Mignonette
Photo by billwisserphoto.com

What do you get when Blue Collar chef/owner Daniel Serfer and lawyer/blogger Ryan Roman open an oyster bar and seafood eatery together? A glimmering pearl adjacent to a cemetery. In this borderline-sketchy area in Edgewater, servers wear T-shirts with bow ties printed on them, deviled eggs are topped with Maine lobster, and clams swim in bacon broth. You can go the fancy route and order Kaluga caviar ($110), or you can eat sea-creature popcorn (think oysters, clam, conch, and shrimp) fried to golden perfection as if it were finger food ($14). It's this juxtaposition of swank and blasé that makes Mignonette dazzle. And though bivalves are the undisputed stars of the show (check the vintage marquee for the day's rotating East and West Coast attractions), everything on the seafood-heavy menu plays a part in this real-life rendition of "Under the Sea." Get your hands dirty with the peel-and-eat wild Florida shrimp ($13) or the buttery and impeccably succulent lobster roll ($22). And don't forget your veggies! Think wilted rainbow chard with preserved lemon or roasted cauliflower and smoked trout roe mayo — y'know, just in case you didn't get enough fish with your fish.

Esther's Restaurant
Zachary Fagenson

Many restaurants try to tell a story through food. Liberty City's Esther's spins the tale of Miami. Opened as a catering kitchen for newly arrived Cuban immigrants in the '60s, it survived the race riots of the '80s to become the neighborhood's soul-food favorite. Guiding impressive growth was Pablo Suarez Jr., whose father bought the place in 1965. Come here for a $3.97 breakfast of grits, eggs, and a biscuit. Later in the day, swing by for a $5.47 catfish fillet with okra, rice, and peas. Really, though, the options seem limitless. Turkey wings ($5.59) with mac 'n' cheese and candied yams are one possibility. A half-rack of baby-back ribs ($9.99) or two hefty slices of meatloaf ($5.49) can be served with anything from stewed okra and tomatoes to sweet cornbread muffins to pigeon peas and rice. Rest assured the steam-table selection is always hot and vast. And don't be surprised when the customer standing next to you fishes out some change if you're a few cents short.

Readers' choice: Ms. Cheezious

Matador Room
Courtesy of Purple PR

The bar starts the seduction with lubrication from libations. Ready to get more intimate? Enter the Matador Room, where mood lighting emanates from a vintage chandelier suspended over a sunken circular dining room with plush seating. A wave of ambiance crashes over the cape of temptation. If you need some fresh air, head to the terrace for pool and ocean views, candlelight, and hanging plants laced into the pergola overhead. When your appetite has been thoroughly whetted, delve into the menu. World-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has melded his signature style with the flair of Latin cuisine. The menu has titillating touches such as sweet pea guacamole ($10); then it gets down and dirty with arroz con pollo ($18), studded with sizzling, crackling skin and lemon zest. This is not your abuela's chicken and rice; the fanciful flavors and textures dance in your mouth. The roasted red snapper, playful with a tamarind glaze, bites back. For dessert, get your churro sticky with an assertive dunk in orange cajeta, a thick dulce de leche-like syrup with a squeeze of orange to enliven it. After this intimate dining experience, you're ready to take the bull by the horns or give the ferocious beast your sword.

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Nothing is more romantic than a candle-lit dinner overlooking Biscayne Bay. The warm ambiance and sleek decor of Crazy About You set the tone for an intimate night out. But the real romance factor of this Brickell hot spot is the food. Entrées such as the I'm Crazy About You margherita pizza and I Can't Believe It's Not Pasta chicken carbonara made with zucchini ($17.99 to $32.99) include an appetizer of your choice. Try the serrano ham croquette — the same melt-in-your-mouth fritter served at the nearby restaurant Dolores, but You Can Call Me Lolita. When it comes to vino, the lounge offers house selections starting at $5 per glass and $15 per bottle. After you've satisfied your appetite and fulfilled your wine cravings, end the night on a sweet note with A Message in a Bottle ($6), an interactive dessert experience. You can design your own brownie and, well, leave a message in a bottle. This handwritten note will be entered in a raffle for a free dinner for two. Who knows? Maybe you'll be coming back for more.

Casa Tua

Just a block from the bright lights and bustling traffic of South Beach's Collins Avenue hides a secret little villa. If you're looking for it from the street, it's best to search with your nose and ears, not your eyes. An eight-foot-tall wall of greenery shields Casa Tua from view, but you can hear the gentle tinkle of glassware and the soft laughter of couples enjoying a wonderful meal before you even get a glimpse. Once inside, you're transported to the Amalfi Coast, perhaps Positano or maybe Sorrento. Step to the right and you'll find a seaside-chic dining room, where wicker chairs with cushions invite you to sit for a relaxing dinner. The open kitchen offers a chef's table that seats 20, perfect for watching your pasta being made from scratch as you enjoy a second bottle of wine. But the showstopper is the garden patio. Mature trees sway with myriad lanterns, each glowing with the soft radiance of a daydream. The effect is mesmerizing, festive, unfussy, and magical.

