The Biscayne Times

Friday
Apr 18th
Miami - Brickell / Downtown PDF Print E-mail

Restaurant listings for the BT Dining Guide are written Pamela Robin Brandt ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, but please call ahead to confirm information. Icons ($$$) represent estimates for a typical meal without wine, tax, or tip. Hyphenated icons ($-$$$) indicate a significant range in prices between lunch and dinner menus, or among individual items on those menus.
$= $10 and under
$$= $20
$$$= $30
$$$$= $40
$$$$$= $50 and over


Area 31
270 Biscayne Boulevard Way
305-424-5234
www.area31restaurant.com
Not that the sleek interior of this seafood restaurant (named for fishing area 31, stretching from the Carolinas to South America) isn’t a glamorous dining setting. But we’d eat outside. From the expansive terrace of the Epic condo and hotel on the Miami River, the views of Brickell’s high-rises actually make Miami look like a real city. It’s hard to decide whether the eats or drinks are the most impressive. The food is impeccably fresh regional fish, prepared in a clean Mediterranean-influenced style. The cocktails are genuinely creative. Luckily you don’t have to choose one or the other. $$$-$$$$


Aijo
1331 Brickell Bay Dr.
786-452-1637
Hidden within Jade condo, this sleek Japanese fusion restolounge (whose name means “love”) is also a jewel. Food-loving Venezuelan owner Rene Buroz encourages innovation, and his chefs (including four from Zuma) respond with beautifully plated items as fun as they are flavorful. Don’t miss the layered croquante (a sort of Asian croqueta: mouthwatering crispy rice, subtly smoked salmon, and creamy crab), Aijo kani (king crab legs with citrus foam clouds and rich emulsified butter dip), or creative cocktails from a mixologist who also juggles and plays with fire.


Atelier Monnier
848 Brickell Ave. #120
305-456-5015
Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster adores all cookies. As a more specialized Macaron Monster, we assure you that this French bakery/café’s exquisite macarons (not clunky coconut macaroons, but delicate, crackly crusted/moist inside almond cookies, sandwiching creamy ganache fillings in flavors ranging from vanilla or praline to seasonal fruits) are reason enough to drop in daily, perhaps hourly. That the place also hand-crafts equally authentic French breads, complex pastries, baguette sandwiches, salads, soups, quiches, omelet’s, ice creams, and chocolates is a bonus -- icing on the gateaux. $$


Balans
213 SE 1st St.(Mary Brickell Village)
305-534-9191
www.balans.co.uk
Open until 4:00 a.m. on weekends, this London import (Miami’s second Balans) offers a sleeker setting than its perennially popular Lincoln Road progenitor, but the same simple yet sophisticated global menu. The indoor space can get mighty loud, but lounging on the dog-friendly outdoor terrace, over a rich croque monsieur (which comes with an alluringly sweet/sour citrus-dressed side salad), a lobster club on onion toast, some surprisingly solid Asian fusion items, and a cocktail is one of Miami’s more relaxing experiences. $$-$$$


Bali Café

109 NE 2nd Ave.
305-358-5751
While Indonesian food isn’t easy to find in Miami, downtown has secret stashes -- small joints catering to cruise-ship and construction workers. This cute, exotically decorated café has survived and thrived for good reason. The homey cooking is delicious, and the friendly family feel encourages even the timid of palate to try something new. Novices will want Indonesia’s signature rijsttafel, a mix-and-match collection of small dishes and condiments to be heaped on rice. Note: bring cash. No plastic accepted here. $$$


Banana & Leaf
234 NE 3rd St.
786-431-5548
Ever get tempted by the convenience of supermarket sushi boxes, but feel uneasy about freshness and disgruntled about sparseness of fillings? In the grab-and-go containers here, raw fish glistens and makis like a plump snow crab roll have a satisfying seafood-to-rice ratio. If you’d rather, dishes on the larger custom menu arrive almost as fast. There is also limited, tasty Southeast Asian fare. Most unbelievable: Prices beat supermarket sushi by far. $


Barú Urbano
1001 S. Miami Ave.
305-381-5901
“Hot, hip, Hispanic” is a huge understatement to describe the street-smart urban flair of this tropical restolounge. After about 9:00 p.m., droves of high-energy young partiers make the place seem more Latin singles bar than eatery. Nevertheless, the largely but not exclusively Colombian-inspired, Latin/Caribbean comfort-food cuisine can be inspiring. We’re partial to snacks like the arepa Colombiana, heaped with fresh white cheese, and the sinful chivito sandwich (steak, ham, melted mozzarella, and a fried egg). But there are also full entrées like a bandeja paisa (Colombia’s belly-busting mixed platter of proteins and carbs). $$-$$$


Batch Gastropub
30 SW 12th St.
305-808-5555 
The name refers to Batch’s signature novelty items, which we think of as gourmet fast-food cocktails: high-quality fresh ingredients (some barrel-aged), pre-mixed in batches and served on tap for instant gratification. But a menu designed by E. Michael Reidt (ex-Area 31), means solid foods are serious chef-driven pub grub: the Mac Attack, sophisticated mac ’n’ cheese featuring gnocchi and aged Gruyere; sinfully succulent burgers, substituting brisket for leaner beef; nachos upgraded with duck confit; wood-oven pizzas topped with unusual combinations like pumpkin plus shortrib; duck fat popcorn; housemade sodas. $$


Bento Sushi & Chinese
801 Brickell Bay Dr.
305-603-8904
Hidden in the Four Ambassadors Towers, this tiny spot (which specializes in sushi plus Japanese small plates, but also serves limited Chinese and Thai-inspired dishes of the mix-and-match, pick-your-protein-then-preparation sort) has been mostly an insider’s secret delivery joint for Brickell residents. But it’s actually a pleasant place to relax outside, enjoying a bay view and budget bento box specials that include miso soup, ginger-dressed salad, California roll, and fresh orange sections, plus two mini-entrées (the nigiri assortment sushi and lacy-battered tempura especially recommended). Bubble tea, too! $$-$$$


Biscayne Tavern
146 Biscayne Blvd.
305-307-8300
From restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow, this contemporary tavern seems tailor-made for a newly urbanized neighborhood, inviting residents to hang from breakfast to late-night snack time, over updated comfort food that’s globally inspired while adhering to the local/organic mantra. Among expected casual favorites (solid American burgers; Asianesque pork-belly sliders) highlights are items that chef Will Biscoe stamps with his own unique, unpretentiously inventive touches, from small plates (housemade potato chips with blue cheese fondue) to large (a long-bone short rib “chop” with truffle popover; South Florida bouillabaisse). More than 30 craft beers accompany. $$-$$$


Blue Martini
900 S. Miami Ave. #250
305-981-2583
With a 41-martini menu (plus exotic lighting, late hours, dance floor, and live music most nights), this wildly popular place is more lounge than restaurant. Nonetheless food offerings are surprisingly ambitious, including substantial items like sliced steak with horseradish sauce, as well as shareable light bites -- parmesan-topped spinach/artichoke dip, served hot with toasted pita; shrimp and blue crab dip (yes: crab, not faux “krab”); a seductive puff pastry-wrapped and honey-drizzled baked brie. Come at happy hour (4:00-8:00 p.m. daily) for bargain drink/snack specials, and lots of locals. $$


Bonding
638 S. Miami Ave.
786-409-4794
From trend-spotting restaurateur Bond Trisansi (originator of Mr. Yum and 2B Asian Bistro), this small spot draws a hip crowd with its affordable menu of redesigned traditional Thai dishes, wildly imaginative sushi makis, and unique signature Asian fusion small plates. Highlights include tastebud-tickling snapper carpaccio; an elegant nest of mee krob (sweet, crisp rice noodles); blessedly non-citrus-drenched tuna tataki, drizzled with spicy-sweet mayo and wasabi cream sauce; greed-inducing “bags of gold,” deep-fried wonton beggar’s purses with a shrimp/pork/mushroom/waterchestnut filling and tamarind sauce. $$


