As one of the original Mango Gang of chefs who put New World cuisine on the serious dining map a decade ago (and the first to win a James Beard Award), Mark Militello is a certifiable culinary star. But at his South Beach eatery, the real star is Militello's almost impossibly well-flavored fusion food -- and it's obvious from the clientele. Although Washington Avenue is South Beach's nightlife central, Mark's doesn't attract club kids but a casually classy twenty-five-to-fiftysomething crowd that knows from noshing. So settle back in the exotic movie-set glamour of the black-enameled, hardwood-paneled Deco dining room (or better yet the balmy, multipooled outdoor tropical terrace) and swoon over the masterpieces: succulent West Coast oysters in a golden-brown potato wrapping, topped with horseradish crème fraîche and osetra caviar; a "millionaire" organic green salad with Maine lobster, foie gras, and truffle vinaigrette; crisp anise and hazelnut-crusted soft-shell crab; spot prawns with silky black truffle sabayon; or a mushroom-dusted pompano with foie gras, warm green lentils and chanterelles, and rich, naturally sweet aged balsamic vinegar sauce. The extensive menu changes nightly, but thanks to the skill of the guy who actually cooks at Mark's while Militello supervises his ever-expanding empire, executive chef Tim Andreola (a protegé of fellow Mango Ganger Allen Susser), one can count on mostly magic.

Best Restaurant Pretending To Be A Nightclub

Touch

If one had to name just a single Miami restaurant trend for the past twelve months, it'd be restaurant/nightclubs. Or is it nightclub/restaurants? Whatever. The idea is having it all in one place: Diners eat and then stay to dance the night away. That's in theory. In practice these allegedly one-size-fits-all eats-and-entertainment spaces satisfy serious clubbers much better than they do serious diners. The latter tend to find the sounds too pounding for dinner conversation or digestion -- and having to run a gauntlet of velvet ropes and doorfolk with attitude to reach one's rib eye tends to ruin the appetite. At "American grill" restaurant/nightclub Touch, the rib eye is an intensely charcrusted, subtly spice-rubbed 24-ouncer with a generous topping of thin-cut onion rings just peppery enough to tingle one's tongue. And other food offerings are equally first-rate in terms of ingredients and preparation: a lobster blini featuring Maine lobster, or a custardy smooth ice-cream-topped bread pudding that's the sexiest thing most SoBe club kids have experienced in years. What makes Touch superior as a restaurant/nightclub is that you get to enjoy the experience. While Touch opened a year ago with the standard senses-smashing sounds and faux-glam ambiance, dinnertime music now is seductively smooth -- and subdued in volume (after the kitchen closes, all bets are off). Best, there's little velvet-rope snobbery; personnel are genuinely welcoming, even to those who don't look like J. Lo.

Best Restaurant To Die In The Past Twelve Months

Mayya

Forget chicken mole and everything else you know as traditional Mexican food. Consider instead cutting-edge nuevo Mexicano inventions featuring upscale ingredients and light but big beautiful flavors: a subtly spicy carrot and tomato chipotle chili soup; a seared foie gras and lobster sandwich on poblano cornbread with apple jalapeño sauce; or a precisely grilled-to-perfection beef filet with creamy corn and chili polenta, nopales cactus, and black beans in a complex chorizo/guajillo sauce that hit one's palate a half-dozen different ways. Creator of this unique personal vision was Mexican-born chef Guillermo Tellez, for years second in command at Charlie Trotter's culinary temple in Chicago. Icing on the cake -- which here would have been something more like a liquid-centered dark chocolate and chipotle ganache with crunchy caramelized bananas -- was Tellez's domestic partner, pastry chef Leslie Swagger. The restaurant was Mayya, which closed last spring, barely a year after opening. Why? Well, restaurant powers that be dissed South Florida diners as too unsophisticated to pay a premium for sophisticated fare. Meanwhile the rumor mill blamed restaurant powers that be for appalling cost-cutting suggestions ("canned lobster!" was reportedly the kicker for Tellez and Swagger). Admittedly haute Mexican cuisine is a hard sell. Even savvy Northern diners balk at paying prices like Mayya's ($24 to $37 entrées, a $70 ten-course prix-fixe tasting extravaganza) for what they consider refined versions of fast food. The tasting dinners at hopefully immortal Norman's, however, are almost as high ($55 to $65) for five fewer courses. And unfortunately all the publicity Mayya's high-profile owners garnered obscured the fact that the food was much more about Norman Van Aken (or Charlie Trotter)-type creativity than about Mexico. Yes, Mayya was expensive -- and worth every peso.

