Azabu
Photo by CandaceWest.com

A Michelin-starred concept from New York City, Miami's Sushi Azabu is as swanky as they come. In addition to a large main dining room, you'll find a snazzy cocktail bar and "The Den," a hidden sushi counter behind the kitchen. Prepared by Tokyo-trained chef Masatsugu "Masa" Kubo, Azabu's fare ($6 to $130) is largely cooked on a robata, a Japanese charcoal grill. It's served izakaya-style, where guests order a variety of small, sharable items served when ready. The menu includes yakitori, grilled chicken on a skewer; fried rice served tableside on a sizzling toban-yaki (ceramic) plate; sukiyaki, fried meat with vegetables and sauce; and a variety of udon noodles. The secluded sushi bar provides a more intimate experience. The 11-seat bar, accessible only through the kitchen, offers omakase-style dining featuring local and imported seafood flown directly from Japan ($120 to $150). Then, at the restaurant's cocktail bar, find a selection of international whiskeys and sakes. Try Azabu from 6 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. The bar is open till 1 a.m. daily.

Huong's Bistro
Photo by Ryan Yousefi

Vietnamese cuisine continues to grow across the region as more South Floridians discover pho, bánh mì, and bún thit nuong. But if you want to go beyond the popular classics, head to Huong's Bistro, where you'll find grab-and-go dishes like the ones on the streets of Vietnam. Try the fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth bánh bao stuffed with ground pork and boiled egg ($3.50). Or check out the steamed banana cake (bánh chuoi, $3.99). After you've sampled all the street food and desserts, order a bánh mì, made while you stand in line.

Atchana's Homegrown Thai
Photo by CandaceWest.com

It's bold to name a dish "the perfect bite," but Atchana Capellini has done just that. The miang kham ($15) is a delight handed down through the generations. A plate holds wrinkly pale-pink dried shrimp, toasted coconut flakes, and tiny slices of ginger. Even the leaves look different. Rather than the ruffled bright-green fronds of butter lettuce, these betel leaves are deep green and spade-shaped, with an almost unnoticeable flavor. Combine all of this with a few bits of crushed peanuts, a squeeze of lime, and a dash of spicy-sweet tamarind sauce, and you'll soon be reaching for a napkin to dab the tears of joy cascading down your cheeks. See, Atchana's family has been cooking these dishes at home for years while also dishing out coconut curries in some of the city's best-known Thai spots. Only recently has she had the confidence to give Miami all of this, and we can only be grateful it happened.

Tacology
Courtesy of Tacology

Miami is rife with Mexican joints. But Brickell City Centre's Tacology stands out. Run by chef Santiago Gomez, known for his work at upscale Mexican restaurant Cantina La Veinte, Tacology offers variations and regional styles of popular street food. His tacos are delicious, fairly priced, and eclectic. You'll find a Baja-style lobster taco with black beans, yellow rice, and creamy chipotle sauce ($14) and an Asian-influenced tuna taco stuffed with tuna tataki, seaweed, avocado, and crisp malanga ($10). There's also a lineup of tostadas, guacamole, chilaquiles, and Mexican nachos. For dessert, Gomez gets creative with a guava cheesecake ($9.50) and a selection of flavored paletas such as lime, chocolate, tamarind, mango, and strawberries and cream ($6). Tacology is open from noon to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday.

Lona Cocina Tequileria
Photo by Lona Cocina Tequileria

Appropriately named "Canvas" in Spanish, this oceanside Fort Lauderdale newcomer paints a pretty picture of modern Mexican cuisine. Pablo Salas is already well known to specialists, but Lona Cocina Tequileria is his first eatery in the United States, and thankfully, it's a far cry from the mediocre beans-and-cheese mush that is so common in Broward. Try guacamole with crab ($15) or huitlacoche quesadillas ($10), made with a prized fungus that grows on corn (it's way better than it sounds). Or check out the mole ($24), the traditional chocolate-based sauce often associated with chicken that here is served with salmon instead. This popular spot offers several areas — outside for alfresco drinking and people-watching, inside for a hopping bar scene (go for the margarita or the Paloma Brava, each $11, because anything that translates to "mad dove" must be good). Deep in the heart of the restaurant, find an intimate space featuring tequila lockers. Lona is a tequileria as well, so be sure to try some of the more than 270 kinds of tequila and its agave cousin, mezcal, with 100 selections offered.