Bon Fromage
500 Brickell Ave. #106
786-329-5632
Though independently owned instead of a chain cog, this cheese and wine café/shop is like a pint-size version of Midtown Miami’s Cheese Course, right down to being officially self-service. But it is staffed by accommodating employees who, unofficially, do their best to double as servers for eat-in diners. The cheese (plus charcuterie) menu of garnished platters, salads, and crusty baguette sandwiches features numerous high-quality, imported favorites, but don’t miss more unusual domestic treasures like Wisconsin bread, a cooked cheese that, like halloumi, doesn’t melt but tantalizingly softens when heated. $$


Brother Jimmy’s BBQ
900 S. Miami Ave. #135
786-360-3650
The South is supposed to be the source of barbecue. But Bro J evidently didn’t hear about that. His signature North Carolina pork ’cue comes from NYC, where the first Brother Jimmy’s opened more than 20 years ago. Miami’s location is actually the first south of the Mason-Dixon line. But the slow-smoked pulled pork butt tastes righteous -- no interfering glop, just hot sauce-spiked vinegar to balance the fab fattiness. There’s other ’cue, too, including big (not baby back) ribs, and respectable brisket. $$-$$$


Bryan in the Kitchen
104 NE 2nd Ave.
305-371-7777
This quirky café-market’s chef/owner is a former smoothie-swilling model who is now into fresh whole foods, and though his eclectic “green gourmet” menu does uniformly reflect his dedication to ecological consciousness, it otherwise could only be described as intensely personal. Offerings are an odd but appealing saint/sinner mix, ranging from healthy pasta/grain salads and homemade-from-scratch snacks (beef jerky, granola) to unique cupcakes featuring not-too-sweet adult flavors and irresistible sticky buns. If we had to choose just one category, we’d sin. But luckily, you can have it all. $$$


Burger & Beer Joint
900 S. Miami Ave. #130
305-523-2244
While not quite Miami’s first hip hangout featuring high-quality burgers, the original South Beach B&B certainly goosed the gourmet-burger craze in a major way. This Brickell branch has all the familiar favorites, including the ten-pound Mother Burger -- really more good gimmick than good. Otherwise B&B, which still consistently makes “Top 10” lists, features a huge selection of basics in addition to beef (bison, turkey, chicken, veggie, seafoods); nicely balanced topping combos; and enough succulent sides (tempura-battered pickles, fried green beans, mini-corn dogs) to make a meal that’s totally burger-free. $$-$$$


Café Bastille
248 SE 1st St.
786-425-3575
Breakfasting on a ham-egg-cheese crepe at this very French-feeling -- and tasting -- café is a most civilized way to start the day. Formerly breakfast and lunch only, the café is now open for dinner, too. And while the crepes (both savory and sweet) are tempting and varied enough to eat all day, dinner choices like homemade foie gras (with onion jam and Guerande salt), salmon with lentils and fennel salsa, or a very affordable skirt skirt steak au poivre make it possible to resist. $-$$$

 


Ceviche Piano
140 SE 1st Ave.
305-577-4414
Owners Martin and Charo Villacorta, a married chef/pastry chef team, think of this eatery as a relocation (in the same downtown plaza) and reinvention of their former “best kept secret” spot Martini 28. Most dramatic changes: upscaled size, and with its glamorous white piano, upgraded elegance. The menu has also been altered to be less of a global wildcard. Focus is now strongly on Peruvian cuisine, including a shrimp/calamari-smothered fish fillet with aji amarillo cream sauce. But no worries, old fans. Some of the old favorite dishes remain. $$


Chophouse Miami
300 S. Biscayne Blvd.
305-938-9000
www.miamischophouse.com
Formerly Manny's Steakhouse, Miami's Chophouse retains basically everything but the famed name (from the original Manny's in Minneapolis), and remains Miami's most intentionally masculine steakhouse. Here, ensconced in your black leather booth, everything is humongous: dry-aged choice-grade steaks like the Bludgeon of Beef (a boldly flavorful 40-ounce bone-in ribeye, described as "part meat, part weapon"); king crab legs that dwarf the plate; cocktail shrimp that could swallow the Loch Ness monster whole; two-fisted cocktails that would fell a T-Rex. Not for the frail. $$$$$


Cipriani
465 Brickell Ave.786-329-4090
Derived, like all Cipriani family restaurants worldwide, from legendary Harry’s Bar in Venice (a favorite of Truman Capote, Hemingway, and other famous folks since 1931), this glamorous indoor/outdoor riverfront location in Icon has two absolutely must-not-miss menu items, both invented at Harry’s and reproduced here to perfection: beef carpaccio (drizzled artfully with streaks of creamy-rich mustard vinaigrette, not mere olive oil) and the Bellini (a cocktail of prosecco, not champagne, and fresh white peach juice). Venetian-style liver and onions could convert even liver-loathers. Finish with elegant vanilla meringue cake. $$$$$


The Corner
1035 N. Miami Ave.
305-961-7887
With a Zuma alum in the kitchen, a Gigi alum crafting classic or creative cocktails, a warm pub feel, and hours extending from lunch to nearly breakfast the next morning, The Corner is transforming a desolate downtown corner into a neighborhood hangout. The nicely priced menu of sandwiches, salads, snacks, and sweets (the latter from Om Nom Nom’s cookie queen Anthea Ponsetti) ranges from 100-percent homemade ice cream sandwiches to the Crazy Madame, France’s elaborate Croque Madame (a béchamel sauce-topped grilled cheese/ham/fried egg sandwich) plus bacon and caramelized onion. $-$$


Crazy About You
1155 Brickell Bay Dr. #101, 305-377-4442
The owners, and budget-friendly formula, are the same here as at older Dolores, But You Can Call Me Lolita: Buy an entrée (all under $20) from a sizable list of Mediterranean, Latin, American, or Asian-influenced choices (like Thai-marinated churrasco with crispy shoestring fries) and get an appetizer for free, including substantial stuff like a Chihuahua cheese casserole with chorizo and pesto. The difference: This place, housed in the former location of short-lived La Broche, has an even more upscale ambiance than Dolores -- including a million-dollar water view. $$$


Cvi.che 105
105 NE 3rd Ave.
305-577-3454
Fusion food - a modern invention? Not in Peru, where native and Euro-Asian influences have mixed for more than a century. But chef Juan Chipoco gives the ceviches and tiraditos served at this hot spot his own unique spin. Specialties include flash-marinated raw seafood creations, such as tiradito a la crema de rocoto (sliced fish in citrus-spiked chili/cream sauce). But traditional fusion dishes like Chinese-Peruvian Chaufa fried rice (packed with jumbo shrimp, mussels, and calamari) are also fun, as well as surprisingly affordable. $$


dB Bistro Moderne
255 Biscayne Blvd. Way
305-421-8800 
Just two words, “Daniel Boulud,” should be enough for foodies craving creative French/American comfort food to run, not walk, to this restaurant. Downtown’s db is indeed an absentee celeb chef outpost, but on-site kitchen wizard Matthieu Godard flawlessly executes dishes ranging from the original db Bistro’s signature foie gras/short rib/black truffle-stuffed burger to local market-driven dishes. Especially strong are seafood preparations, whether sauced with a refined choron or lustily garnished with Provencal accompaniments like tender sea scallops with chickpea panisse. $$$-$$$$

