Miami Spice is A Christmas Story in summer. Each year, as the heat and humidity grow, we allow our minds to wander into the sea of possibilities filled with many of the city’s best restaurants tempting each precious table with affordable, creative meals. But we’ve been through this before — we know there are highs and lows. And like that Red Ryder BB gun, some of our unbounded enthusiasm might end up hurting us.
At last count, there are 243 restaurants, up more than 34 percent from last year, offering lunch for $23 and/or dinner for $39 during this year's two-month promotion. In years past, New Times has offered guides to sort through it all. But now there's no rubric defining what’s good and what to skip. It seems almost every participating eatery has gotten the message that it’s unacceptable and lazy to offer skirt steak, chicken breast, and pasta for Miami Spice. Many restaurants have subbed in short rib, which is a fine move because it at least takes some forethought and time. Branzino is nearly as ubiquitous as salmon, which may or may not be a good thing.
Below, you’ll find more than a dozen options that, from the outset of Miami Spice, seem worth your attention. Many have proven themselves worthy in the past. And, as such, menus will change at some point during the forthcoming two months. Check back often for updates, and be sure to let us know if you find one that belongs below.
There are no shortage of options inside this sleek Roman import. Things begin humbly enough. You might opt for a branzino tartare or crisp sphere of eggplant served alongside a knob of smoked buffalo mozzarella. Then come the important choices. If it’s the deal you’re after, opt for the rack of lamb with sweet-and-sour ratatouille or the veal chop. Of course, that’s if you can persuade yourself to skip homemade pastas such as tagliatelle with porcini and tagliolini twirled up with lobster, thyme, and shallots.
It’s easy to forget about this Gables grande dame if you don’t live or work in the area. Spice is a reason to remember. The rest of the year, Christy's eight-ounce filet costs $42 by itself, three bucks more than the entirety of the spice menu. Bookend it with a caesar salad and a slice of key lime pie for a classic steakhouse experience.
Katsuya by Starck
Let's hope the menu found online is what you find when seated inside this chic spot tucked inside the SLS South Beach. If so, Katsuya joins the lofty ranks of restaurants participating in Spice to offer luxe ingredients at no up-charge. Sure, you can get the chicken robata, but who could pass on filet and foie gras brightened with a tomato shiso relish? In all likelihood, you won’t be dining alone, so be sure not to miss the sushi and sashimi combination after choosing chilled soba noodles, salmon tataki, Peruvian-style snapped ceviche, or Wagyu-packed gyoza.
As much as Miami Spice is about finding a great deal, it’s also about seeing what some of the city’s most promising (and costly) chefs are up to. So leave it to Azul’s chef de cuisine Benjamin Murray to make the menu soar. Start with a scallop crudo dressed in a bone-marrow vinaigrette and Parmesan. Or opt for beef carpaccio spiked with the flavors of the beloved Cuban frita. Then it’s a tossup among Worcestershire sauce-glazed short ribs, branzino with passionfruit ponzu and summer squashes, and corn risotto hit with Thai basil and egg yolk. To finish things off, there’s a chocolate pecan tart and yogurt cremeux, but it’s the bright-sounding lemon financier that seems most enticing.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
When Miami Spice was younger, it seemed as though more restaurants took the “have it” approach of the Bazaar. Here, you begin by picking one option from a lengthy list that includes bao con lechón, foie gras peanut butter and jelly, and José Andrés’ rendition of Ferran Adrià’s iconic liquefied olive. Then you continue your journey through the menu by selecting three more plates from an even larger, harder-to-pare-down list. The must-haves are the asparagus and romesco, the yuca "churros" with peanut butter and honey, and the chistorras. Or maybe the fish en papillote, or the shrimp, or the chicken thigh that’s slow-cooked in plenty of black garlic. Best advice: Dine with a large group to try everything.
Edge Steak & Bar
Aaron Brooks, who helms the Brickell Four Seasons’ crown jewel, always takes Miami Spice seriously. So expect the offerings to change. Don’t worry about the deal, though — the rib eyes offered on the regular menu start at $37, so you’re getting ample bang for your buck. Before hitting the red meat, open things up with crisp pig ear shreds tossed in watercress with green mango. Or opt for the salt-cured arctic char. Brooks tends to enjoy these cured items, so who knows what else might rotate through. Plenty of reason to visit twice, or thrice.
Chef Bee’s Miami Spice lineup is like a greatest-hits from his menu that has kept lines stretching out the door since he opened his long-awaited NaiYaRa late last year. His beef jerky is a meaty, spicy, chewy, strangely pleasing affair served with fragrant sticky rice. An order should be on your table. The same goes for brown sugar cake, stacked with caramelized bananas, coconut mousse, and guava granita. Otherwise, have at it. The khao soi, with ginger-infused yellow curry sauce and crispy noodles, is a favorite.
