BLTSteak 1440 Ocean Drive / South Beach / 305-673-0044 The stampede of pricey steakhouses on South Beach leaves most diners wondering which restaurant merits the hefty price tag for pounds of porterhouse and gobs of lobster topped mac and cheese. Chef Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Steak may not be the scene-iest (that’s Prime 112), and it may not be the loudest (STK by a mile), but it is by far the tastiest combination of quality beef, delectable sides, professional service and civilized atmosphere in town. While most of Ocean Drive seems tawdry and commercial, interiors at the Georgian Revival Betsy Hotel are conservative and cool. Waiters drop off complimentary crostini with a liver mousse and then steaming hot popovers to enjoy while perusing the menu and sipping cocktails. By the time the appetizers are gone, one message is clear; BLTSteak is no mere chop house – it’s a culinary destination.
The Dining Room at The Villa by Barton G 1116 Ocean Drive / South Beach / 305-576-8003 When Gianni Versace discovered the particular charms of South Beach living years ago, he purchased a 1930s-era landmark property on Ocean Drive and set about creating an ornate, mosaic tile-covered mansion that bespoke his signature style of over-the-top Roman opulence. He added a large garden, a grotto pool and gold-plated fixtures that he enjoyed until his untimely death in 1997. This luxurious palazzo is now open to the public as a restaurant and lounge with fine dining service created by Executive Chef Jeff O’Neill. Inspired by the Caribbean and Mediterranean influences no doubt learned during stints under star chefs Daniel Boloud and Eric Ripert, O’Neill’s menus benefit from Barton G’s daring culinary pyrotechnics. After a number of restaurateurs have invested a king’s ransom into Casa Casurina, perhaps this new team can break the Medusa’s curse that has turned diners hearts to stone.
Joe’s Stone Crab 11 Washington Avenue / South Beach / 305-673-0365 Stone crab season runs from October through May and this classic Miami Beach dining room serves the best crabs in town to a crowd more than willing to wait in line for a taste of the ocean’s bounty. Much like celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain, Joe’s has No Reservations. While insiders debate about the loaded handshake that might transport savvy diners to the front of the line, we find it’s best to visit at lunch or early evening to sample the coveted claws, crisp fried chicken, onion-filled Lyonnaise potatoes, steamy clam chowder and chilled Key Lime Pie that have made Joe’s Stone Crab a South Beach landmark since 1913.
Casa Tua 1700 James Avenue / South Beach / 305-673-1010 Secluded behind a dense hedgerow that surrounds a 1925-era palazzo in the heart of South Beach, Casa Tua feels like a posh private club on the Italian Riviera. The price of all this exclusivity makes this a special occasion destination, especially the private, second-level lounge that’s so popular with celebrities and socialites. Escape the everyday at this upscale Italian restaurant with a wildly romantic garden terrace just steps from the South Beach scene.
Osteria del Teatro 1443 Washington Avenue / South Beach / 305-538-7850 Servers who know the ins-and-outs of running a dining room set the stage at this classic 25-year-old Miami Beach Temple of Italian cuisine perched on the edge of one of the most thumping dance clubs in the city. This ironic pairing of the old and the new captures what is best about South Beach and what makes Osteria work. While the menu is a comprehensive collection of traditional pastas, seafood and meats, the daily specials posted on the blackboard make it difficult to bother reading any further.
Prime 112 112 Ocean Drive / South Beach / 305-532-8112 This South Beach hot-spot enjoys a loyal local and international celebrity following and consistently dazzles with huge steaks, giant lobsters and decadent truffled macaroni and cheese served in a noisy see-and-be-scene dining room that crackles with excitement until midnight. From Presidents to Pro Athletes, from Supermodels to Rap Stars, if it’s happening in Miami it’s happening at Prime 112.
Sardinia Ristorante 1801 Purdy Avenue / South Beach / 305-531-2228 Miami Beach fairly groans with the weight of dozens of Italian restaurants, but regional Italian cuisine is a fairly new concept on these shores. Sardinia showcases the best of the tiny island’s cookery with a menu that works seamlessly with Miami’s own peculiar gastronomy and geography. House made flat breads and imported salumi and formaggi (cured meats and artisanal cheeses) pair deliciously with big-bodied wines. From salt-roasted branzino to succulent rosemary-scented roast baby pig, the chef’s mastery of the wood-burning oven lends a rustic flair to each dish.
The Forge Restaurant 432 Arthur Godfrey Road (41st Street) / Miami Beach / 305-538-8533 While most Miami Beach restaurants have been around for very few years and strive toward whatever is new and trendy, the Forge offers a long-standing, traditional fine-dining experience at every touch point. Valet parkers whisk away your car, dressy hosts escort your party, and formal captains oversee your table service. A futuristic enomatic wine bar and a newly renovated interior set the stage for Chef Dewey LoSasso’s clever culinary riffs on classic, continental cuisine including lobster PBJs, prime steaks, and decadent desserts. Locals celebrate birthdays and anniversaries here and have since the 1930s.
