The Katherine

If all great stories are love stories, so is the tale behind Fort Lauderdale restaurant the Katherine. Named for Miami chef Timon Balloo's wife, the restaurant is an ode to the dishes the two recall from their travels. While Balloo's eponymous Miami restaurant taps into his Chinese-Indian-Trinidadian heritage, the Katherine gives fans a chance to explore Balloo's personal hit list. Eating off mismatched china in a bistro-like ambiance, guests a variety of seafood, vegetables, and comfort foods flavored with Balloo's signature touch. Take the clam chowder fries, a nod to Balloo's childhood in the San Francisco Bay area plus part of his career working in Belgium, and sprinkled with his wife's love of clams and French fries. A slow-braised duck orecchiette inspired by visits to Italy is kissed with the rich flavor of the chef's favorite meat. And delicately spiced jerk chicken thighs — crisp on the outside and tender on the inside — pay homage to Balloo's Caribbean roots. If it's hard to choose which story to explore, don't worry: You're guaranteed to taste romance in each and every dish.

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Sexy Fish

Sexy Fish Miami
Photo courtesy of Sexy Fish Miami

Every year, there's an "it" restaurant so trendy that even if you could afford it, you wouldn't be able to get a reservation. This is the year of Sexy Fish, the London-based restaurant that can best be described as what would happen if the Little Mermaid dropped acid and decided to eat all of her ocean friends. The restaurant is a fishy fantasy, yet somehow it isn't tacky. The servers are dressed in shimmery, sea-life attire, sushi and fusion dishes are all prepared with precision by chef Bjorn Weissgerber. There are seafood towers, caviar service, and a dessert platter served in a giant clamshell. (But someone else is footing the bill, so why not order them all?) The pièce de résistance is a trip to the bathroom, where you'll encounter a lifelike sculpture of a mermaid (in the ladies' room) or one of Daniel Craig as James Bond (in the men's). Sexy Fish is your answer when your friends ask, "Where do you want us to take you for your birthday?"

Best Inexpensive Restaurant
Photo by Laine Doss

Shhh. Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus holds a secret: a hidden bistro, where a three-course meal costs a mere $10. The lunches and dinners, held on Wednesdays while classes are in session, are part of the university's Chaplin School of Hospitality and Management and are designed to give students real-world experience in hosting paying customers in a fine-dining setting. The menu isn't large — generally you'll have two or three choices for each course — but the quality is tops. The students in charge are attentive and professional as they take your order, fill your glass, and explain each dish. Your ten bucks covers a nonalcoholic cocktail, and instead of a tip you'll be asked to fill out a short survey designed to provide feedback to these future restaurateurs. And because this is educational, the $10 (requested in advance to hold the reservation) counts as a donation and is therefore deductible. Reservations fill up quickly; keep tabs on the website to snag the best dining deal in town.

Best-Kept Secret (Dining Division)

Kojin

Kojin
Photo by Donna Irene

You're forgiven if you didn't know about the hidden dining room in the back of Hachidori Ramen Bar in Little River. It was planned as a sake den, but owner Guillermo Paniza offered the space to Culinary Institute of America grads Pedro and Katherine Mederos during the pandemic. The spouses (Pedro handles the savory while Katherine sees to the pastry and manages the space) showcase their skills by way of a seasonal omakase menu (diners choose between a six- or ten-course version) that emphasizes local produce. Known in Japan as kaiseki, this cuisine is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. But there's a catch: You'll have to get in line. The restaurant has only ten seats. And now that the secret is out in a big way, well, all we can say is that it's good thing the couple plans to open another restaurant nearby next year.

Margot Natural Wine Bar
Photo by Donna Irene

First dates are nerve-wracking, awkward experiences but choosing the where doesn't have to be. We present to you Margot, an intimate natural wine bar inside the historic Ingraham Building downtown and a surefire way to impress your date (even if they fail to impress you). Besides wine and its inherent romance, Bar Lab founders Gabe Orta and Elad Zvi set the scene with a backdrop of warm pink tones, cozy seating, and vibey tunes from a vintage sound system. But back to the main draw: Margot's natural, organic, and/or biodynamic wine list, which changes daily, and the knowledgeable staff that will steer you toward what you'll enjoy. (There are plenty of local beers, too.) After ordering a drink to quell any first-date jitters, you and your date can turn your attention to Margot's food menu. Brûléed figs paired with feta, prosciutto, perhaps? Maybe a light salmon crudo, as well. If the electricity isn't flowing between the two of you, at least you'll be set when it comes to a place to try out another first date — and another wine.

