Stripsteak by Michael Mina
billwisserphoto.com

Restaurateur Michael Mina may be based in San Francisco, but he still knows what Miamians want in a steakhouse — restrained opulence that enhances rather than competes with the expensive cuts of beef you're about to masticate. Stripsteak shares a home base, the Fontainebleau Hotel, with the restaurateur's Michael Mina 74, but consider this place 74's more sophisticated brother. Leather booths and copper light fixtures give the room a warm glow, which is welcome after walking through the neon-tinged and cacophonous resort lobby. Relax and take a moment to enjoy the warm truffle-scented Parker House rolls as you peruse the extravagant wine list. Stripsteak is not the place to go on a fixed budget, but if you're game to splurge, the evening is well worth it. Steaks with pedigrees so long they might have had bovine ancestors on the Mayflower are poached in butter and finished on a wood-fired grill. Choose from all-American Angus beef from Moyer Farms ($44 to $118), or break the bank with Japanese Miyazaki Prefecture steaks, priced by the ounce. If for some reason you saunter into this palace of beef with seafood on the brain, fret not. The restaurant offers seafood caught on the resort's own daily charter boat, BleauFish. Stripsteak ain't cheap. But memories — and a butter-poached piece of perfect beef — can't be judged by the price tag.

Readers' choice: Prime One Twelve

Vagabond Restaurant & Bar
billwisserphoto.com

When it comes to sitting and being fed into a happy stupor, the Vagabond Restaurant & Bar has it down to a science. First there's the venue itself. Rather than bulldoze a historic property, a time machine to the past, developer Avra Jain restored the Vagabond Hotel to its retro glory. Venezuelan-born Alvaro Perez Miranda outfitted the interior as an ever-hanging art gallery filled with furniture that perfectly captures midcentury designers' obsessions with the future. And the restaurant, overseen by wunderkind Alex Chang, is even more eclectic and spectacular. He has paid homage to Miami with a sweetbread milanesa that sees the milky glands crisped and served with added flavors of mustard and ham, incredibly replicating a Cuban sandwich. He uses tropical fruit with gusto, preserving young mangoes in salt to put his own spin on Japan's umeboshi. But it's not all ephemeral, intellectual cuisine. The young chef began his career cooking for friends in his college apartment. Cheeseburgers were a mainstay, and they still are. Except here, the cheeseburger's ($16) beef is dry-aged and the pickles are house-made. It's proof the Vagabond will delight you no matter what you're looking for.

Caffe Abbracci
Photo by Ana Adams

Nino Pernetti's Italian hideaway in Coral Gables is like something out of a movie. The stained Tiffany-style glass dome covering the bar looks like it was rescued from a Parisian bistro during World War II. And the servers — oh, the servers. It's like they know your deepest desires. "You look like a 7 and 7 guy," one might say before laying a napkin in your lap and handing you an open menu. They seem to know the exact moment you and your table have decided on your meal. They're right there, pen and pad in hand. "Try the vitello tonnato ($12.75)," they say. And before you know it, the Piedmontese classic of sliced veal accompanied by tuna-infused mayonnaise is one of your new favorites. It makes sense, though. Few of Pernetti's waiters have been with him for less than a decade.

Readers' choice: The Forge

Palme d'Or
Photo courtesy of the Biltmore

Gregory Pugin wants you to order his 11-course tasting menu. Sure, for $195 per person, it's expensive, but it's also the one where the young chef can express himself and experiment to the fullest. And you should let him do so. Why? The James Beard Foundation nominated him as a rising star. He trained under French culinary icon Joël Robuchon. Before he moved to Miami, he was a member of Robuchon's special forces, deployed around the world to oversee the openings of the chef's latest Michelin-starred spots. And here in Miami, he hasn't let up. That's why one meal could range from potato-scaled Dover sole with Jerusalem artichokes and artichoke emulsion to a flamed black truffle pie packed with pork belly and slow-cooked onions. And don't forget — this is the Biltmore Hotel. All of this comes with white-glove service.

Dirt
Photo by Brett Hufziger

There's so much to love about Dirt, not the least of which is that no single item costs more than $16. Such prices are rare in South Beach, especially when you consider Dirt isn't serving just run-of-the-mill fare. Indeed, this fast-casual concept is committed to offering clean food that's locally sourced whenever possible, and best of all — it tastes amazing. That's largely because the restaurant's director for culinary operations is Nicole Votano, a classically trained chef who was the top toque at Fooq's, where she garnered praise for her comforting yet chef-driven cuisine.Dirt has four menus: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and Paleo, but most dishes are built around vegetables and allow for a choice of protein. A favorite is the nourish bowl ($12), starring quinoa, sprouted chickpeas, lentils, roasted curried cauliflower, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, golden raisins, shaved carrot, mole vinaigrette, and cucumber-mint yogurt. Throw in some orange-basil chicken, and call it a very healthy day.