Best Restaurant To Die In The Past Twelve Months

Mayya

Forget chicken mole and everything else you know as traditional Mexican food. Consider instead cutting-edge nuevo Mexicano inventions featuring upscale ingredients and light but big beautiful flavors: a subtly spicy carrot and tomato chipotle chili soup; a seared foie gras and lobster sandwich on poblano cornbread with apple jalapeño sauce; or a precisely grilled-to-perfection beef filet with creamy corn and chili polenta, nopales cactus, and black beans in a complex chorizo/guajillo sauce that hit one's palate a half-dozen different ways. Creator of this unique personal vision was Mexican-born chef Guillermo Tellez, for years second in command at Charlie Trotter's culinary temple in Chicago. Icing on the cake -- which here would have been something more like a liquid-centered dark chocolate and chipotle ganache with crunchy caramelized bananas -- was Tellez's domestic partner, pastry chef Leslie Swagger. The restaurant was Mayya, which closed last spring, barely a year after opening. Why? Well, restaurant powers that be dissed South Florida diners as too unsophisticated to pay a premium for sophisticated fare. Meanwhile the rumor mill blamed restaurant powers that be for appalling cost-cutting suggestions ("canned lobster!" was reportedly the kicker for Tellez and Swagger). Admittedly haute Mexican cuisine is a hard sell. Even savvy Northern diners balk at paying prices like Mayya's ($24 to $37 entrées, a $70 ten-course prix-fixe tasting extravaganza) for what they consider refined versions of fast food. The tasting dinners at hopefully immortal Norman's, however, are almost as high ($55 to $65) for five fewer courses. And unfortunately all the publicity Mayya's high-profile owners garnered obscured the fact that the food was much more about Norman Van Aken (or Charlie Trotter)-type creativity than about Mexico. Yes, Mayya was expensive -- and worth every peso.

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Azul

A view overlooking the bay, back toward Miami, and down sparkling Brickell Avenue is the first thing you notice when walking into the elegant, nouveau-Asian lobby of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Then, at the entrance to the restaurant, you glimpse the waterfall that separates the open kitchen from the dining area. The absolute succulence of the dishes devised by celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein dazzles you next. And finally a bill that surpasses monthly car and mortgage payments combined makes you gasp. If you stopped at the bar first, refinancing could be necessary. But if you've gotten someone else to foot the bill, this is the place to dine (and to stay warm; house pashmina shawls are available to wrap the chilly). Hamachi carpaccio in an Asian-spiced citrus sauce to start? On your own dime, maybe such an appetizer would be out of the question. On someone's else's -- go for it! It's sublime. Foods from the sea remain the best choice for a main course (no need to look at prices this time!). Signature Bernstein dressings, often combining an Asian flavor (a nuac nam or hoisin sauce?) with, say, rose water or papaya, enhance snapper, sea bass, and other fresh cuts. Add up the outdoor vista, the indoor décor, and the internal satisfaction, and Azul reaches the pinnacle of, well, good taste.
Most of us are introduced as children to The Sandwich, various processed foodstuff squeezed between two slices of white bread. People ask, "Did you eat?" and we reply, "I had a sandwich." Everyone knows it isn't the same thing. Well, everyone except the Sandwich Mill's John Rossetti, whose inspired creations include the Tuscan Tower (roasted Italian vegetables with basil cream on a French batard), the Smokestack (roasted pork, caramelized onion, stewed apple, and vinegar mayo, also on a French batard), and the Taste-o-Tradition (roasted chicken, caramelized onion, and sweet potato spread on sourdough). And Rossetti makes everything, including half-a-dozen varieties of bread, right on the premises. Now that's good eatin'.
As the saying goes, you've had the rest, now try the best. The rest in this case is unsubtle glop: white starchy glop that tastes more like bacon and potato than seafood if it's something like New England-style clam chowder; red starchy glop that tastes more like chili powder and tomato than seafood if it's something like Manhattan clam or Caribbean conch chowder. So now try the best, which you'll no doubt be able to do for a good many years, since Norman Van Aken's regulars would probably kill the chef if he discontinued his conch chowder. Slight variations have occurred over the years (like the current cloud of foam on top), but forever ambrosial is and will be the inventive chowder: panko-crusted pieces of tender conch plus garnishes of citrus, shaved coconut, and a few vegetables floating on a slightly hot, slightly sweet, rich yet refreshingly reduced (not starch-thickened) shellfish stock flavored with saffron, star anise, Scotch bonnet peppers, orange juice, coconut milk, and a generous dollop of cream. The rest simply can't compare.