The 305 is known for its crystal-blue waters and miles of white sandy beach. Yet there's an alarming shortage of restaurants where you can breathe in the salt air and feel the balmy trade winds on your sun-kissed skin. Enter Fresh American Bistro at Sole on the Ocean. The restaurant is on the second floor of the property, up a glass staircase that makes you feel like it was made for Cinderella's perfect feet. The dining room is reminiscent of a tony Newport beach house — perhaps someplace where a Kennedy vacationed. But you'll want to sit on the wrap-around terrace. That's where you'll get the full effect of the ocean. In the daytime, sun rays bounce off the Atlantic, turning the waves into a cluster of sparkling sapphires. At dinnertime, moonlight dances on the ocean. Chef Philippe Ruiz, the former executive chef at the Biltmore's Palme d'Or, makes food inspired by this view. It's the perfect place to enjoy a seared Florida hog snapper while watching the surf, knowing that your meal came from below the surface just that morning. That's what Miami Beach is all about.

Mandolin Aegean Bistro

We wouldn't blame you for choosing to forgo alfresco dining during Miami's sweltering summer months. There's nothing worse than eating a hot plate of food while perspiring half your water weight. But during the moderate winter season, it should be illegal to dine with a duct blasting cold air in your face. Instead, take advantage of the bright sun and cool temperatures at Mandolin Aegean Bistro, whose dining area is mostly outside. Grab a table on a Saturday afternoon and order the Turkish sampler (hummus, tomato-walnut dip, and fava bean purée, $16); tell the waiter to keep the pitchers of white-wine sangria ($36) coming. If you're hungrier than usual, opt for a sandwich such as the grilled halloumi cheese ($14) or the Greek gyro ($14), and just sit and take in the view. Mandolin is an oasis along busy NE Second Avenue. Once you enter the space, it feels like you're dining in someone's backyard along the Mediterranean coast. The rustic decor combines unfinished materials and lots of greenery. Although dining, even for lunch, can be a bit pricey ($20 to $30 per person), it's still cheaper — and more convenient — than booking a trip to Greece. Plus, remember that great Miami weather.

Readers' choice: Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish Market

Question: Can you describe something as "nestled in the heart of Miami" if it's actually located above the craziness?

Answer: Yes, and it's Touché. This is the crown jewel above the heart. That pulsating heart is E11even, the 24-hour cabaret, nightclub, and live music venue in downtown Miami. You've heard about it, the place where Leo DiCaprio picked up 20 girls during Art Basel. Upstairs, Top Chef's Carla Pellegrino proffers a savory yet light meatball appetizer that features two five-ounce spheres made from veal, beef, and pork ($12). This signature dish arrives slathered in a slightly sweet red sauce that's so good you'll want to dip everything into it. The lounge area boasts a retractable roof that protects patrons from the occasional rain shower. Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows offer a stunning view of the city. But if you're curious, you'll really want to see what's happening in the club downstairs.

Morimoto South Beach
billwisserphoto.com

It used to be that Miamians could catch late-night glimpses of chef Masaharu Morimoto only on the Japanese cooking-competition show Iron Chef. Then Food Network brought him to prime time with the show's spinoff, Iron Chef America. If you wanted a real taste of the chef's expertise, you had to hoof it all the way to his sushi bar and restaurant at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. But all of that changed last year when he opened Morimoto at the Shelborne. Inside the luxe, low-lit enclave opening onto the resort's pool, diners can indulge in a feast of sushi, sashimi, and other seafood delights, all prepared with the expertise and creativity that made Chef Morimoto a household name. You can choose from a menu stocked with inventive options such as ishi yaki buri bop (yellowtail cooked in a stone bowl at your table, $30) or select from dozens of sushi and sashimi items at the sushi bar. But for Morimoto superfans, the "chef's choice" omakase tasting menu is worth the splurge: course after delectable course (offerings change regularly), all designed to let you "experience the essence of Morimoto's cuisine." Add on the sake pairings and any upgrade your waiter offers, be it Wagyu beef or tableside wasabi-grinding, because, hey, you're in the Iron Chef's house, and you only live once.

27 Restaurant & Bar
billwisserphoto.com

There's a reason many chefs don't try to cook their grandmother's specialties. No one wants that challenge. So maybe the restaurant now standing alongside the wildly popular bar the Broken Shaker has recruited a legion of grandmothers from across Miami's diaspora. We never knew you could combine latkes ($8), ropa vieja-packed arepas ($32), and crisp griot ($9) into the same meal. Now, thanks to 27 Restaurant & Bar, there is no going back. And at this charming indoor/outdoor place, you can sample cocktails by Bar Lab duo Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta. The space, which the staff affectionately calls "the house," is covered with brightly patterned wallpaper and packed with beachy-boozy tchotchkes. If it feels like home, that's because it is.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®