D-Dog House
50 SW 10th St.
305-381-7770
While it has become increasingly common to find servers at upscale restaurants utilizing computerized POS (point of service) systems to take orders, this high-tech hole-in-the-wall trumps them by replacing servers -- and in-house entertainment, too -- with iPads that accept not just food orders and credit cards but music requests. You can web surf or game, too, while waiting for your choice of the house specialty: supersized hot dogs, most overloaded with internationally inspired toppings. To accompany, hand-cut fries are a must. And have a cocktail. There’s a full liquor bar. $-$$


The Democratic Republic of Beer
501 NE 1st Ave
305-372-4565
www.drbmiami.com
The food here? Beer is food! The DRB serves 400 beers from 55 countries, ranging from $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon to $40 DeuS (an 11.5% alcohol Belgian méthode Champenoise brew). But for those favoring solid snacks, tasty global smallish plates include fried fresh zucchini with dip (cheese recommended); chorizo with homemade cilantro mayo; or steak tacos, served Mexican-style with onions, cilantro, and spicy salsa. Sadly for breakfast-brew enthusiasts, the DRB isn’t open that early. But it is open late -- till 5:00 a.m. $$


Dolores, But You Can Call Me Lolita
1000 S. Miami Ave.
305-403-3103
www.doloreslolita.com
From the stylish setting in Miami’s historic Firehouse No. 4, one would expect a mighty pricy meal. But entrées, which range from Nuevo Latino-style ginger/orange-glazed pork tenderloin to a platter of Kobe mini-burgers, all cost either $18 or $23. And the price includes an appetizer -- no low-rent crapola, either, but treats like Serrano ham croquetas, a spinach/leek tart with Portobello mushroom sauce, or shrimp-topped eggplant timbales. The best seats are on the glam rooftop patio. $$

 


Doraku
900 S. Miami Ave.
305-373-4633
Happy hour comes twice daily (after work and lunch) at this second location of a popular South Beach sushi, pan-Asian, small-plates restolounge, bringing discounted prices on treats like rock shrimp tempura with spicy aioli. Regular prices are reasonable, too, for seafood flown in daily, and makis displaying solid creativity rather than gimmickry. Especially enjoyable are items accented by Japanese ingredients rarely found in Americanized sushi bars, like the Geisha Roll’s astringent shiso leaf, beautifully balancing spicy tuna, pickled radish, and rich eel sauce. A huge sake menu, too. $$-$$$


Edge, Steak & Bar
1435 Brickell Ave.,
05-358-3535
Replacing the Four Seasons’ formal fine dining spot Acqua, Edge offers a more kick-back casual welcoming vibe. And in its fare there’s a particularly warm welcome for non-carnivores. Chef-driven seafood items (several inventive and unusually subtle ceviches and tartares; a layered construction of corvina encrusted in a jewel-bright green pesto crust, atop red piquillo sauce stripes and salad; lobster corn soup packed with sweet lobster meat; more) and a farm-to-table produce emphasis make this one steakhouse where those who don’t eat beef have no beef. $$$$-$$$$$


Elwoods Gastro Pub
188 NE 3rd Ave.
305-358-5222
Cordial English owners, classic rock music (sometimes live), and updated classic pub fare make this hangout a home. Made from scratch with artisan ingredients, traditional Brit bites like fish and chips can’t be beat -- thick pieces of crisply beer-battered moist cod, served with hand-cut fries and "mushy [mashed] peas," plus housemade tartar sauce and ketchup. All desserts are also made in-house, including a deliriously rich (but worth it) sticky date pudding with toffee sauce. Tie down your dental implants. They’re in for a wild ride. $$

 


Eternity Coffee Roasters
117 SE 2nd Ave.,
305-609-4981 Normally we list only full restaurants, but even a (not so) simple cuppa joe from Chris Johnson and Cristina Garces’s sleek micro-roastery will convince anyone possessing taste buds that fine coffee can be as complex as fine wine, and as satisfying as solid food. A changing selection of superior single-origin beans (many varieties from the Garces family’s Colombian farm; most others from Ethiopia and Kenya), roasted in-house, produces “slow-pour” regular brews with amazing nuances of fruits, chocolate, and more. The espresso is so smooth sugar isn’t necessary. Other treats: flaky chocolate-stuffed “cigars” and other locally baked pastries. Free parking. $


Fado Irish Pub
900 S. Miami Ave. #200,
786-924-0972
Unlike most Miami “Irish” pubs, which serve mostly American bar food, rarely foraying past fish and chips or shepherd’s pie, Fado (pronounced “f’doe”) has a menu reflecting the pub grub found today in Ireland, including solid standards. But most intriguing are dishes mixing classic and contemporary influences, particularly those featuring boxty, a grated/mashed potato pancake. Try corned beef rolls (boxty wraps, with creamy mustard sauce and cabbage slaw), or smoked salmon on miniboxty “blini,” with capers and  horseradish sauce. There’s a seasonal menu, too. $$


15th & Vine Kitchen
485 Brickell Ave.
305-503-0373
In the 15th floor space originally occupied by Eos, the Viceroy’s top-end restaurant now focuses its décor on spectacular bay views (particularly from an outdoor garden/pool terrace). And the mostly small-plates menu of accessible internationally influenced New American fare is more Miami-appropriate, too. Especially recommended: Asian-inspired items like spicy ginger meatballs with sweet sambal chili sauce, or lump crab croquettes with sriracha, remoulade, and a frisée/fennel salad. Favorites like flatbreads and sliders plus a classy setting make this a striking business-lunch option. $$$-$$$$

 


The Filling Station & Garage Bar
95 SE 2nd St.
786-425-1990
This fun, locally oriented dive, opened in 1994, was hip more than a decade before downtown was. And its 2008 relocation to larger quarters, plus two subsequent expansions, signal that it has more than kept up with the explosion of newer neighborhood hotspots, without pretensions or yuppified prices. On the fresh, hefty hamburgers, true Miami weirdness is displayed in toppings like peanut butter or Nutella. Other standouts: tangy-spicy Buffalo wings; homemade tater tots; the oil pan (fried pickles and onion rings with two sauces); and an ever-changing list of craft beers. $-$$


Finnegan’s River
401 SW 3rd Ave.
305-285-3030
Pool tables are expected in a sports bar and grill. But an actual pool? And a Jacuzzi? This Miami River hideaway has other surprises, too, on its extensive outdoor deck, including a boat dock and a large array of umbrella tables and lounge chairs where it’s easy to while away many happy hours. The menu is the same array of bar bites served by South Beach’s older Finnegan’s, but angus burgers are big and tasty, and zingy jalapeño-studded smoked-fish dip is a satisfying table-snack choice. $$


Fratelli Milano
213 SE 1st St.
305-373-2300
Downtown isn’t yet a 24/7 urban center, but it’s experiencing a mini explosion of eateries open at night. That includes this family-owned ristorante, where even newcomers feel at home. At lunch it’s almost impossible to resist panini, served on foccacia or crunchy ciabatta; even the vegetarian version bursts with complex and complementary flavors. During weekday dinners, try generous plates of risotto with shrimp and grilled asparagus; homemade pastas like seafood-packed fettuccine al scoglio; or delicate Vitello alla Milanese on arugula. $$-$$$


Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Fish Market
398 NW N. River Dr.
305-375-0765
Run by a fishing family for a couple of generations, this venerable Florida fish shack is the real thing. No worries about the seafood’s freshness; on their way to the dining deck overlooking the Miami River, diners can view the retail fish market. Best preparations are the simplest. When stone crabs are in season, Garcia’s claws are as good as Joe’s but considerably cheaper. The local fish sandwich is most popular – grouper, yellowtail snapper, or mahi mahi. $-$$

 


