Blue Collar
Photo courtesy of Blue Collar

Want to protest unreasonable restaurant prices (you know, $14 apps, $34 entrées, $9 desserts)? Occupy Blue Collar. That is, sit your tired, working-class behind in one of the 25 indoor seats (or take a seat outdoors if you like). Express your unwavering support of value-driven, friendly neighborhood restaurants by indulging in a plate of eggs and beans with smoky bacon and Berkshire sausage, Big Easy-style shrimp and grits with Nueske's bacon, a bowl of tagliolini with pancetta and clams, or crisp-skinned snapper with rock-shrimp/vegetable fried rice. All dishes are under $20 (except "white collar" weekend specials), and there are 20 — count 'em, 20 — vegetable sides listed on the chalkboard for $4 apiece. A can of salt-of-the-earth Pabst Blue Ribbon or Coors Light goes for $3, and craft brews are $5. An unlimited thermos of Panther coffee can be gulped for $3 and matches well with homemade berry cobbler ($7). If taking a political stand always tasted this good, the one percent would be working for us.

Plate

Times have been tough in Miami. Gas prices keep going up, the cost of living is through the roof, and our wages haven't gotten any higher. But we still have to eat — and if we can, eat well. That's why Plate is here. It's the perfect spot to grab a breakfast wrap or hearty lunch for a very decent price. Plate is adamant about keeping things high on the health scale, so you know the food won't add to your waistline. How does turkey picadillo with brown rice sound? Good, right? It costs $5.95. That just went from good to amazing in two seconds. Whole-wheat pan con lechón for just a little more than six bucks is a must. Grab one of the signature smoothies, such as the Coral Way (with OJ, strawberries, banana, and fat-free yogurt), to wash down your nutritious, inexpensive meal. Let's put it this way: At Plate, you'd have to try hard to make a lunch for two cost more than $20.

— I'm so glad we could get together at this cozy little 24-seater for our tête-à-tête.

— You can thank my shrink; he told me to quit having intimate dinners for two unless there was another person around.

— It's such a charming room, dimly lit with a chandelier and flickering candles, decorated family photos on the walls. It makes me think I'm dining at home. And the service is so personal; they really seem to care about each diner. Shall we start with a drink?

— I thought you'd never ask.

— Paul Goerg Blanc De Blancs champagne is served by the glass. Let's each have one and share a crispy duck confit salad with grilled apricots ($15) while we decide what to eat.

— If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it probably needs more time in the microwave.

— Ha-ha, very funny. But I was hoping we could cut down on the jokes tonight and have a serious, personal discussion. First let's decide the menu. The flavors are intense here. A lot of the ingredients used by chefs Horacio Rivadero and Christian Alvarez are locally sourced and organic.

— I like organic farmers. They till it like it is.

— The vanilla butternut squash soup ($11), by the way, is to die for. Plus I've had the pan-roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes and morel mushrooms ($22). It's divine.

— I'm just wondering: Do chickens think rubber humans are funny?

— Can't you be serious for a second? I mean, that's really what I wanted to discuss with you tonight. I can't go on like this. We come to this most romantic of places and all you can do is make inane wisecracks. We're through. Do you understand? I mean, we'll have our meal first, of course — I'm not giving that up for you — but then that's it. And believe me, I will never go out with a comedy writer again. Never!

— So two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"

Villa Azur Restaurant & Lounge

Villa Azur, like the Côte d'Azur it's named for, is beautiful, chic, and stylish. It also has impeccable service. From the moment you stroll through the 12-foot-tall drapes and are greeted by a beautiful hostess, you're treated like the celebrity your mother always hoped you'd become (instead of a part-time barista). Before dining, have a cocktail at the softly lit bar, where an attractive bartender will make you a perfectly poured cocktail. Not sure what to have? Ask for a recommendation. Maybe he or she will recommend the signature drink, made with French champagne and freshly muddled fruit. Or maybe you'll discover a new favorite wine. When you're ready to dine, you'll be assisted by the knowledgeable and helpful waitstaff. Did we mention they too are all good-looking? Don't see your server? No worries, because anyone will answer menu questions, bring you another martini, or deliver an extra plate. It's as if everyone at the restaurant received a master's degree from Cornell and DNA from Villa Azur co-owner Olivier Martinez and his bride-to-be Halle Berry.

