As Waylon Jennings might have put it, we were looking for Miami's up-and-coming dining scene in all the wrong places. Like, for instance, the Design District. When Michael's Genuine Food & Drink took off, followed by Fratelli Lyon, Michelle Bernstein's Sra. Martinez, and Jonathan Eismann's mini-empire, it appeared that the neighborhood that everyone had long been predicting to be the next big thing, was finally the next big thing. Except things didn't work out quite so big, and although the M & M chefs still provide strong draws, a vibrant dining scene still hasn't developed there. To put it another way: Vino e Olio and Mai Tardi are no Sugarcane and Sustain.
...also coming to midtown...
We next turned our attention to the Upper East Side, where Casa Toscana had long held fort, where Bernstein's Michy's moved in and became a popular pioneer for the renaissance, followed by Kris Wessel's Red Light Little River and most recently Michael Bloise' American Noodle Bar. There are solid midrange alternatives in the area as well, like UVA 69, Moshi Moshi, Anise, and Balans -- and a hot dog place too (Dogma). But it's still not the sort of neighborhood where one ambles along the streets after dinner and chooses an outdoor cafe at which to sip cappuccino. If anything, after dinner you rush to your car to make sure it hasn't been broken into.
South Beach? Coconut Grove? Coral Gables? You're kidding, right?
In the meanwhile, midtown Miami has grown from empty condos, a struggling shopping mall, and Five Guys, to house the best restaurants to open in the city over the past two years.
Five Guys was a eye-catching addition, but foodies started really flocking to midtown when Sakaya Kitchen opened in 2009. Since then, it's been a rapid succession of hip joints jumping with patrons and putting out affordable, often exceptional food: Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, Mercadito, Gigi, Sustain...