Emeril's Miami Beach
You can start with gumbo of the day ($9), followed by pan-seared free-range chicken over Louisiana oyster-spinach bread pudding ($28), and complete the meal with a trio of sorbets made with fresh, local fruit ($5). That's a nice dinner conceptualized by America's most famous chef and brought to consistently fresh fruition by chef de cuisine Brandon Benack. You can enjoy it in the big, easy confines of the elegant dining room, or seated at a food bar that faces the open kitchen, or outdoors overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. But save that experience for when someone else isn't paying. With Mr. or Ms. Generosity footing the bill, why not begin with crisply fried Louisiana oysters, served with pickled vegetables and horseradish-yuzu tartar sauce ($13)? Oysters, as you know, are not especially filling, so how about a hunk of succulent Maine lobster tossed with gnocchi thermidor-style, meaning with wild mushrooms and Parmesan shavings in sherry-Creole mustard cream ($14). You'll have to hold off on the hickory-smoked beef short ribs with Louisiana crawfish coleslaw and sweet potato biscuit ($12.50) for another occasion — guests who order three appetizers are looked upon as being boorish. Yellowtail snapper with Creole tomato glaze, crab-mirleton relish, and citrus butter sauce ($38) will obliterate the perception that Emeril's is just a place for tourists, as will the red onion-smoked bacon marmalade and homemade Worcestershire sauce that elevates a juicy filet mignon ($46). Pile it on with truffled mac and cheese flecked with pancetta ($8.50), and add the pièce de resistance via banana cream pie ($10) or bread pudding three ways — a lavish dessert that involves whiskey sauce, Godiva liqueur, and dulce de leche ($9). At meal's end, you might casually mention that Emeril's also serves a damn good brunch, and hope your host picks up on the hint.
Palme d'Or
Photo courtesy of the Biltmore
Why not experience your final round of pampering in heavenly surroundings — with a taste of the very finest on your tongue? Let your palate relish the purity of plant, fish, and flesh forged into unearthly delights such as morel soup with sweetbreads ($14); a napoleon of Dungeness crab layered with smoked salmon and brightened with lemon oil vinaigrette and Osetra caviar ($14); monkfish cheeks with smoked Pinot Noir sauce ($18); and a warm, weightless chocolate soufflé ($15). Allow yourself to linger ever so slowly over a heady dessert wine — say, a 2006 Côteaux du Layon. Chef Philippe Ruiz and sommelier Sebastien Verrier team up to consistently provide a memorable dining experience. Life is memory. Life is pleasure. Life is short. Dinner at Palme d'Or lasts a blessedly long time, another reason it makes sense in the context of a final supper — although our ultimate point is that dining at this celestial level makes sense in any context.
Red Light Little River
Note to all friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and family of Kris Wessel, chef/owner of Red Light Little River: Do not, under any circumstances, allow this newspaper to fall into his hands! If he asks whether anyone has seen the "Best of Miami" issue, tell him it was canceled. Keep him away from the computer too. Better yet, make a suggestion that he's been working too hard — which he surely has been — and offer to take him out of town for a week. Because the truth is, he's charging ridiculously low prices for the caliber of food served at his charming, topnotch restaurant. All starters, including a big-flavored Big Easy oyster stew with absinthe cream and crackers, are under $10. Entrées go for less than $20, and that includes mouthwatering mosaics of fresh, honest cuisine: oxtail with white cheddar grits and braised greens; smoked, spice-rubbed ribs with apple slaw; seared yellowtail snapper from the Keys with pea rice and squash; and his signature barbecue shrimp with dip bread. Not only is this food being orchestrated and expedited by a Beard-nominated chef, but also the man is actually behind the line cooking it. Which makes these prices crazy good. But we don't want Wessel to know how crazy they are, because then he'll feel compelled to raise them. And there would go the best deal we've got. So please, we beg of you, take whatever steps necessary to prevent him from reading this.
Sports Exchange
Why are you dining alone? If it's because you have a personality most often described as "morose," the Sports Exchange is just the place to cheer you up. OK, who are we kidding? Let's just say this is the sort of place that might make you less morose. Maybe you're dining out by yourself because you meant to have dinner at home while watching the Marlins, but your TV set is on the blink. If that's the case, there are 27 high-def plasma screens posted around the room, including what is billed as the largest screen in town (there is also a 16-foot ticker with stock updates, but we're assuming you're not that much of a geek). Maybe you're out and about because you were feeling a bit cramped in your apartment. The Exchange touts the longest bar in the Gables — 50 feet, as in plenty of room to stretch out. And yes, there are brews galore — Guinness, Yeungling, and Shock Top on tap for $4 apiece; the same price nets a bottled import. Dining alone because you're cheap? Then come here from 5 to 8 p.m. and enjoy two-for-one well drinks and half-off appetizers. There are late-night food and drink deals too. Then again, maybe you enjoy the company of countless friends and dine solo because you simply relish doing so — and doing so at the Sports Exchange for all of the aforementioned reasons. Plus there's one other reason: The fare is finer than typical pub grub, and unless you're gonna go with the baby-back ribs, just about everything is under $20 — wood-oven pizzas, burgers, sliders, Buffalo wings, and delectable mini hot dogs in brioche buns topped with chili, onions, and cheddar cheese. Of course, if you make a habit of eating those, you'll probably be dining alone for some time to come.

