neighborhood: South Beach Price: Expensive
Barton G. Weiss, the founder of this charming eatery off the beaten path in Miami Beach, is a perfectionist whose obsession with detail has paid off. Eight years after opening, it’s still impossible to get a table without a reservation almost any night of the week. Loyal diners swarm in to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and promotions with smoking cocktails from the Nitro Bar, lobster pop tarts, voodoo shrimp, and creatively presented entrées, such as Good Ol’ Southern Fried Chicken and Cheeky Monkey Mahi, rubbed with aji pancha pepper paste and served with boniato cilantro purée. The desserts alone are worth the trip—and worth every calorie—with inventive offerings, including the box of South Beach beignets with Chantilly cream fudge and house-made raspberry jam, the big top cotton candy and popcorn surprise, which arrives with a lit sparkler on top.
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Neighborhood: Coconut Grove Price: Expensive
For 20 years, restaurateur and Venice native Nino Pernetti has been wooing locals by putting a unique twist on classic Italian. Where else have you seen a kitchen whip up black ravioli lobster with brandy sauce, saffron risotto with shrimp and mascarpone cheese, and grilled Colorado lamb chops with navel oranges and Gaeta black olives? The dapper host/owner cares deeply about his clientele and their satisfaction, and it shows in the consistency of the service and food. Want to experience the cuisine without paying full price? A scaled-down but no less innovative menu is available for lunch, and the extensive wine list includes champagnes plus French, Spanish, Italian and American wines by the bottle and half-bottle.
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Neighborhood: Miami DesignDistrict Price: Moderate
Michael Schwartz’s talents extend beyond the kitchen. His intuition led him to open this beloved spot in the up-and-coming Miami Design District, and it’s now one of the most popular restaurants in the city. Savvy move #2 was hiring acclaimed pastry chef Hedy Goldberg to concoct a selection of off-the-chain desserts. Schwartz’s dinner menu is divided into small, medium, large and extra-large plates; there’s a huge brunch menu, and lunch offerings like slow roasted Berkshire Pork pizza with mission figs, grilled onions, fontina cheese and fresh arugula. Sweets like chocolate cremoso with sea salt, olive oil, sourdough crostini and espresso parfait and local goat's milk cheesecake with basil-infused strawberries may make your head spin when you first read their descriptions on the menu, but they’ll have you doing a happy dance after you’ve had your first bite.
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Neighborhood: South Beach Price: Moderate
This unassuming, well-loved spot is the go-to for informal lunch meetings, after-work drinks and reliably good and hearty dinners. Choose from a variety of main-dish salads, burgers, sandwiches and pizzas, or more substantial offerings such as meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. The lunch crowd starts filing in as early as 11:30AM for light fare, like smoked trout salad with roasted red pepper, red onion, chick peas and lemon-shallot dressing, or grilled sirloin steak sandwich on ciabatta bread. It’s no-nonsense, no-fuss, comfortable and casual.
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Neighborhood: North Beach Price: Moderate
Even the crowd that prefers to dine at nine is taking advantage of the 50%-off specials (Tuesday-Saturday 5PM-6PM, Sunday 4PM-6PM) at this longtime neighborhood favorite. You pay half of the regular price for appetizers such as antipasto, carpaccio and fried calamari, entrées like chicken marsala, fettucine alfredo and salmon, and desserts such as flan and tiramisu. We prefer to eat outdoors on the patio, but you can also opt to stay indoors among the wine racks and endless rows of framed photos of movie stars and figures from Italian history.
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Neighborhood: Downtown Miami/Brickell Price: Budget
In business since 1912, this casual little dive features live rock-’n’-roll and a menu full of excellent comfort food—dieters need not apply. Nightly specials include Lobster Night, when a 1-1/4 lb. Maine lobster with mashed potatoes and slaw will cost you only $12.49, and Steak Night, which gets you a 16-oz. T-bone with fries and a salad for $10.99. For lunch, we come for overstuffed sandwiches, like the French dip and smoked salmon club, which are all under $8, big salads, or a famed Classic Road Burger, of which there are five varieties, four of them for less than six bucks. Check the website for a schedule of events, shows and dinner and drink specials.
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Neighborhood: Little Havana Price: Budget
Synonymous with Cuban dining in South Florida for decades, the huge menu is packed with typical dishes: ropa vieja (shredded beef), masas de puerco (chunks of fried pork) and vaca frita (shredded steak fried until crisp on the outside) served with heaps of white rice, black beans and sweet plantains. The pace is frenetic, the people-watching—it’s a favorite meeting place of local businessmen, politicians and visitors—is as engaging as the food, and the walk-up window is a favorite hangout of patrons who meander up, grab a cafecito and mill about, gossiping shamelessly.
Neighborhood: South Beach Price: Budget
Perhaps best known for its fresh, delicious, insanely inexpensive ceviche, this family-run Peruvian place is a longtime favorite. Seafood dominates the menu—don’t miss the mouth-watering jalea (deep-fried seafood mixed with fried rice), or, if you don’t eat fried food, filete de pescado a la plancha (grilled fish filet). A wide selection of beef and chicken entrées is also available, almost all served with rice, but try getting yours Tacu-Tacu style, served with rice, beans and eggs formed like an omelet so that the outside is crispy. You’ll be pleased and surprised by the quality and quantity of the food you’ll enjoy here for a modest price.
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Neighborhood: South Beach Price: Budget
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Housed in an original art deco dining car built in 1948, the diner is open 24 hours and serves breakfast—traditional eggs and bacon, breakfast burritos, omelets, waffles, pancakes, biscuits and gravy and more—around the clock to clubbers and other nocturnal creatures. Also on the menu are perennial diner favorites, such as chef salad, French dip, croque monsieur, BLT and a variety of burgers, from Greek to veggie to a patty melt. If you’re really ravenous, bigger plates, which come with two side dishes, are also available: Argentinian skirt steak, St. Louis baby back ribs and pork chops with apples and raisins. Shakes, malts, floats, sodas and coffee drinks round out the diner fare.
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