Swine Southern Table & Bar
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Taste Bakery & Café, which opened on South Beach in 2001, was John Kunkel's first Miami Beach restaurant. Three years later, he sold Taste, which is still going strong, and started Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. Lime proved very popular, which led to the opening of 15 other locations in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Eight years after founding Lime, Kunkel sold the chain to Ruby Tuesday for $24 million. He stepped down as CEO but remains involved with Ruby Tuesday and Lime's further growth. Last year, Kunkel and his 50 Eggs Restaurant Group opened Yardbird Southern Table & Bar to critical and popular acclaim. Next up is Swine, a pork-centric spot in the former Les Halles space on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. And after that, Kunkel is looking to launch another fast-casual chain featuring Southeast Asian street food. He is creative, passionate, successful, and driven to keep doing more. What else could you ask for from a restaurateur?

The Dutch
billwisserphoto.com

The Dutch is an American-roots-inspired restaurant (and oyster bar) that takes homestyle foods such as roast chicken and braised short ribs and then shapes them for big-city palates. It is a partnership among New York restaurateurs Andrew Carmellini, Josh Pickard, and Luke Ostrom (who operate a Dutch in New York's SoHo neighborhood) and Karim Masri and Nicola Siervo of Miami's Quattro Gastronomia Italiana, Sosta, and Wall Lounge. Although the Dutch premiered November 14, 2011, it is new in ways beyond the opening date. For instance, let's compare a typical stale restaurant concept ("old") to the Dutch ("new"):

Old: The head chef previously helmed the kitchen at a place called Fondue & Brew.New: Andrew Carmellini is a two-time James Beard Award winner with a few hugely popular New York City restaurants, a couple of cookbooks under his belt, and national recognition as a topnotch culinary talent.Old: Flowing white drapes, monochromatic décor — a sophisticated-chic look.New: White brick walls lined with bookcases, blond-wood tables, bursts of color, and an elegant yet casual look.Old: Fried calamari ($15), followed by macadamia-crusted grouper in mango sauce ($30).New: Lobster salad with palms hearts, mangoes, and cucumber ($22), followed by crispy branzino ($28).Old: A square of tiramisu ($8) or a commercially produced, sugar-laden wedge of cake with raspberry purée squiggled on the plate ($8).New: Fresh pies baked daily ($12), toasted-almond panna cotta with yuzu sauce and fresh raspberries ($12), or any or all of seven artisanal American cheeses ($12 to $19).Old: Lots of hype, not much else.New: Lots of hype, with the food, drink, ambiance, and attitude to back it up.
Edge Steak & Bar
Photo courtesy of Edge Steak & Bar

It used to be that a steak house was a steak house was a steak house. Now it's a place that uses organics, sears Kobe meat at 1,500 degrees, and offers innovative sides. Edge Steak & Bar does much of this. The dining room is sleek and stylish, with an outdoor terrace and private event rooms. Vegetables are sourced locally, and chef Aaron Brooks brings in prime meats and seafood. There's no Kobe, but you can get a Black Angus filet mignon, a prime churrasco steak, slow-smoked pork ribs, and a Creekstone Farms Edge burger (with homemade pickles and house-cut fries) — all cooked on an infrared grill (that would be 1,800 degrees, if you're counting). Innovative sides? Try quinoa and fire-roasted corn salad or chorizo and cheddar croquetas with romesco sauce. And Edge brings a spin of its own to the modern steak-house formula: Meats (and some fish) are categorized into small, medium, and large cuts. So a six-ounce Boston cut prime strip steak is available for $20, same size filet mignon is $27, a seven-ounce butcher's cut filet is $25. If you're feeling hungry, a 12-ounce New York strip is $33, and a 24-ounce bone-in tomahawk steak is $45. Smaller portion options mean you can opt for a more healthful, better-balanced, and non-obscenely priced meal. That's what we call an edge over the competition.