Readers' choice: Batch Gastropub

Tamarina
Anais Benoudiz

Anytime restaurateur Arjun Waney is involved in a project, the decor is always impeccable. He's the man behind Zuma and Coya, and to open Tamarina, he teamed with husband and wife Tunu and Yona Puri. The upscale coastal Italian restaurant was designed by London-based David d'Almada and includes a beautifully landscaped wraparound terrace with views of Brickell Avenue. The dining room is outfitted with sheer floor-to-ceiling curtains, cinnamon-hued leather wingback chairs, a high ceiling, and a crystal centerpiece stocked with hollow glass decanters and carafes. Elegant dark-wood furnishings are paired with brass accents and antique mirrors to conjure the spirit of Italian glamour. And for emphasis, black-and-white Italian films are displayed on a massive projector. Order tagliatelle with lamb ragu ($23), followed by a grilled or salt-crusted branzino ($45); then sit back and take in the surroundings. Or stop by any Sunday, when there's a $45 all-you-can-eat brunch buffet with a side of live music.

Hy Vong

No more pho. No more rolling cakes. No more lemongrass chicken, and no more bun thit. Miami's insatiable real-estate steam roller flattened Little Havana's beloved Hy Vong, but not its owners' spirits. For nearly four decades, Tung Nguyen and partner Kathy Manning ran the quaint, bamboo-lined space, serving intensely flavorful, heartwarming fare that could brighten even the gloomiest day. Nguyen fled war-torn Vietnam in 1975 with little more than family recipes etched into her memory. And for 36 years, the product of her great spirit came flooding out of Hy Vong's humble kitchen spiked with fish sauce. Regulars, after getting their fill of pho, knew to order the squash-and-pumpkin soup layered with flavor and spice. The depth and variety of cooking was what made Hy Vong such a treasure. It is now lost to the ages.

Soya e Pomodoro
George Martinez

Not only is Soya e Pomodoro a delicious and authentic Italian restaurant, but it also offers one of the most unique dining atmospheres around. Owners Rosario Magrelli and Cristian D'oria left Italy with a Miami culinary career in mind, opening the downtown eatery in 2004. Nestled between two rundown watch repair stores, it's the kind of place where passersby stop to peer in and ask, "What is this?" The narrow interior looks like a combination of a thrift store and a Venetian coffee shop, lit almost entirely by sun that streams in through a floor-to-ceiling window. The open space, adorned with knickknacks and items such as clothes on a laundry line, creates the privacy and serenity of an Italian alleyway. The vintage aesthetic makes this restaurant distinct among Miami's ultra-contemporary buildings. Between the decor and the live music, this place is perfect for everything from a leisurely lunch to a hot date. A meal at Soya e Pomodoro is more than intimate — it's personal, and feels like you're eating in an Italian family's home. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 6 to 11:30 p.m.

Big Pink

This new-age-meets-retro corner diner comes to life at night, catering to the after-hours crowd with all of the deep-fried, over-the-top, indulgent fare Miami craves. Located across the street from Story Nightclub on Collins Avenue, Big Pink has become a South Beach destination that buzzes through the early hours. Thursday through Saturday, the restaurant is open until 5:30 a.m., and clubgoers pack into shiny, old-school plastic booths. The menu is equally exciting and overwhelming, with more than 200 items that include virtually every dish imaginable, ranging from tamer late-night classics such as cheese pizza ($12.95) and patty melts ($14.50) to outrageous signature creations like the mac 'n' cheese waffle sandwich ($12.95) and bacon-wrapped barbecued meatloaf ($16.95). The big portions and big flavors have been attracting rowdy crowds for more than 20 years, and frankly, a meal at Big Pink is a party in itself.

Readers' choice: La Sandwicherie

In an area that's dominated by construction and busy offices, Seaspice is an elegant oasis. The extensive menu is globally influenced but seafood-focused, and the atmosphere feels like an upscale island vacation. Right beside the Miami River, guests can dine on plush couches shaded by overhangs in the daytime and surrounded by twinkling lights and candles at night. The indoor areas, including a spacious dining room, are housed in a renovated warehouse that gives an edgy touch of elegance to the nautical theme. The restaurant is inherently romantic and provides the tranquility of outdoor dining away from the crowds at more popular hot spots. The warm breeze off the river makes executive chef Angel Leon's ocean-inspired place even more pleasing and the meal's hefty price tag a little easier to take. Seafood standouts include the Chilean sea bass casserole ($45), presented in a charming cast-iron dish on a bed of thinly sliced Yukons, topped with a pâté-like mixture of truffles and porcini mushrooms. Enjoy waterfront luxury at Seaspice — no yacht required.

Readers' choice: Rusty Pelican

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®