Havana 1957
1451 S. Miami Ave.
305-381-6651
If you never had the chance to enjoy classic Cuban dishes in glam 1950s Havana (pre-He Who Must Not Be Named), you can now at this nostalgic restolounge. Eat your way through the day, from hefty four-egg/croqueta breakfasts to late-night mini pan con bistec bar bites, surrounded by old-school memorabilia, music, and mojitos. Admittedly, prices are higher than those at average Miami Cuban eateries. But daily specials, including Wednesday’s especially tasty mojo-marinated chicken fricassee in sweet-savory criollo sauce, are a great value. And the time trip is priceless. $$-$$$


Hibachi Grill
45 NE 3rd Ave.
305-374-2223
Imagine a mini-express Benihana. This place specializesin teppanyaki cuisine -- minus the thrilling (or terrifying)tableside knife theatrics, true, but the one-plate mealsof seasoned steak slices, chicken, shrimp, or salmonplus dipping sauces, fried rice, and an onion/zucchinimix come at bargain prices. There are also hefty soupsor Japanese, Thai, and Singapore-style noodle and ricebowls loaded with veggies and choice of protein (includingtofu). The limited sides are Japanese (shumai, plumpchicken gyoza) and Chinese (various egg rolls). Fancy? No, but satisfying. $-$$


Il Gabbiano
335 S. Biscayne Blvd.
305-373-0063
www.ilgabbianomiami.com
Its location at the mouth of the Miami River makes this ultra-upscale Italian spot (especially the outdoor terrace) the perfect power lunch/business dinner alternative to steakhouses. And the culinary experience goes way beyond the typical meat market, thanks in part to the flood of freebies that’s a trademark of Manhattan’s Il Mulino, originally run by Il Gabbiano’s owners. The rest of the food? Pricy, but portions are mammoth. And the champagne-cream-sauced housemade ravioli with black truffles? Worth every penny. $$$$$


The Island Bistro
605 Brickell Key Dr.
305-364-5512
In the space that was formerly Fabien’s, this bistro has near-identical lunch and dinner menus of French-inspired food: Basque-style shrimp pil pil, salmon with beurre blanc, steak au poivre. But there’s now an espresso-rubbed steak, too, tie-in to an added Panther Coffee Bar serving pastries and other light bites from early morning. That, plus a new lounge with daily happy hours, makes the place feel less formal and more like a casual contemporary hangout. So do daily specials, including Thursday’s “Shells & Bubbles,” a bargain seafood/champagne feast. $$-$$$


Jackson Soul Food

950 NW 3rd Ave., 305-377-6710
With a recently refurbished exterior to match its classy/comfy retro interior, this 65-year-old Overtown soul food breakfast institution now has only one drawback: It closes at 1:00 p.m. Never mind, night owls. If you’re a first-timer here, order the astonishingly fluffy pancakes with juicy beef sausage, and you’ll set multiple alarm clocks to return. Classic drop biscuits (preferably with gravy) are also must-haves. And hearty Southern breakfast staples like smothered chicken wings or fried fish do make breakfast seem like lunch, too. $


Jamon Iberico Pata Negra Restaurant
10 SW South River Dr.
305-324-1111
From the outside, you know you’re walking into theground floor of a new condo building. But once insidethe charmingly rustic room, you’d swear you’re in Spain. Obviously Spain’s famous cured hams are a specialty, as are other pork products on the weekly changing menu, from a roast suckling pig entrée to a fried chorizo and chickpea tapa. But seafood is also terrific. Don’t miss bacalao-filled piquillo peppers, or two of Miami’s best rice dishes: seafood paella and arroz negro (with squid and its ink) $$-$$$


La Loggia Ristorante and Lounge
68 W. Flagler St.
305-373-4800
www.laloggia.org
This luxuriantly neo-classical yet warm Italian restaurant was unquestionably a pioneer in revitalizing downtown. With alternatives like amaretto-tinged pumpkin agnolloti in sage butter sauce and cilantro-spiced white bean/vegetable salad dressed with truffle oil, proprietors Jennifer Porciello and Horatio Oliveira continue to draw a lunch crowd that returns for dinner, or perhaps just stays on through the afternoon, fueled by the Lawyer’s Liquid Lunch, a vodka martini spiked with sweetened espresso. $$$


La Moon
144 SW 8th St.
305-860-6209
At four in the morning, nothing quells the munchies like a Crazy Burger, a Colombian take on a trucker’s burger: beef patty, bacon, ham, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, and a fried egg, with an arepa corn pancake “bun.” While this tiny place’s late hours (till 6:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday) are surprising, the daytime menu is more so. In addition to Colombian classics, there’s a salad Nicoise with grilled fresh tuna, seared salmon with mango salsa, and other yuppie favorites. $-$$


La Provence
1064 Brickell Ave.
786-425-9003
www.laprovencemiami.com
Great baguettes in the bread basket, many believe, indicate a great meal to come. But when Miamians encounter such bread -- crackling crust outside; moist, aromatic, aerated interior -- it’s likely not from a restaurant’s own kitchen, but from La Provence. Buttery croissants and party-perfect pastries are legend too. Not so familiar is the bakery’s café component, whose sandwich/salad menu reflects local eclectic tastes. But French items like pan bagnats (essentially salade Niçoise on artisan bread) will truly transport diners to co-owner David Thau’s Provençal homeland. $$


Largo Bar & Grill
401 Biscayne Blvd.,
305-374-9706
Sure, Bayside Marketplace is touristy. But it can be fun to spend a day playing visitor in your own city. If you do, this waterfront place overlooking Miamarina is a superior food choice. Expect nothing cutting edge, just tasty, familiar favorites solidly prepared. You won’t go wrong with stone crab claws and Cajun mustard dip; inauthentic but delicious fish tacos in hard blue corn tortillas with two sauces (cilantro and chipotle), generously portioned fish sandwiches (grouper, mahi, snapper, or daily catch), and festive cocktails. $$-$$$x


La Sandwicherie
34 SW 8th St.
305-374-9852
This second location of the open-air diner that is SouthBeach’s favorite après-club eatery (since 1988) closes earlier (midnight Sunday-Thursday, 5:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday), but the smoothies, salads, and superb Parisian sandwiches are the same: ultra-crusty baguette stuffed with evocative charcuterie and cheeses (saucisson sec, country pâté, camembert, etc.) and choice of salad veggies plus salty/tart cornichons and Sandwicherie’s incomparable Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Additionally the larger branch has an interior, with a kitchen enabling hot foods (quiches and croques), plus A/C. $-$$


L’Entrecote de Paris
1053 SE 1st Ave.
305-755-9995
If menu choices makes you nuts, this place, originally a Parisian eatery with locations in Brazil, is the restaurant for you. There’s only one prix fixe meal offered: an entrecote steak with a famed creamy sauce of 21 ingredients (here, predominantly curry), accompanied by a walnut-garnished mixed greens/tomato salad and shoestring frites, plus a crunchy-crusted baguette. Your only choice is how you like your steak precision-cooked. À la carte desserts are indeed extensive; avoid stress by choosing a macaron flight of mixed flavors. $$$


Lime Fresh Mexican Grill
1 W. Flagler St.
305-789-9929
Like its Midtown and North Miami Beach siblings, this Lime Fresh serves up carefully crafted Tex-Mex food. The concept is “fast casual” rather than fast food – meaning nice enough for a night out. It also means ingredients are always fresh. Seafood tacos are about as exotic as the menu gets, but the mahi mahi for fish tacos comes from a local supplier, and salsas are housemade daily. Niceties include low-carb tortillas and many Mexican beers. $


Lippi
600 Brickell Ave.
305-579-1888
Named after a 15th-century Italian painter, Lippi does have artful décor and plating, but otherwise the moniker is misleading. The food is neither Italian nor, as some descriptions claim, Mediterranean-inspired. It’s Philippe food -- an extensive menu of mostly shareable small plates (a concept Philippe Ruiz pioneered at Palme d’Or in the 1990s), inspired mainly by the chef’s classic French technique and geographically limitless imagination. Standouts: weakfish ceviche with corn panna cotta and purple potato foam; lobster ravioli in aerated coriander-scented bisque. Everything is beautifully balanced and refined. $$$$-$$$$$