We'll tell you straight off the bat -- or fishing line, if you prefer: This seafood market and restaurant has absolutely no charm. Bare (fish) bones to the extreme, the market features only a few kitchenette-style tables, plastic and paper tableware, and a powerful aroma of freshly scaled fish. So why does it win? Easy. In order: Captain Jim's fresh garlic crabs, a three-and-a-half-pound bucket of which will run you only $16.95. A pile of fried Key West shrimp for $7.95. (Captain Jim does a lot of fishing in the Keys.) Cracked Caicos conch, which comes with hush puppies or beans and rice for the same amount of dead presidents. And "extras" like fried clams, conch chowder, smoked fish dip, and smoked marlin. Get the picture? Good. Now go get the seafood before Captain Jim runs out of those garlic crabs -- at his prices, the eats go as fast as his reel.
As a rule, perkiness is annoying. But politeness, freshness, brightness? All good. And in the morning hours, even better. That's what you'll get when you stop in at Jamba Juice for a healthful taste sensation. Left Coast influences (the California-based Juice Club became Jamba Juice in 1995) have obviously infiltrated Jamba Juice's Kendall outpost, which features a tremendous menu of fruit- and soy-based smoothies plus a fresh-juice bar (even wheatgrass grows in patches behind the counter). Ask your upbeat server to toss in a free Jamba Boost (select vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids) for immunity, women's health, or energy, and you'll be treated to a pick-me-up that packs more of wallop than anything you'll get at that gloomy Starbucks next door. Creamy smooth drinks are filled with the fuel your body needs any time of day: Combinations of berries, bananas, peanut butter, peaches, mangos, and more mingle endlessly with nonfat yogurt, sorbet, and ice. Nothing artificial here -- even the shiny happy people who man the blenders and make sure every last drop finds its way into your jumbo cup are genuine. So if they want to be perky, we'll just go ahead and let them.

A little piece of Spain is hidden in the heart of Little Havana. Step inside Casa Panza, wind your way past the old wine barrels, and chances are you will be greeted by the owner himself, if not some other family member, who will guide you inside. The first thing you'll notice then is how big the place is. After the sangría starts to flow, you realize there are chunks of fruit in there, and not the Libby's cocktail variety. Four days a week there are live flamenco performances by world-renowned dancer Celia Clara and her singer/guitarist husband, Paco Fonta. Despite all the heel thumping and hand clapping, you'll still be able to hear the grease sizzling as waiters serve up tasty fried chorizo. For large parties the paella is a must. We say large parties, because otherwise the plethora of seafood and meats will go to waste. Dining alone? The tortilla española is a light and fluffy treat. Whatever you choose, rest assured the taste will be authentic, the entertainment will be rousing, and the service will be impeccable.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®