Best Restaurant for Intimate Conversation

Charlotte Bistro

Charlotte Bistro

She: I just adore the décor here — so quaint, dainty, even girly with all the flowers and feminine touches.

He: Yeah.

She: And that bacon-wrapped pheasant terrine with the pear slices cooked in cardamom butter. Wow. Didn't you love it?

He: Boy, did I.

She: What about that lobster tail poached in brown butter?

He: Huh?

She: The lobster, with the lobster ravioli, in the saffron-spiked broth? You should remember — you ate most of it.

He: Oh, right. Brilliant.

She: You can almost taste chef/owner Elida Villarroel's Michelin training in the fresh, simple flavors, the lightness, the way she uses herbs.

He: Yes.

She: What about that chocolate soup dessert? I mean, my God!

He: Fantastic.

She: It's such a friendly place too. And with most entrées in the $20 range, and our bottle of wine being rather affordable, tonight's dinner isn't going to cost you that much.

He: Now, really (blushes).

She: Plus it's romantic, right?

He: Absolutely.

She: You're like the perfect man.

He: Yup.

Miami has never been known for its abundance of good farmers' markets. You know, ones with real farmers, the ones who sell the food they grow, not stuff imported from somewhere else. Transplants yearn for the markets they so loved in California or New York. Well, guess what? You're in Miami now, and the Pinecrest Farmers' Market is worth visiting. Formerly called the South Florida Farmers' Market, it moved from the parking lot of Gardner's Market to Pinecrest Gardens in December. You'll find a few stands selling jewelry and accessories, but produce is extraordinarily abundant here. The Redland Organics booth alone is worth the visit if you don't mind paying a little more. We're talking carrots, bok choy, salad mixes, tomatoes, radishes, oyster mushrooms from Paradise Farms, and rare beans harvested the day before. Other items likely to make their way into your reusable, eco-friendly bag: local goose eggs, organic hummus, local honey, zucchini flowers, and artisan breads. The market runs from December through April, which begs the question: Where will we shop until the new season starts?
Gardner's Market
Gourmet grocery stores are not just for food snobs. In fact, they cater more to the food lazy. We spent years in the kitchen, trying to prove our basting and chopping skills. Now we just want to eat well. So thank God for fine foods purveyor like Gardner's Market, where we can score delicious, already-prepared food. One of Miami's oldest grocers, the place has all the traditional fare: well-stocked salumi and cheese kiosks, glistening baked goods, and bright red cuts of meat. But the true treasures of Gardner's exist in the aisles. There you'll find rows of every kind of olive oil and vinegar imaginable. Spend a smidge more for one of their specialty items, and you can upgrade an entire meal. Take home some sangria jelly ($2.99) and throw it on some white bread toast and — Bam! — instant gourmet breakfast. The cranberry port sauce ($9.99) can elevate the cheapest cut of pork. Serve the chocolate tortilla chips and French lemonade at your next cookout, and take the culinary experience from back yard to bougie. There's no need to clock in hours in the kitchen. With Gardner's fancy fare, you can impress friends with your savvy shopping skills.
Miami International Airport