Lunch American Style
221 NW 1st Ave.
305-379-1991
“Tasting the country, one place at a time” is this lunchroom’s motto. We’d recommend bringing friends for a tour of many regions’ favorite foods, most creatively interpreted. They’re also crafted with homemade ingredients ranging from fresh-baked breads to the house-smoked pastrami on a “Big Apple” sandwich. The Naw’lins po’boy (featuring crispy-fried shrimp and horseradish remoulade) is also highly recommended. Try to make room for Iowa fritters (mouthwatering fried corn puffs with remoulade dip), too. To accompany: changing craft beers. $-$$


Medialunas Calentitas
919 Brickell Ave.
305-517-3303
At this first U.S. location of a Uruguayan chain, the signature specialty’s crescent-like shape says “croissant.” But medialunas don’t have croissants’ puff-pastry flakiness; they’re more substantial buttery breakfast rolls. And either simply syrup-glazed or stuffed (with ham and cheese, dulce de leche, more), they make a terrific Latin comfort-food breakfast or snack on the run. The same is true for equally bargain-priced empanadas (three varieties with distinctive fillings from Uruguay, Argentina, or Mexico) and tiny but tasty migas sandwiches like the elaborate Olympic: ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, peppers, eggs, olives. $


Miami Art Café

364 SE 1st St.
305-374-5117
For businessfolk on the go, this breakfast/lunch-only French café serves up evocative baguette sandwiches (like camembert) loaded, if you like, with greens, olives, and more. For those with time to sit, we’d recommend the savory crêpes, garnished with perfectly dressed salad, or sweet crêpe like the Bonne Maman (whose sugar/salted butter stuffing brings Brittany to downtown). And quiches are nicely custardy. But there are surprises here, too, including just a few full entrées, with correctly made traditional sauces one wouldn’t expect at a luncheonette -- except, perhaps, in Paris. $-$$


Miami’s Finest Caribbean Restaurant

236 NE 1st Ave.
305-381-9254
Originally from Jamaica, proprietor Miss Pat has been serving her traditional homemade island specialties to downtown office workers and college students since the early 1990s. Most popular item here might be the weekday lunch special of jerk chicken with festival (sweet-fried cornmeal bread patties), but even vegetarians are well served with dishes like a tofu, carrot, and chayote curry. All entrées come with rice and peas, fried plantains, and salad, so no one leaves hungry. $


Mint Leaf
1063 SE 1st Ave.
305-358-5050 
Part of London’s famous Woodlands Group, this stylish spot, like its Coral Gables parent, serves the sort of upscale Indian food rarely found outside Great Britain or India. More interestingly, the menu includes not just the familiar northern Indian “Mughlai” fare served in most of America’s Indian restaurants, but refined versions of south India’s scrum ptious street food. We’ve happily assembled whole meals of the vegetarian chaat (snacks) alone. And dosai (lacy rice/lentil crepes rolled around fillings ranging from traditional onion/potato to lamb masala or spicy chicken) are so addictive they oughta be illegal. $$$-$$$$


Miss Yip Chinese Café
900 Biscayne Blvd.
305-358-0088
Fans of the South Beach original will find the décor different. Most notably, there’s an outdoor lounge, and more generally a nightclub atmosphere. But the menu of Hong Kong-style Chinese food, prepared by imported Chinese cooks, is familiar. Simple yet sophisticated Cantonese seafood dishes rock (try the lightly battered salt-and-pepper shrimp), as does orange peel chicken, spicy/tangy rather than overly sweet. And a single two-course Peking duck (skin in crepes, stir-fried meat and veggies with lettuce cups) makes mouthwatering finger food, shared among friends. $-$$$


Momi Ramen
5 SW 11th St.
786-391-2392
Banish all thoughts of packaged instant “ramen.” Perfectionist chef/owner Jeffrey Chen (who cooked for more than a decade in Japan), changes his mostly ramen-only menu often, but constants are irresistibly chewy handmade noodles; soups based on creamy, intensely porky tonkotsu broth (made from marrow bones simmered all day); meats like pork belly and oxtail; and authentic toppings including marinated soft-cooked eggs, pickled greens, more. Other pluses: It’s open 24/7, and the ramen ranks with the USA’s best. Minuses: It’s cash only, and the ramen might be the USA’s most expensive. $$$


MPP Brickell
141 SW 7th St.
305-400-4610
Tasty Peruvian eateries aren’t rare in Miami. Peruvian fine-dining restaurants are. In the tastefully toned-down but still glam space formerly housing Andú, this second location of Lima’s popular Mi Propriedad Privada specializes in familiar flavors presented with seriously upscaled preparations, plating, and prices. But many ceviches, tiraditos, and starters (like especially artful layered/molded mashed potato/seafood causas, or clever panko-breaded fusion “causa makis”) come in trios for taste-testing. And ceviche lovers score on Tuesdays, when all-you-can-eat costs the same as a trio. $$$-$$$$$


My Ceviche
1250 S. Miami Ave.
305-960-7825
When three-time James Beard “Rising Star Chef” nominee Sam Gorenstein opened the original My Ceviche in SoBe, in 2012, it garnered national media attention despite being a tiny take-away joint. Arguably, our newer indoor/outdoor Brickell location is better. Same menu, featuring local fish prepared onsite, and superb sauces including a kicky roasted jalapeño/lime mayo), but this time with seats! What to eat? Ceviches, natch. But grilled or raw fish/seafood tacos and burritos, in fresh tortillas, might be even more tempting. Pristine stone-crab claws from co-owner Roger Duarte’s George Stone Crab add to the choices. $$


Naoe
661 Brickell Key Dr.
305-947-6263
Chances are you’ve never had anything like the $85 prix-fixe Japanese dinners at chef Kevin Cory’s tiny but nationally acclaimed oasis, transplanted from its original Sunny Isles space with its supreme serenity intact. By reservation only, in two dinner seatings of just eight people each, and omakase (chef’s choice) only, meals include a seasonal soup, a four-course bento box, eight pieces of sushi, and three desserts. Cory personally does everything for you, even applying the perfect amount of housemade artisan soy sauce mix and fresh-grated wasabi to each mind-reelingly fresh nigiri. Few eating experiences on earth are more luxuriant. $$$$$


neMesis Urban Bistro
1035 N. Miami Ave.,
305-415-9911
Truly original restaurants are hard to find here, and harder to describe in standard sound bites. But they often are the attention-grabbing people-magnets that spark revivals of iffy neighborhoods. That’s our prediction for this quirkily decorated bistro, where the kitchen is helmed by Top Chef contestant Micah Edelstein. The intensely personal menu of creative dishes inspired by her global travels (plus her fascination with unfamiliar ingredients) changes constantly, but scrumptious signatures include South African smoked veal bobotie, and Peruvian pinoli pancakes with housemade chicken/apple sausage, hibiscus syrup, and maple granules. $$$-$$$$


Novecento
1414 Brickell Ave.
305-403-0900
www.bistronovecento.com
For those who think “Argentine cuisine” is a synonym for “beef and more beef,” this popular eatery’s wide range of more cosmopolitan contemporary Argentine fare will be a revelation. Classic parrilla-grilled steaks are here for traditionalists, but the menu is dominated by creative Nuevo Latino items like a new-style ceviche de chernia (lightly lime-marinated grouper with jalapeños, basil, and the refreshing sweet counterpoint of watermelon), or crab ravioli with creamy saffron sauce. Especially notable are the entrée salads. $$-$$$