Jamrock Cuisine
billwisserphoto.com

Chef Maurice Chang's Chinese father and Jamaican mother taught him to make magic when he was growing up in Manchester Parish, near Jamaica's southern coast. One of his signatures is an egg roll that's unlike any you find folded in wax paper. It starts with a thin yellow egg batter on a griddle, and as it firms, he lays down a slick of ground pork fortified with garlic and ginger. It's rolled, cooled, and sliced to reveal umami-packed disks adorned with pinwheel patterns. It comes on the choy fan ($10.50) — which is filled out with roast chicken, char sui (Chinese barbecued pork), and white or fried rice — as well as on the tousle of yellow egg noodles, protein, and bok choy called sui mein ($11.50). Next time you think about take-out, think again.

Alter
Photo courtesy of Alter

It's not hyperbole to say Alter has changed Miami's culinary game forever. When Brad Kilgore opened his Wynwood restaurant, naysayers said it might not last. Sure, the food was impeccable. Kilgore impressed guests with his intricate dishes that combined molecular gastronomy, traditional culinary techniques, and an artistic worldview. But there was more. The food was not only delicious but also lovely. Dishes such as soft egg white sea scallop espuma and caviar ($20) might sound twee, but one taste will leave you groaning in delight. The restaurant offers tasting menus starting at $75. It's no wonder Kilgore has won dozens of accolades, including being named one of Food & Wine's best new chefs of 2016. Alter is open from 7 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and bar hours are 5 p.m. to midnight those days.

Best Restaurant in the Design District/Midtown

St. Roch Market

St. Roch Market Miami
Courtesy of St. Roch Market

On a cool Friday evening, stylishly dressed crowds scurry up an escalator toward the recently opened St. Roch Market. The 10,000-square-foot food hall holds 12 distinct food and drink concepts. You can sample house-made Italian ravioli, wolf down a bowl of spicy ceviche, and slurp a few oysters on the half-shell. The idea is based on the successful flagship of the same name in New Orleans. Start with a drink before dinner at the Mayhaw, which serves tiki cocktails made with fresh juices and mixers. Then try gnocchi-like spinach dumplings called gnudi toscani at Dal Plin ($15) or 25-hour-brined fried chicken served on a cheddar-chive waffle at Coop ($18). Finish with a slate of vegan desserts such as sprinkle doughnut holes and frozen matcha at Chef Chloe and the Vegan Cafe ($2 to $6.50). The market is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.

Glass & Vine
billwisserphoto.com

In an idyllic setting overlooking the bay and Peacock Park, you can find celebrated chef Giorgio Rapicavoli's creativity throughout a menu that changes constantly. Sometimes his dishes are inspired by a single color. Other times they're stoner-friendly dishes such as carbonara fries. Sometimes he'll toy with an unusual ingredient like bison and follow it with instant classics such as homemade semolina pasta tossed in a green-pea pesto with pistachios and lemony breadcrumbs. Call it ingenious, call it Rapicavoli growing up, but whatever you do, be sure to call in your reservation.

La Petite Maison
Photo by Michael Pissari

As gastronomy has become cultural currency, France's lauded cuisine has been forced to share the stage with the other great cultures of the world. La Petite Maison, a French concept in the stable of restaurateur and Zuma founder Arjun Waney, shows why we shouldn't forget the primacy of les Français. The bayside spot exudes the vibe of an art gallery in Le Marais, a seaside beach shack near Nice, and a grand extravagant dining room in Paris. Here, you'll find fresh and light French-Mediterranean and Niçoise-inspired cuisine. The carpaccio de coquilles St. Jacques ($25) features raw scallops expertly sliced into impossibly thin coins with a scattering of toasted almonds and dried cranberry flecks that add delicate licks of salt and sweetness to each bite. A thick, bone-in section of turbot ($44.50) is prepared with artichoke, chorizo, white wine, and fragrant olive oil. The combination of chorizo and the fish's soft, buttery flesh makes you forget — at least for a moment — the staggering price. No regrets.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®