Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Sexy Fish

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?"

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

Photo courtesy of Doggi's Arepa Bar

Doggi's is your basic hot-dog-cart-to-arepa-powerhouse success story. Launched in 2010 as Doggi's & More, the since-rebranded Doggi's Arepa Bar expanded its Venezuelan menu in 2011 with the opening of its first brick-and-mortar location at Coral Way's eastern terminus. Today it stands as ground zero for arepa consumption, with outposts on Biscayne Boulevard in MiMo as well as in Wynwood (food truck) and Hallandale Beach. Go-tos include the "Santa Bárbara" (marinated churrasco, avocado, tomato, and white shredded cheese) and the "Pulpo" (octopus with vinaigrette and red pepper). And there's more here than arepas, including a cheesy-beyond-belief cachapa — a traditional, semisweet corn pancake folded over queso de mano and topped with cream and shredded cheese — that's a (very filling) must-try. There's claiming to serve the "best" arepas in Miami, and there's Doggi's, which has established itself as the one to beat.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®