Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Best Restaurants in South Beach, Miami, FL
Barton G the Restaurant
1427 West Avenue
At this indoor/preferably outdoor garden eatery, run by a caterer/restaurateur who was formerly a Broadway set designer, dining’s a three-ring circus—sometimes literally; two giraffes (from the G-man’s personal zoo) greeted diners at the restaurant’s opening party, and remain a more remote presence on the labels of the place’s excellent new house wines. The playful food includes tuna and salmon sashimi snow cones, with wasabi-lime and gingered blood orange sorbets; a Swordfish Epee, grilled and served on a “gentleman’s sword” that has inspired inter-table fencing bouts; and a Big Top Cotton Candy dessert, accompanied by an over-the-top popcorn surprise.
Bond Street [at the Townhouse Hotel]
150 20th Street
Attitude tends to be ample at this loungelike spot, unless you’re a celebrity (or are as young, skinny, and glamorously-dressed as one), and prices match. But the sushi and small plates— mouthwateringly inviting items like whitefish sashimi with shiso sorbet, a sesame-crusted shrimp roll with orange/curry/Dijon mustard sauce, yellowtail snapper, or lobster tempura with drizzles of yellow tomato dressing and chive oil-- are arguably the most solidly and elegantly creative Japanese raw fish dishes in South Beach.
Joe’s Stone Crab
11 Washington Avenue
Serving their signature fresh—never frozen, as at lesser seafood joints—Florida stone crab claws (with homemade mustard sauce) since 1921, this restaurant is an oldie but goodie… with one not so good foible: loooong lines. Joe’s no-reservations policy can mean waits of well over an hour for tables. But impatient visitors can do as locals do: Grab an order of claws (or perhaps a chilled Florida spiny lobster tail, if it’s not stone crab season), plus Joe’s famous hash browns, creamed garlic spinach, and Key lime pie, at the adjacent Joe’s Take Away, for a seriously succulent al fresco South Beach picnic.
The Lido Restaurant’s Bayside Grill [at the Standard Hotel]
40 Island Avenue
There’s nothing more idyllically Miamian than eating outdoors in the dead of winter—when the rest of the country is frostbitten—in a tropically-landscaped waterside setting. At the Bayside Grill of the Standard, trendsetter Andre Balazs’ first spa hotel, diners can gaze at a panoramic expanse of Biscayne Bay while dining on dishes that range from spa-perfect healthy to downright decadent—the latter including possibly the most swoonworthy shoestring fries in the known universe, served with housemade ketchup plus lovely, lemony aioli. But many entrees are mix-and-match—diners choose their own sauce and side dish to compliment a main ingredient (meat, fish, or tofu) cooked on the humongous outdoor grill-- so avoiding dietary sin, while not recommended, is entirely doable.
1745 James Avenue
Homeboy Douglas Rodriguez, who pioneered Nuevo Latino cuisine at Coral Gables’ Yuca in the early 1990s, is largely an absentee executive chef at OLA (Of Latin America), in its third location since opening in 2003. Décor’s rather uninvitingly old fashioned, almost tatty. But Rodriguez’ signature ceviches (such as salmon with apple, lime, and jalapeno sauce, plus jicama, sprouts and tarragon granite) are as tempting as ever—definitely, along with the delicately rich deconstructed Key lime pie, the Required Eating items here.
Quattro Gastronomia Italiana
1014 Lincoln Road
It’s hard to say which imported taste treats have had visiting and local glitterati drooling most since this hotspot opened late in 2006— authentic Northern Italian dishes (made mostly with ingredients flown in from Italy) like tender house-made fontina ravioli drizzled with white truffle oil, or the two cute-as-buttons 30 year-old identical twin chefs from the Piedmont. The mostly Italian wine list is also unusually appealing, full of savvy selections seldom found in Florida, and cocktails are most festive; the signature Quattrino aperitif (Campari, Aperol orange liqueur, Chardonnay Mila, and fresh Florida grapefruit juice) is especially stimulating.
Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante
1801 Purdy Avenue
Though this stylish neighborhood bistro opened in the fall of 2006 with no major p.r. push, WOM rapidly insured big buzz-- proof that food that’s simple but pretty perfect can pack the house on its own. Featured here are Sardinian specialties, many cooked in an open wood-burning oven—roast suckling pig flavored with rosemary and the island’s myrtle berry liqueur; salt crust-baked branzino (Mediterranean sea bass); numerous luscious vegetable anitipasti (cippolline al forno, brussel sprouts with guanciale, among others). Counter seating, facing the busy wood oven, makes dining alone amusing. And sebadas (sweet pecorino-stuffed fritters, with Sardinian honey) are a seductive finish that require no human company.
The Restaurant at the Setai
2001 Collins Avenue
The good news is the glamorous global-fusion food, the most impressive being Pan-Asian creations like wok-seared spiny lobster with fresh water chestnuts and ginger, diver scallops with trendy XO sauce, or delicate duck consommé with a shrimp mousse-stuffed chicken wing. The bad news is, you may have to sell the kids into slavery (possibly mom and dad, too) to pay the bill. But more good news: the Setai’s original Caviar, Champagne and Crustacean Bar has been replaced with The Grill, making it possible to enjoy the Setai’s ultra-stylish setting for a less astronomical tag.
600 Lincoln Road
This multi-level Japanese/Brazilian/Peruvian fusion eatery has hosted so many trendy nightlife events that people tend to forget that the food is serious stuff. But no more reminder is necessary than an astonishing assortment plate of contemporary ceviches or tiraditos (Latin-style sashimi on steroids, flash-marinated in various light sauces just before serving, rather than “cooked” sour by long citrus soaking)—the diner’s choice of four items like tuna ceviche (with grapefruit juice, red jalepeno, and almond) or kanpachi tiradito (with yuzu, black truffle oil, and sea salt). Cooked food like cornmeal-crusted calamari “chicharrones” with tamarind sauce, tomato salsa, and plantain are also habit-forming. Additionally, it’s a fun place for Sunday brunch, thanks to dishes like a wrap of crispy rock shrimp, roasted corn, and cherry tomatoes with spiced walnut and aji amarillo chile dressing, or warm churros with a pair of spiced caramel and Peruvian chocolate dipping sauces.
946 Normandy Drive
Astonishingly, the master chef of this little low-profile neighborhood Thai spot (located in North Beach, aka “Little Buenos Aires”) is world-renowned Southeast Asian cookbook author Vatch Bhumichtr, who has five very upscale Thai restaurants in England. Explanation: Fortunately for Miami, he’s a friend of Tamarind’s proprietor Day Longsomboon, from art school days; a co-owner, he developed the original recipes (though he's not actually in the kitchen). Expect some unusual signature dishes like tod man goong (shrimp corn cakes with plum sauce) and ped makham (roast duck with tangy-sweet tamarind sauce), plus many familiar curries that are simply far more skillfully conceived and executed most American Thai restaurant fare.
Pamela Robin Brandt is a Miami-based freelance writer who specializes in Deep Fluff (mainly restaurant reviewing, travel writing, and profiles of extraordinary people).