Amalia
Photo courtesy of Amalia

Embroidered linen napkins. Rose-gold silverware. Floral lighting fixtures. Walls dripping plants and flowers. Everything about this charming, out-of-the-way South Beach spot screams romance, right down to the the fair-trade, locally sourced Mediterranean fare that Argentine native chef Hernan Griccini prepares. Focusing on seasonal ingredients, Griccini produces shareable dishes from his open kitchen, ranging from roasted eggplant served with sun-dried tomatoes, maroquin lemon, stracciatella cheese, fresh herbs, and arugula salad to ricotta and pear fiocchi with balsamic glaze, truffle oil, fresh sage, basil butter, and tomatoes. Here's a thought: Go for brunch, where Griccini routinely welcomes guest chefs from around Miami — proving that he, too, believes in partnerships.

Shuckers Waterfront Bar & Grill
Photo courtesy of Shuckers Bar & Grill

For a city known for its coastal pleasures and crystal-clear waters, when it comes to casual waterfront restaurants, Miami is seriously lacking. Enter Shuckers Waterfront Bar & Grill, a sports bar with a view so gorgeous it's impossible to keep your eye on the ballgame. As its name implies, Shuckers is also home to some of the best oysters in Miami. They've got steamed clams here, too, as well as peeled shrimp, a hardy burger, and outrageously tasty wings. Shuckers is the answer to "where should we go to eat?" no matter who's asking the question.

Terras
Photo courtesy of Terras

There's something exceptional about experiencing a South Florida sunset from a bird's-eye view, and Terras is our pick to take it all in. Sequestered in a quiet-ish corner of Little Havana, this tropical hideaway perched atop the Life House Hotel offers vibrant cocktails and Latin-inspired street food. For the complete experience, indulge in views of Miami's unrivaled cotton candy-hued sunsets equipped with a refreshing "Sandía Fresca" (concocted with vodka, watermelon, purple basil, and lime) and an order of Terras' sumptuous crispy maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms.

Tigre
Photo by Ivan Belaustegui

The Little River might not be the first waterway that comes to mind when you think about Miami, but did you know it's teeming with wildlife, from manatees to herons to cranes and iguanas? And that the nature show is accessible? Take a front-row seat at the inventive pan-Latin Tigre during happy hour, brunch, or dinner while you nosh on dishes like poached red prawn tiradito with compressed Asian pear, aji amarillo-lime vinaigrette, and trout roe; crispy skinned local red snapper with carrot-ginger bisque, grilled endive, and green mango herb slaw; and lightly smoked, sous-vided and grilled whole 36-hour short rib with demi-glace and "kim-chimi." The only thing that could possibly interfere with this picturesque dining experience is the rainy season, which is why Tigre offers indoor seating. (With a view, natch.)

Uptown 66
Photo courtesy of Uptown 66

Celebrate Taco Tuesday or any day of the week at Uptown 66. At the outset of the pandemic, chef Nuno Grullon and business partner Akira Van Egmond opened a tiny taco ventanita in a former coffee stand in Miami's Upper Eastside neighborhood, and they've flourished there ever since. Grullon and his crew don't get bogged down with a multi-page menu, nor does Uptown 66 sport a salsa bar. What it does do: serve up delicious tacos that are made with care. They're sold individually (with the exception of birria, which are sold in pairs) so you can — and should — order an assortment: the barbacoa (a blend of oxtail, beef cheek, and short rib), suckling pig carnitas, pollo asado, and earthy hongos (mushrooms, a vegetarian menu entry that comes with a garnish of chopped pear, of all things). Start with and order of fresh-fried chips and guac and nab a side of esquites (corn with crema) and a craft beer, and take your tacos out back to the newly minted Uptown Yard, an oasis of seats under a magical tree lit with purple lights.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®