Zuma 270 Biscayne Boulevard / Downtown/ 305-577-0277 The Epic Hotel trumps the oddsmakers scoring two top rated restaurants under a single roof as Zuma joins Chef John Critchley’s Area 31 serving pristine fresh seafood to an adoring crowd. With raw granite walls, pale wooden tables and a modern Japanese teahouse design, the interior soothes even as the sushi, sashimi and grilled items dazzle with artful presentations and bold flavors. Executive Chef Bjoern Weissgerber may indeed be German (with a side of Swiss), but he definitely understands the complexity and precision required to craft stunning Japanese plates with unique flavor combinations that make Zuma one of Miami’s brand new heavy hitters!
Gigi 3470 North Miami Avenue / Wynwood / 305-573-1520 During the first half of season five of Bravo-TV’s Top Chef, all of Miami cheered for local toque Jeff McInnis who brought his blue-eyed blonde good looks and complex flavor profiles to the table before being sent back to the Ritz-Carlton’s DiLido Beach Club without the big prize. Television’s loss was our gain and for five years, the southern chef toiled over a Mediterranean tapas menu served out on the sand. This season, he joins the Amir Ben-Zion restaurant group at Gigi, a fast casual Asian dining spot next to Bardot nightclub in the hip Wynwood Arts District where he prepares a variety of buns, noodle dishes and inspired small plates for late night revelers looking for a tasty midnight snack.
Il Gabbiano 335 S. Biscayne Boulevard / Miami / 305-373-0063 Downtown Miami takes back the night at this pricey temple of classic Italian cuisine served overlooking the Bay by an old school, highly attentive wait staff. Offering gratis chunks of fragrant Reggiano Parmesano and just-made Fritti to temp your palate and ruin your diet, hosts Gino and Fernando Masci bring more than 25 years of service at New York’s Il Mulino to this heavenly high-rise culinary destination. By the time you’ve sipped the last of your limoncello digestivo, you’ll be fortified enough to face the dinner check.
Orantique on the Mile 278 Miracle Mile / Coral Gables / 305-446-7710 Cindy Hutson’s “Cuisine of the Sun” is as bright and warm as a mythical Caribbean marketplace. Serving Bahamian black grouper in an orange liqueur or jerk-seasoned pork in a rum-guava glaze, the kitchen meets it’s match in the deliciously colorful dining room and terraced outdoor garden. Take your taste buds on an island holiday without leaving the cozy confines of Coral Gables.
Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink 130 NE 40th Street / Miami / 305-573-5550 Transforming the Design District from stuffy decorator showrooms to a dynamic nighttime destination, Michael Schwartz deserves the key to the city. If opening a successful restaurant with trendy small, medium and large-sized plates designed for pairing and sharing weren’t enough, the innovative chef managed to capture the imagination of New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni and every vacationing celebrity and super star chef passing through town as well. If you can get a reservation, run, don’t walk to MGFD. Create your own menu of beautifully prepared, locally sourced entrees and dazzling small plates at this hip MidTown bistro. Save room for dessert because pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith got the nod from James Beard this year too. While it might be awkward to order more than one of her sweet treats after dinner, her coffee cake, hand made poptarts and doughnuts are the best part of Sunday brunch.
Michy’s 6927 Biscayne Boulevard / Miami / 305-759-2001 James Beard Award Winning Chef Michelle Bernstein owns and operates this successful Biscayne Corridor restaurant with her husband David managing the dining room. Together they create a quirky but casual gathering place for mid-Miami hipsters and knowing foodies in an area that used to be our seedy red-light district. While parts of the neighborhood still feel sketchy, the restaurant is always crowded with fans of Bernstein’s small plate presentations including crisp baby quail, grilled sweetbreads, truffled parmesan polenta and a fabulous strawberry shortcake or baked alaska for dessert. Portions are served in half of full orders to mix and match and sharing is definitely encouraged.
Red Light Little River 7700 Biscayne Boulevard / Miami / 305-757-7773 Chef Kris Wessel took a small coffee shop in a downtrodden “hourly” motel in Miami’s red light district and turned it into a culinary destination with a decidedly down home appeal. Serving dishes inspired by New Orleans and the Caribbean, Wessel’s BBQ shrimp, oyster stew, and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches inspire raves from bloggers and critics all over town. Perhaps the best part of this No-Tell-Motel restaurant is it’s hidden waterfront dining deck along Miami’s Little River where wild birds and manatees join in the fun. As soon as the weather turns cooler, drive past the strip clubs and into the Motel Blu parking lot to check out Red Light.