Granted, the quality of eats found in food courts is generally not of epicurean note, but the selections at Miami International Airport's North Terminal (post-security, especially) give travelers a good taste of some pretty recognizable local offerings, so it deserves cred. Tourists who get to the airport late or go straight to South Beach would miss out on Little Havana's top menu items (AKA some of the finest Cuban eats in the city), if not for Café Versailles and La Carreta representing at MIA. How tragic for those sunburned visitors to not try one little smoky ham croqueta or medianoche before they go back home! Even those who skipped Nobu or SushiSamba can get a bite of fresher fish than they have back in Minnesota, for sure, at Sushi Maki. It's a decent place for not only a roll or two but also entertainment — check out the "Fun With Chopsticks" illustrations on the utensil packaging. There's nothing better to keep the kiddies amused while waiting at the gate than showing them how many ways you can shove wooden poles into your nostrils. Traditionalists can also find hot dogs, pizza, Chinese food, and French-style baked goods that seem perfect for breakfast when you have a 6 a.m. flight and nothing but anti-airsickness pills in your stomach. Got a craving for sweets? Down fudge and brownies at Boca Bites and a ring or two of glazed goodness at Dunkin Donuts. If you're just plain ol' thirsty, there's Coffee Beanery, Starbucks, Corona Beach House, and Tradewinds Bar. Try it all, but just remember to throw a few Pepto tablets in your carry-on. And Godspeed, intrepid travelers.
Hakkasan
Courtesy of Hakkasan
Hakkasan in London is one of the finest Chinese restaurants in the world, which is evidenced by a consistent Michelin-star ranking. Thankfully, the second incarnation, which debuted at the Fontainebleau Hotel in April 2009, has maintained the same standard of excellence in food and service. While the Cantonese cuisine is far more gourmet than your standard lo mein and beef with broccoli fare, fans won't be disappointed by a lack of Americanized dishes. Chef Wen Sian Tan's specialties include fall-off-the-bone jasmine tea smoked ribs; fluffy balls of sesame prawn toast; spicy fried soft-shell crab; vegetarian-friendly wild mushroom lettuce wraps; stir-fry lobster with Chinese chives; savory lemon chicken; earthy braised lamb with chestnuts; briny stir-fry green beans with preserved olive oil and dried shrimp; and wild mushroom hand-pulled noodles. Wash it all down with a signature cocktail, the Hakka, which combines vodka, Kubota sake, lychee juice, lime, coconut, and fresh passion fruit. Despite Miami's dearth of professional waiters and waitresses, the service is always stellar at this stunning spot, which was decorated by French design firm Gilles & Boissier. Although it is a modern space, there's a traditional Chinese motif including silk lanterns, lattice-work screens, and hand-carved teak panels. A dim sum brunch on weekends is elegant and delicious, although sans the pushcarts one would find in New York's (or London's) Chinatown. Nevertheless, you will be satisfied with a plethora of dumplings, buns, and fried rolls. Ultimately, Hakkasan isn't going to replace your corner Chinese haunt (especially at the high prices). But you will be hard-pressed to find more luscious and authentic Chinese fare in all of South Florida.
Gourmet Gourmet
For 17 years, Coral Gables residents snacked on lo mein and the like at Gourmet Gourmet. A year ago, the popular Chinese eatery moved to new, cheaper (less glamorous) digs in the heart of Miami. Not that the original location was anything spiffy. Fans of Chinese cuisine went there for the honey-garlic chicken, orange beef, and won ton soup. The new incarnation is sparse, but the fare still ranges from typical Chinese dishes (mu shu pork and spring rolls) to the more exotic (shrimp in Cajun sauce and smoked salmon and spinach won tons). Chef/owner Jose Sang is of Dominican and Chinese descent, which explains the fusion-focused items. Don't miss his chicken over jade blossom, which combines peppery slivers of white meat with crisp, sweet, fried spinach. For brave diners, there are six stools for eating, three of which overlook the open kitchen. Most patrons take their fare to go, which is well packaged and arrives home piping-hot and intact. We were impressed that the spinach was packed separately from the chicken — it remained crisp on our trek all the way back to Miami Beach.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®