Best Restaurant in the Design District/Midtown

Estefan Kitchen

Estefan Kitchen
Photo by CandaceWest.com

Forget the queen of England. Miami has its own royalty: Gloria and Emilio Estefan. This golden couple is the very soul of Miami. If you need proof, hop a plane or boat to the farthest reaches of the planet and mention Miami to some random stranger. They'll start singing "Conga." At Estefan Kitchen, chef Odell Torres plates refined versions of recipes passed down through generations of Estefans, such as vaca frita ($22), paella ($70), and even lechón flatbread drizzled with truffle oil ($15). Of course, the Estefans are best known for their music, so expect a nightly showcase of music and performances in a colorful setting. The cabaret setting is fun without veering into Disney-tourist-trap territory. Frequent sightings of the Magic City's royal couple add to the excitement.

Readers' choice: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink

Best Restaurant in South Beach

Olla

Olla
Photo by CandaceWest.com

When Scott Linquist moved to Miami to take over Coyo Taco's kitchen, he was already an accomplished chef who literally wrote the book on Mexican cuisine. Sure, his tacos are fantastic, but Coyo didn't allow the chef to show his full potential. When Linquist opened Olla at the far west end of Lincoln Road, he let his culinary talents soar. The restaurant, named after the traditional earthenware used to both store food and cook it, is filled with soulful items. Menudo, a heady tripe stew ($12), cures everything from hunger to hangovers, and a duck breast with mole ($24) is served with tortillas for a hands-on experience. If your idea of Mexican food is guac and queso with chips, don't worry: Olla has you covered so you can gently ease your way into the more exotic. After a few margaritas made with your choice of 50 kinds of tequila, you'll find yourself blissfully digging into a jar of chapulines ($8).

Readers' choice: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar

Kyu
Photo by billwisserphoto.com

If you think all barbecue has to be ribs on a grill, allow Kyu to change your view. First off, you'll find no smiling piggies or drinks served in a mason jar. The sparse yet gorgeous industrial setting allows the food to be the center of the spotlight. The restaurant, a collaboration between Michael Lewis and Steven Haigh (both Zuma alumni), is a mashup of Japanese robata grilling methods and good old American techniques. That marriage translates into a Wagyu brisket ($40), prepared with Japanese sea salt and black pepper and smoked for 12 to 14 hours until it melts in your mouth. Kyu also offers an assortment of produce to round out your diet. One bite of the roasted cauliflower with goat cheese ($16) will make you wonder why you ever gave Mom a hard time about eating your vegetables.

Bombay Darbar
Photo courtesy of Bombay Darbar

Look around at the diners seated next to you at Bombay Darbar and you'll think you're in the real Bombay. The Coconut Grove eatery has long been the place for Miami's Indian community to seek an authentic taste of home. The restaurant's owner, known simply as Danny, serves traditional Indian cuisine at more than reasonable rates. A fragrant biryani is cooked with herbs, nuts, raisins, and spices with your choice of chicken, lamb, shrimp, or vegetables ($13.95 to $18.95). The chicken tikka masala ($16.95) sees tender pieces of chicken bobble in a broth of tomato sauce and the Indian spice blend of garam masala. The spice level of each dish can be customized: mild, low-medium, medium, high-medium, hot, or superhot. But take the advice of your wise server when he or she warns you against going all out — the chef packs quite a punch. Put out that fire with a few Kingfisher beers, and all is right with the world. Bombay Darbar is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. and dinner Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m. It's closed Tuesday.

Readers' choice: GreenStreet Cafe

Il Gabbiano
Courtesy of Il Gabbiano

The delight at this downtown Italian place frequented by lawyers, developers, and the rest of Miami's Masters of the Universe commences before menus are even opened. After you're seated, a waiter sporting a dinner jacket will roll a hulking wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano up to the table. The salty, musty fragrance of the cheese is enough to knock even the fullest-blooded Italians out of their seats. A few jabs of a heart-shaped knife dislodge some jagged bits of the cheese, and soon everyone is digging in. Next, another waiter swoops in to drop a fist-size knot of razor-thin zucchini slivers fried to a snappy crisp. Somehow a sweet, tart pool of tomato sauce lands nearby. Then comes fluffy bread and dashes of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That is the last free thing you'll enjoy. But don't worry: You're already in such a delightful stupor the $45 price tag on the filet mignon Florentine will hardly register.