Oceanaire Seafood Room
900 S. Miami Ave.
305-372-8862
www.theoceanaire.com
With a dozen branches nationwide, Oceanaire may seem more All-American seafood empire than Florida fish shack, but menus vary significantly according to regional tastes and fish. Here in Miami, chef Sean Bernal supplements signature starters like lump crab cakes with his own lightly marinated, Peruvian-style grouper ceviche. The daily-changing, 15-20 specimen seafood selection includes local fish seldom seen on local menus: pompano, parrot fish, amberjack. But even flown-in fish (and the raw bar’s cold-water oysters) are ultra-fresh. $$$$


OTC
1250 S. Miami Ave.
305-374-4612
Over-the-counter service usually connotes the classic fast food “slider” experience: both greaseburgers and patrons are in and out quickly. At this casually cool gastropub, the counter ordering system encourages the opposite feel, of comfie congeniality; it invites hanging out, just without the fuss of formal dining out -- or the expense. Most plates are $10 or under. Ingredient-driven dishes cover today’s favorite food groups (various mac-and-cheeses, variously topped/seasoned fries, and more) with some unusual twists, like a scrumptiously lardon-laden frisée/goat cheese salad brightened by fresh peaches. Even the condiments are housemade. $$


Ozzi Sushi

200 SE 1st St.
786-704-8003
Since its 1958 invention, conveyor-belt sushi has been the most fun form of Japanese fast food, but problematic. Who knew how long plates had been circulating on the sushi-go-round? Happily, this sushi-boat spot avoids sanitation issues with clear plastic covers, and as for freshness, low prices ensure a steady stream of diners grabbing makis, nigiri, and more as they float by. Highlights include glistening ikura (salmon roe) in a thin-sliced cucumber cup, a sweet-sauced mango/guava/crab roll, and a festively frosted strawberry Nutella dessert maki. $-$$


Pasha’s
1414 Brickell Ave.
305-416-5116
The original branch on Lincoln Road was instantly popular, and the same healthy Middle Eastern fast food is served at several newer outlets. The prices are low enough that you might suspect Pasha’s was a tax write-off rather than a Harvard Business School project, which it was by founders Antonio Ellek and Nicolas Cortes. Dishes range from falafel and gyros to more unusual items like muhammara (tangy walnut spread) and silky labneh yogurt cheese. Everything from pitas to lemonade is made fresh, from scratch, daily. $-$$


Pega Grill
15 E. Flagler St., 305-808-6666
From Thanasios Barlos, a Greek native who formerly owned North Beach’s Ariston, this small spot is more casually contemporary and less ethnic-kitschy in ambiance, but serves equally authentic, full-flavored Greek food. Mixed lamb/beef gyros (chicken is also an option), topped with tangy yogurt sauce and wrapped, with greens and tomatoes, in fat warm pita bread, are specialties. But even more irresistible is the taramasalata (particularly velvety and light carp roe dip), available alone or on an olive/pita-garnished mixed meze platter. $$


Peoples Bar-B-Que
360 NW 8th St.
305-373-8080
www.peoplesbarbque.com
Oak-smoked, falling-off-the-bone tender barbecued ribs (enhanced with a secret sauce whose recipe goes back several generations) are the main draw at this Overtown institution. But the chicken is also a winner, plus there’s a full menu of soul food entrées, including what many aficionados consider our town’s tastiest souse. And it would be unthinkable to call it quits without homemade sweet potato pie or banana pudding, plus a bracing flop – half iced tea, half lemonade. $-$$


Perfecto Gastro
1450 Brickell Ave.
305-372-0620
This transplant from Barcelona features décor that mixes rustic and urban, plus modern music and traditional tapas (the Spanish, not global, kind). Must-have: imported 5J jamon Iberico de Bellota from acorn-fed pata negra pigs -- lusciously marbled, tender yet toothsome, the ultimate in cured hams. But other tapas like the salmorejo en vaso (a creamy, pumped Andalusian variation on gazpacho), papatas bravas (crisp-fried potatoes with spicy aioli), fuet (Catalan salami, similar to French saucisson sec), and crispy prawns are pretty perfecto, too. $$-$$$$


Perricone’s
15 SE 10th St.
305-374-9449
www.perricones.com
Housed in a Revolutionary-era barn (moved from Vermont), this market/café was one of the Brickell area’s first gentrified amenities. At lunch chicken salad is a favorite; dinner’s strong suit is the pasta list, ranging from Grandma Jennie’s old-fashioned lasagna to chichi fiocchi purses filled with fresh pear and gorgonzola. And Sunday’s $15.95 brunch buffet ($9.95 for kids) – featuring an omelet station, waffles, smoked salmon and bagels, salads, and more – remains one of our town’s most civilized all-you-can-eat deals. $$


Pieducks
1451 S. Miami Ave.
305-808-7888
If you can overlook a name as unenlightening as most in-jokes (it evidently refers to a favorite character of owner Claudio Nunes’s kids -- we assume the Pokemon Psyduck), you’ll experience pretty perfect pizza. Sadly, not all brick ovens turn out perfectly char-blistered crusts, crisp outside and airy/chewy inside, but that’s what you’ll consistently find here and a newer take-out/delivery-only Midtown branch. And unlike many artisan pizzerias, Pieducks doesn’t get cheesy with cheese quantity (though we like that extra cheese is an option). Elaborate salads complete the menu. $$


Pizzarium
69 E. Flagler St.
305-381-6025
Roman-style rectangular pizzas, served in square slices, have been available in the Miami area since the mid-1990s. But the familiar squares and Pizzarium’s are similar only in shape. Main difference: dough, here allowed to rise for four days. The resulting crusts are astonishingly airy, as authentic Roman slices, intended as light street snacks, should be. Toppings, a rotating selection of nearly 30 combinations, are highlighted by quality imported ingredients -- not to mention a healthy imagination, as the zucca gialla attests: pumpkin cream, pancetta, smoked scamorza cheese. $


Pollos & Jarras
115 NE 3rd Ave.
786-567-4940
From Juan Chipoco, Peruvian chef/co-owner of seafood-centric Cvi.Che 105, this stylish but affordable two-level restaurant is centered around pollo a la brasa, as a huge rotisserie oven attests. Grilled steaks, unique sandwiches, anticuchos, and varied starters and sides are also served, but the must-not-miss is rotisserie chicken, marinated in roughly a dozen-and-a-half seasonings before a self-basting spin on the spit cooks it to incomparable juiciness. It’s served with crisp fries and a substantial salad. Meals also come with a complimentary cup of aguadito -- assertively cilantro-spiked chicken rice soup. $$


Porketta
43 NE 3rd Ave.
305-372-0034
Warm, juicy, served with succulent pieces of crisp crackling, herb-stuffed Italian porchetta (pronounced “porketta”) roast, at its best, is hard to find even in much of Italy except during festivals. But every day is a festival here, where the real thing (not the dry deli-style pork roll slices that often pass for porchetta) is featured on a plate with broccoli rabe and cannellinis; in the hefty Bombardino sandwich; or in three mini-sandwiches, convenient for sampling the place’s three sauces. Several salads and carpaccios placate porkophobes. $-$$


Prelude
Adrienne Arsht Center
1300 Biscayne Blvd.
305-576-8888
Though the opening of Barton G.’s elegant performing arts center eatery did feature a live giraffe, the food’s actually more grown-up than at his original SoBe spot. The concept is prix fixe: Any three courses on the menu (meaning three entrées if you want) for $39. Highlights include silky, tarragon-inflected corn/bacon chowder, beautifully plated beef carpaccio with horseradish/mustard and shallot olive oil dipping sauces; and over-the-top playhouse desserts, one with a luscious crème fraiche ice cream pop. $$$$