Talavera Cocina Mexicana
This long-standing Gables Mexican spot has one of the singularly most enticing dishes of a restaurant participating this year: a 16-ounce rib eye lathered in a huitlacoche-and-leek sauce, topped with oyster mushrooms and fried leeks, and served with guajillo-garlic potatoes. That sounds worth $39 by itself, no?
La Mar by Gaston Acurio
Executive chef Diego Oka wants you to come back to La Mar. Hence, he and the kitchen seem eager to throw everything they have at your table. There’s no choice of appetizer. You get a mixed-seafood ceviche, a fish causa, and a quinoa caprese dressed with an ají amarillo vinaigrette. Then it’s on to pork jowl/quinoa tamales and grilled fish with seco sauce and mint chalaca, or Peruvian pasta with basil and ají amarillo pesto and beef milanesa. Pack up your maracuya cheesecake — with all of that food, you’ll have no room for dessert.
Cantina La Veinte
Apparently, Oka and Cantina La Veinte’s Santiago Gomez planned their Spice menus together. At this high-end Mexican spot nestled into the Icon, you start with a concise sampling — a baja shrimp taco, tuna ceviche, octopus tostada — before ending with another. In between, opt for the duck confit enmoladas, made by packing the slow-cooked fowl into fresh corn masa turnovers and topped simply with queso fresco.
Whole Fish Alert. Always a rare find during Spice, this Mid-Beach seafood hideout will grill or fry your beast to order. If you’re a table for two, pair it with a 12-ounce Delmonico steak for the perfect dinner.
Perricone’s Marketplace & Café
As Brickell has changed over the years, Perricone’s has remained reliably and wonderfully the same. If you’ve been distracted by everything opening in the neighborhood, Miami Spice is an auspicious time to return. This could be the ideal Spice menu: The baked Brie, the veal skirt steak, and chocolate truffle mousse torte could cost you upward of $50. You’ll still probably spend that, but hey, at least you’ll get a glass of wine in the deal.
Redlander Restaurant at Schnebly Redland's Winery
Schlep to Schnebly’s on the weekend to taste the result of a chef having fun. Remember Dewey LoSasso? The Forge’s former kitchen master has been down in the Redland spending time on the winery’s growing farm while also quietly running its Redlander Restaurant. Dinner is Friday and Saturday nights, but for your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with lobster-and-rock-shrimp empanadas, filet mignon with green mango slaw and sorrel slaw, and seared wahoo crusted with tomme from Central Florida. Don’t skip the spent-grain bread (from the brewery) layered with chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt, and served with hot pepper dulce de leche ice cream. It’s a long ride back, so you'll need the sugar to stay awake.
Miami Spice is that time of year when the crew at this downtown seafood spot rolls out its butcher knives and dishes out huge blood-red slabs of prime rib that could fetch $39 alone. Of course that isn’t enough to fill you up. So decide between snow crab claws and oysters Frank. The latter are named for chef de cuisine Robert Frank and come loaded with manchego, smoked bacon, sherry, and butter. For dessert, opt for the restaurant's beloved Heath bar bread pudding with spicy whipped cream. If it ain’t broke...
The offerings here are both lengthy and creative. That’s just what makes a place stand out in this all-out rush to fill tables during the slower summer months. The "mole Italiana," which the menu says includes 59 ingredients cooked over four days, could go very well or very wrong, but it seems worth a shot. So too does the carbonara di mare, featuring fish roe, sea urchin, and bottarga. Or keep it simple with handmade pasta spears called pici served with duck ragu, or branzino simply prepared with capers and parsley.
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Truth be told, you ought to visit Palme d’Or — whose kitchen in recent years has been helmed by Gregory Pugin — ready to spend. If you’re still not convinced, consider this: Pugin came to the Biltmore from Joël Robuchon’s special forces who jetted around the world opening the famed French chef’s latest soon-to-be-starred spots. Your meal might begin with octopus, snails, and wild mushrooms all in a spring onion emulsion. Or you may opt for the rich, sturdy tart from France’s Basque region crowned with marinated tuna and a quail egg. Then you’re off with butter-roasted scallops alongside a tasting of corn, or a roasted duck breast with kumquats, turnip, and orange sauce. Of course, the classic option of a perfectly cooked piece of beef tenderloin alongside potatoes roasted in duck fat will never disappoint. Whatever you do, please finish with cheese.
At this Sunset Harbour spot where the Pubbelly Boys' empire began, chef Jose Mendin is evolving his cuisine into something sophisticated while maintaining its piggish fun. That's why you’re ordered to select five choices from a lengthy list of appetizers that includes veal brains, sweetbreads, Japanese amberjack, octopus, and buns filled with soft-shell crab, short rib, and buffalo sweetbreads. Whew. Not done yet. You still have to choose a quartet for your table from the pasta offerings. May we suggest the uni pasta with harissa butter and horseradish, the kimchee bolognese, the corn soup dumplings, and the short-rib gyoza?