Readers' choice: Komodo

Best Restaurant on the Upper Eastside

Phuc Yea

Phuc Yea
Photo by CandaceWest.com

When Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata (along with a third partner) opened a little pop-up in an office building in downtown Miami, the city went wild for the concept and the food. In what might have been the Magic City's first true pop-up, the partners would turn the space into a restaurant each day and serve Vietnamese cuisine tinged with Zapata's Texan and Latin American influences. The two, who later opened the Federal in a Biscayne Boulevard strip mall, would occasionally resurrect Phuc Yea for special events and dinners to enthusiastic turnout. Last year, Phuc Yea returned with a permanent home. The restaurant, set amid a host of glowing Chinese paper lanterns, boasts several rooms and an outdoor garden. Starters such as the mama roll ($8) — filled with Chinese sausage, jícama, dried shrimp, and peanuts — are sharable and flavorful, but the Cajun/Vietnamese hot pots (market price) are a must. A steaming crock arrives at the table filled with corn, potatoes, and your choice of Florida shrimp, clams, crawfish, or other water creatures. Gloves accompany the dish, but go ahead and get your hands dirty for the real experience.

Edge Steak & Bar
Photo courtesy of Edge Steak & Bar

Edge is everything that every restaurant in Miami should be. Chef Aaron Brooks and his crack team turn out dozens of thick, fantastically bloody steaks each day and do so without the pretense or price of most places. Don't miss the Wagyu New York strip ($30) or the grass-fed rib eye ($55). Your server will offer you a house-made steak sauce. We're not talking A1. We're talking beef jus fattened up with Malbec, a three-peppercorn sauce that can put any au poivre to shame, or a house chimichurri. Get them all. But don't stop there. Edge isn't just a steakhouse. Plump lobster slicked with kohlrabi rémoulade ($17) makes this fine establishment feel like a seafood shack (but one in the Four Seasons), while the spiced lamb sausage called merguez ($10), served with sesame yogurt and marinated turnips, seems straight off the streets of North Africa. The point isn't even how alluring the food is. It's that Edge's kitchen executes dishes with a level of style, service, and culinary ingenuity that should make any restaurant, in a hotel or otherwise, aspire to do better.

No table at this beloved Salvadoran spot should go without chef and owner Napoleon Moreno's sopa de res ($4.95/$6.95). Mondays and Fridays, the kitchen turns out this intensely beefy bright-yellow soup packed with hunks of carrot and potato and rich knots of tender beef. On Tuesdays, it's the sopa de gallina ($4.95/$6.95), in which an old hen is magically transformed into a tender, succulent delight. It's work Moreno and his family have done for decades, earning the adulation of the surrounding community and cementing El Atlacatl's position as one of the neighborhood's favorite restaurants. Don't miss the pupusas ($2.75), made of thick cornmeal patties encasing a luscious blend of salty cheese and the spice mixture called Pipil, named for indigenous tribes of the region; this is a potent combination of annatto, clove, allspice, and black pepper. Two of the savory corn rounds work well any time of day, and don't be surprised if you find yourself back later for seconds.

Chef Teixeira in the kitchen.
CandaceWest.com
Chef Teixeira in the kitchen.

Behold, the house that bacalhau built! Did you know Portugal conquered the world thanks to the stiff milky-white cod fillets preserved in salt? Better known as bacalhau to Portuguese-speakers, the stuff has a whole page of the menu dedicated to it at the white-tablecloth Teixeira Portugal Restaurant. The kitchen grills, shreds, boils, fries, and stews the fish that's also called "fiel amigo" (loyal friend) into a bounty of dishes. For the bacalhau com natas ($22.99), the cod is shredded into shards with onions and potatoes and then whipped into a rich cream sauce fortified with garlic and topped with a white cheese that's melted until it forms a crisp brown shell. Teixeira isn't open for breakfast, but its bacalhau a bras ($20.99) is well suited for mornings. Supple shreds of the fish are scrambled into eggs, crisp potato strands, and sweet sautéed onions. Try the bacalao northern-style ($24.99), in which the fish is deep-fried, lathered in a creamy pumpkin-hued garlic sauce, and sandwiched between two heaps of mashed potatoes. Had enough yet? Of course not. Now you're ready to hop a ship and sail the seas with nothing other than the wind and bacalao fueling the voyage.

Readers' choice: Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar

Sardelli
Photo by CandaceWest.com

"When you're here, you're family," was once Olive Garden's very catchy slogan. That catch phrase also applies to Sardelli's, a significantly more upscale Italian steakhouse in Hollywood. Whether it's your first or 100th time coming here for dinner, the staff will treat you like a regular. Contributing to this convivial atmosphere is the fact you're eating in a four-story house that underwent a $3 million renovation five years ago and is now both cozy and contemporary. What's more, the eatery is a family-run business, and owner Fulvio Sardelli Jr. is also the chef. How nice not to have to decide between pasta and steak. At Sardelli's, it's practically a must to order one of each. Get the cavatelli with braised veal shank in a truffle-butter-and-veal broth ($16 for a half-portion or $32 for full) as your primo, and order a USDA Prime certified Black Angus eight-ounce filet mignon for your secondo ($36). Another one of Sardelli's hits is the fried calamari in a delicious spicy tomato sauce ($15). There's nothing pretentious here, only homestyle cuisine in the most inviting of settings. Sardelli is open Monday through Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.

Readers' choice: Point Royal

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®