Atelier Monnier

Take it from a dessert connoisseur. Atelier Monnier's chocolate almond croissant ($3) will make an addict of you. In a town full of ersatz pastries, AM is the real deal: buttery, flaky confections dripping with sinfully sweet ingredients. Compared with pan cubano, Monnier is practically manna of the gods. The only question: How to get your fix? Six days without the gooey, chocolatey treat leaves us jonesing for the next dose of the good stuff. French chef Franck Monnier's eponymous gourmet boutique is headquartered in distant Dadeland Plaza. Thankfully, like any good dealer, Monnier will come to you. For travelers flying into or out of the city, there are two outposts at Miami International Airport, at Gates D17 and D20. Mobile pastry mongers also sling croissants and macaroons Sundays at the farmers' market on Lincoln Road. Monnier's pastry oasis also appears Wednesdays at the University of Miami, beginning in October. If you can't make it to the shops or special events, Monnier also caters parties and special events. Prepare for a sugar abuse problem.

Rusty Pelican
Photo courtesy of Rusty Pelican

After taking your seat at the Rusty Pelican, your mate will comment, "Wow, what a beautiful view." Your response? "The most beautiful view is the one I share with you." From this Virginia Key jewel, the Miami skyline beckons with a twinkle across Biscayne Bay. Let's face it: We all love a dazzling vista; even more so when water is involved. When we're sitting at a table filled with great food and drink, this fact is especially true. At Rusty Pelican, the outdoor tables are next to a dramatically lighted fire pit, and indoor seating is in a room brightened by a recent multimillion-dollar renovation. Chef Michael Gilligan's contemporary American menu highlights raw bar selections, sushi, crabcakes, tuna tacos, ceviche, tiraditos, a series of creative small plates (eel and foie gras; pork-belly-and-apple skewers), and main plates such as whole red snapper with crisply fried noodles, and poached duck breast with chanterelles and parsnip quenelles (appetizers and small plates range from $8 to $16, entrées $26 to $35). If you think it can't get any better than that, how about weekday happy hour (4 to 7 p.m.) with $3 beers; $5 well drinks and featured wines; $7 martinis, mojitos, and margaritas; $5 to $9 bar bites; and, of course, that priceless view.

J&G Grill

While sitting on the veranda of J & G Grill, it is easy to get lost in a peaceful state of reverie as the sun sprinkles jeweled reflections upon the mesmerizing ocean. Umbrellas shade the rays, a balmy breeze blows in from the Atlantic, and an attentive waiter refills water glasses and delivers fresh rounds of cocktails as quietly as mist. Any notion of being in a fantasy is only reinforced when the food arrives. After all, if you dreamed up a chef to create the menu for this lovely setting at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, he'd be exactly like Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Granted, J & G Grill is a casual take on his legendary Jean-Georges restaurant, but that makes dining outdoors that much more leisurely and affordable (most dinner entrées are $30 and under; a three-course prix fixe lunch is $28). The American, French, and Asian cuisine showcases luscious offerings such as sautéed pink Florida shrimp with key lime yogurt and red radish, black truffle pizza with fontina cheese, a selection of local fish, and prime meats simply grilled. There are also kumquat mojitos, other cutting-edge cocktails, and an exceptional wine list. Chef de cuisine Richard Gras translates Vongerichten's vision with élan, and the waitstaff is both cordial and professional. J & G not only offers an idyllic environment with a sensational water vista, but also pampers diners with serenity. And just for the record: The food tastes equally good when eaten indoors.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®