Raja's Indian Cuisine
33 NE 2nd Ave.
305-539-9551
Despite its small size and décor best described as "none," this place is an institution thanks to south Indian specialties rarely found in Miami's basically north Indian restaurants. The steam-tabled curries are fine (and nicely priced), but be sure to try the custom-made dosai (lacy rice crepes with a variety of savory fillings) and uttapam, thicker pancakes, layered with onions and chilis, both served with sambar and chutney. $$


The River Oyster Bar
650 S. Miami Ave.
305-530-1915
www.therivermiami.com
This casually cool jewel is a full-service seafood spot, as evidenced by tempting menu selections like soft-shell crabs with grilled vegetables, corn relish, and remoulade. There are even a few dishes to please meat-and-potatoes diners, like short ribs with macaroni and cheese. But oyster fans will find it difficult to resist stuffing themselves silly on the unusually large selection, especially since oysters are served both raw and cooked – fire-roasted with sofrito butter, chorizo, and manchego. There’s also a thoughtful wine list and numerous artisan beers on tap. $$$


Rosa Mexicano
900 S. Miami Ave.
786-425-1001
www.rosamexicano.com
This expansive indoor/outdoor space offers a dining experience that’s haute in everything but price. Few entrées top $20. The décor is both date-worthy and family-friendly -- festive but not kitschy. And nonsophisticates needn’t fear; there is nothing scary about zarape de pato (roast duck between freshly made, soft corn tortillas, topped with yellow-and-habanero-pepper cream sauce), or Rosa’s signature guacamole en molcajete, made tableside. A few pomegranate margaritas ensure no worries. $$$


Seasalt and Pepper
422 NW N. River Dr.
305-440-4200
Unlike older Miami River market/restaurants like Garcia’s, run by fishing families, this stylishly retro/modern-industrial converted warehouse (once Howard Hughes’s plane hangar) has an owner who ran South Beach’s hottest 1990s nightspots, so expect celebrity sightings with your seafood. What’s unexpected: a blessedly untrendy menu, with simply but skillfully prepared wood-oven-cooked fish and clay-pot, shellfish casseroles. Standouts include luxuriant lobster thermador, as rich as it is pricey; flavorful heads-on jumbo prawns, prepared classic Italian-style (as are many dishes here); even one low-budget boon: impeccably fresh PEI mussels in herb sauce. $$$-$$$$$


Soya & Pomodoro
120 NE 1st St.
305-381-9511
Life is complicated. Food should be simple. That’s owner Armando Alfano’s philosophy, which is stated above the entry to his atmospheric downtown eatery. And since it’s also the formula for the truest traditional Italian food (Alfano hails from Pompeii), it’s fitting that the menu is dominated by authentically straightforward yet sophisticated Italian entrées. There are salads and sandwiches, too. The most enjoyable place to dine is the secret, open-air courtyard. Alfano serves dinner on Thursdays only to accompany local musicians and artists. $-$$


Sparky's Roadside Barbecue
204 NE 1st St.
305-377-2877
This cowboy-cute eatery's chefs/owners (one CIA-trained, both BBQ fanatics nicknamed Sparky) eschew regional purism, instead utilizing a hickory/apple-wood-stoked rotisserie smoker to turn out their personalized style of slow-cooked, complexly dry-rub fusion: ribs, chopped pork, brisket, and chicken. Diners can customize their orders with mix-and-match housemade sauces: sweet/tangy tomato-based, Carolinas-inspired vinegar/mustard, pan-Asian hoisin with lemongrass and ginger, tropical guava/habanero. Authenticity aside, the quality of the food is as good as much higher-priced barbecue outfits. $-$$


Stanzione 87
87 SW 8th St.
305-606-7370
Though Neopolitan-style pizza isn’t the rarity it was here a decade ago, this is Miami’s only pizzeria certified authentic by Italy’s Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. This means following stringent rules regarding oven (wood-fired), baking time (90 seconds maximum, here closer to 50), tomatoes (imported San Marzano), olive oil (extra-virgin), even flour (tipo 00, for bubbly-light crusts). Toppings do exceed the three original choices served in 19th-century Naples, but pies like the Limone (fresh mozzarella, pecorino, lemons, arugula, EVOO) prove some rules should be broken. $$


Sumi Yakitori
21 SW 11th St.
786-360-5570
If your definition of yakitori has been formed from typical Americanized sticky-sweet skewers, this late-night place’s grilled offerings, flavored with the subtly smoky savor of imported Japanese binchotan charcoal will be a revelation. Décor is more stunningly stylish than at chef/owner Jeffrey Chan’s adjacent Momi Ramen, but cooking is equally authentic for items like skewered duck (served with scallion sauce), juicy sausage-stuffed chicken wings, bacon-wrapped hardboiled quail eggs, or grilled hamachi kama (super succulent yellowtail collar). Supplemental dishes, including pork buns and sautéed veggies, also excel. $$$


iSushi Café
3301 NE 1st Ave. #107
305-548-8751
Ever get tempted by supermarket sushi rolls, just because they’re there? Don’t be. This quick-casual café has a menu similar to that at sushi/Japanese small-plates, fast-food take-out joints (individual nigiri, makis, and party platters, plus small plates like edamame, seaweed, etc.) and comparable preparation speed, too, but with ingredient quality and freshness that’s more upscale. Prices are actually considerably cheaper than those of market makis that might have been sitting around for days. Additionally, ambiance, though casual, is stylish enough for a date or dinner with friends. $$


Sushi Maki
1000 S. Miami Ave.
305-415-9779
Fans of the popular parent Sushi Maki in the Gables will find many familiar favorites on this Brickell branch's menu. But the must-haves are some inventive new dishes introduced to honor the eatery's tenth anniversary -- and Miami multiculturalism: "sushi tacos" (fried gyoza skins with fusion fillings like raw salmon, miso, chili-garlic sauce, and sour cream), three tasty flash-marinated Asian/Latin tiraditos; addictive rock shrimp tempura with creamy/spicy dip. Also irresistible: four festive new sake cocktails.


SuViche
49 SW 11th St.
305-960-7097
This small Japanese-Peruvian place serves food influenced by each nation distinctly, plus intriguing fusion items with added Caribbean touches. Cooked entrées, all Peruvian, include an elegant aji de gallina (walnut-garnished chicken and potatoes in peppery cream sauce). But the emphasis is on contemporary ceviches/tiraditos (those with velvety aji amarillo chili sauce particularly), plus huge exotic sushi rolls, which get pretty wild. When was the last time you encountered a tempura-battered tuna, avocado, and scallion maki topped with Peru’s traditional potato garnish, huancaina cheese sauce? $


Temaris
1250 S. Miami Ave.
305-836-2747
In Japan, temaris are ornamented hand balls, used since the Seventh Century for sport and as good luck folk-art objects. At this Japanese/Latin hot spot, temaris are reinterpreted, both playfully and artfully, as beautiful, bite-size sushi balls (each about half the size of normal nigiri): vinegary rice topped with sliced raw fish or beef, plus nipples constructed from several of the eatery’s dozen-and-a-half sauces. Fancier mini-balls feature fusion combinations like spicy tuna, almonds, and tobiko, or substitute crispy rice. Normal-size makis, small plates, and desserts are also fun. $$-$$$


Tobacco Road
626 S. Miami Ave.
305-374-1198
www.tobacco-road.com
Prohibition-era speakeasy (reputedly a fave of Al Capone), gay bar, strip club. Previously all these, this gritty spot has been best known since 1982 as a venue for live music, primarily blues. But it also offers food from lunchtime to late night (on weekends till 4:00 a.m.). The kitchen is especially known for its chili, budget-priced steaks, and burgers. There’s also surprisingly elegant fare, though, like a Norwegian salmon club with lemon aioli. A meat-smoker in back turns out tasty ribs. $$


Top Burger
109 NE 1st St.
305-379-3100
Inside this “better burger” spot, décor is so charmingly 1950s retro you almost expect to find the Fonz leaning on a jukebox. What you actually find: hand-formed, hormone-free, 100% Angus patties (or alternatives like veggie burgers, a lightly-breaded chicken Milanesa, and all-beef hot dogs) on toasted buns, with fresh-cut French or sweet potato fries. Welcome surprises include an assertively spicy/tangy BBQ-like secret sauce; prices that, while not 1950s level, rival those at junkfood joints; and old-school service -- the kind that comes with a smile. $


Toro Toro
100 Chopin Plaza
305-372-4710
Back before Miami’s business district had any there there, the InterContinental’s original restaurant was an executive lunch/dinner destination mainly by default. This replacement, from restaurant empire-builder Richard Sandoval, brings downtown power dining into this decade. As the name suggests, you can go bullish with steakhouse fare, including an abbreviated (in variety, not quantity) “rodizio experience.” But the place’s strongest suit is its pan-Latin small plates -- upscaled refinements of classic favorites: crisp corn arepas with short rib, guacamole, and crema fresca; fluffier cachapas pancakes with tomato jam; more. $$$-$$$$$


Toscana Divino
900 S. Miami Ave.
305-571-2767
When an upscale restaurant remains perennially packed during a recession, you figure they’re offering something way beyond the usual generic Italian fare. While familiar favorites (Caprese salad, etc.) are available, the changing menu is highlighted by harder-to-find Tuscan specialties, albeit luxe versions: pappa al pomodoro, tomato/bread peasant soup elevated by an organic poached egg and finocchiona (a regional fennel salami); an authentic-tasting “fiorentina” porterhouse, with smoked potato purée plus more traditional veggies. A budget-conscious boon: changing three-course lunches and early-bird dinners. $$$-$$$$$


Trapiche Room
1109 Brickell Ave.
305-329-3656
With multiple Marriott hotels in Brickell and downtown, one of them housing high-profile db Bistro, it’s not surprising that this small, second-floor restaurant is something of a “best kept secret.” But it deserves discovery. Chef Maria Tobar hasn’t Daniel Boulud’s fame, but she does have classic European-type technical skills, combined with contemporary creativity that turns even ultimately old-fashioned items, like a pork/cabbage strudel, into 21st century fine-dining fare. Both décor and service, similarly, are swelegant, not stuffy, and the room’s intimacy makes it a romantic spot for special occasions. $$$$


Tre Italian Bistro
270 E. Flagler St.
305-373-3303
www.tremiami.com
“Bistro” actually sounds too Old World for this cool hangout, from the owners of downtown old-timer La Loggia, but “restolounge” sounds too glitzy. Think of it as a neighborhood “bistrolounge.” The food is mostly modernized Italian, with Latin and Asian accents: a prosciutto-and-fig pizza with Brazilian catupiry cheese; gnocchi served either as finger food (fried, with calamata olive/truffle aioli), or plated with orange-ginger sauce. But there are tomato-sauced meatballs with ri’gawt for Grandpa Vinnie, too. $$-$$$


Truluck’s Seafood, Steak, and Crabhouse
777 Brickell Ave., 305-579-0035
Compared to other restaurants with such an upscale power-lunch/dinner setting, most prices are quite affordable here, especially if you stick to the Miami Spice-priced date-dinner menu, or happy hour, when seafood items like crab-cake “sliders” are half price. Most impressive, though, are seasonal stone crabs (from Truluck’s own fisheries, and way less expensive than Joe’s) and other seafood that, during several visits, never tasted less than impeccably fresh, plus that greatest of Miami restaurant rarities: informed and gracious service. $$$-$$$$


Tuyo
415 NE 2nd St.
305-237-3200
Atop the revolutionary Miami Culinary Institute, this upscale eatery, unlike the café downstairs, isn’t student-run. Rather it’s designed to showcase school ideals -- including sustainability as well as definitive Miami cuisine. The changing menu, from a culinary Dream Team headed by “New World Cuisine” inventor/MCI instructor Norman Van Aken (plus former protégés Jeffrey Brana and Travis Starwalt), mixes citrus-inflected creamy conch chowder and other pioneering signatures with new inventions like mind-reelingly multidimensional oyster pan stew, or tartare of tuna and burstingly ripe tomato topped with a delicate sous vide egg. $$$$$


Verde Restaurant & Bar
1103 Biscayne Blvd.
305-375-8282
Located in the Pérez Art Museum Miami, this indoor/outdoor bayfront bistro, a project of restaurateur Stephen Starr, serves elegant, eco-friendly fare to match PAMM’s green certification. (Museum admission not required.) Seafood crudos shine: hamachi “sashimi” slices flash-marinated in a subtle citrus/ponzu emulsion and enlivened by jalapeño relish; a sprout-topped, smoothly sauced tuna tartare with lemon and horseradish flavors substituting for clichéd sesame. Light pizzas topped with near paper-thin zucchini slices, goat cheese, roasted garlic EVOO, and squash blossoms virtually define farm-to-table. And doughnuts with Cuban coffee dip are the definitively local dessert. $$-$$$


Waxy O’Connor’s
690 SW 1st Ct.
786-871-7660
www.waxys.com
While the menu of this casually craic (Gaelic for “fun”) Irish pub will be familiar to fans of the South Beach Waxy’s, the location is far superior -- on the Miami River, with waterfront deck. And none of Miami’s Irish eateries offers as much authentic traditional fare. Especially evocative: imported oak-smoked Irish salmon with housemade brown bread; puff-pastry-wrapped Irish sausage rolls; lunchtime’s imported Irish bacon or banger “butty” sandwiches on crusty baguettes, served with hand-cut fries, the latter particularly terrific dipped in Waxy’s curry sauce. $$


Wok Town
119 SE 1st Ave.
305-371-9993
www.woktown.com
Judging from the takeout window, the minimalist décor (with communal seating), and predominance of American veggies on the menu, this Asian fast-food eatery, owned by Shai Ben-Ami (a Miss Yip and Domo Japones veteran) may initially seem akin to those airport Oriental steam tables. Wrong. Custom-cooked by Chinese chefs, starters (like soy/garlic-coated edamame), salads, and have-it-your-way stir-fries, fried rice, or noodle bowls burst with bold, fresh flavor. The proof: a startlingly savory miso beef salad, with sesame/ginger/scallion dressing. Bubble tea, too! $$


Wolfgang’s Steakhouse
315 S. Biscayne Blvd.
305-487-7130
Proprietor Wolfgang Zweiner worked for decades at Brooklyn’s legendary Peter Luger’s before opening the first of his own much-praised, old-school steakhouses in 2003, which explains the quality of the USDA prime-grade steaks here -- dry-aged on premises for bold, beefy flavor and tender but toothsome texture. Prices are prodigious but so are portions. The 32-ounce porterhouse for two easily feeds three or four folks curious to taste the difference. Plentiful sides include a bacon starter favored by those who love Canadian bacon over pork belly. Personally, just the simple, superb steaks leave us happy as clams. $$$$$


Zuma
270 Biscayne Blvd. Way
305-577-0277
This Miami River restolounge has a London parent on San Pellegrino's list of the world's best restaurants, and a similar menu of world-class, Izakaya-style smallish plates (robata-grilled items, sushi, much more) meant for sharing over drinks. Suffice to say that it would take maybe a dozen visits to work your way through the voluminous menu, which offersample temptations for vegetarians as well as carnivores. Our favorite is the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly with yuzu/mustard miso dip, but even the exquisitely-garnished tofu rocks. $$$$

 

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