The connection between food and seduction probably traces to some prehistoric man offering a roasted animal leg to his beloved by a roaring fire. Since then, the practice of wooing a person with food has evolved to include champagne, oysters, and music — but some things remain eternal: Fire is still an element, be it candles or a fireplace, and a good meal is still the ultimate way to indicate you love someone — or at least want to get it on with them.
And with its aqua ocean, balmy breezes, and sultry Latin flavor, Miami is the perfect place to fall in love. Proximity to the coast allows for water views. Then there are those sunsets.
The most romantic restaurants all share the same winning factors: stellar food, seductive drink menus, authentic ambiance, and exceptional service. Whether you want to wow your Tinder date or celebrate your longtime honey, let the sparks fly at these eateries. Just be sure to book a reservation before getting dolled up.
1. Café Roval. The coral-rock walls, antique chandeliers, and European vibe create a romantic atmosphere inside prolific restaurateur Mark Soyka's Café Roval. But the lush patio — overflowing with greenery, palm trees, stone pathways, tiered lagoons, and a cascading waterfall with a bronze Buddha at the center — is even more charming. Long story short: There’s no bad seat in the house, and as with all of Soyka's restaurants, the menu doesn’t disappoint. It offers everything from chilled plates and hot entrées to cheese boards and caviar. Highlights include yellowfin tuna crudo ($16), roasted oysters ($16), and Malbec-braised short rib ($32). 5808 NE Fourth Ct., Miami; 786-953-7850; caferoval.com.
2. Palme d'Or. If your budget doesn't include a trip to Paris, Palme d'Or might be the next best experience in Miami. The grande dame of Miami's dining scene, this beauty inside the Biltmore Hotel is anything but stuffy under the careful watch of James Beard-nominated chef Gregory Pugin. The restaurant offers a $115, six-course dinner that combines traditional French technique with the freshest local ingredients. Oysters, foie gras, caviar, Kobe beef, and other luxuries help to seduce and delight. Palme d'Or has long held a reputation as being the go-to place for proposals and anniversary dinners, but a splurge on the $155 chef's tasting menu is its own memorable occasion. 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1926; biltmorehotel.com.
3. La Mar by Gaston Acurio. Dinner at a hotel restaurant can be a precursor to one lucky evening (hello, hotel room), but La Mar by Gaston Acurio at the ultraluxe Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key elevates the standard hotel dining scene via bold and flavorful Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine, dramatic waterfront views of Biscayne Bay, and refined service that will make your date swoon. Share the classic cebiche, made with a citrus-based marinade of ají limo pepper, fluke, cilantro, red onions, classic leche de tigre, and choclo ($19 to $24). This dish alone will make you pucker in the best way — perfect practice for later. 500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami; 305-913-8358; mandarinoriental.com.
4. Mandolin Aegean Bistro. Take a stroll along NE Second Avenue in the Design District and stop at the blue-framed door of Mandolin Aegean Bistro. Enter the 1940s home and feel like you're in a Greek village complete with blue and white accents. Head to the cozy back patio for a complete Grecian experience, and enjoy a seat at a lantern-lit table beneath the trees. Share the Greek sampler ($16), which comes with warm homemade bread and a trio of dips — tzatziki, tarama, and eggplant — and then feast on Mediterranean delicacies such as whole grilled sea bass ($38) and chicken kebabs ($26) — hearty chunks of grilled chicken served with orzo pilaf and maroulosalata. 4312 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-749-9140; mandolinmiami.com.
5. Cecconi's Miami Beach. Italian and Mediterranean dishes are served on a foliage-filled patio at this restaurant tucked inside the Soho Beach House. Begin your evening at the intimate 14-seat bar before sitting down. Look up to find the night sky competing with thousands of tiny white lights twinkling in the many trees dotting the property. The menu is classic, and appetites are made hearty by the soft hint of salt air. The music of pounding waves is provided by the ocean, just a stone's throw away. Because the goal of a romantic meal is to sate, not stuff, start with a classic beef tartare with celery hearts and quail egg ($18), and share an order of handmade spaghetti with Maine lobster, chili, and basil ($42) before moving on to Dover sole with lemon and capers ($54) or the grilled seafood for two ($72). Don't forget to have a final toast with the restaurant's house-made limoncello ($7). 4385 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-507-7902; cecconismiamibeach.com.
6. Matador Room. Bypass the sleek midcentury-modern dining room at celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Latin restaurant inside the sleek Miami Beach Edition and opt for a table on the candlelit terrace. The wow factor of the stunning alfresco setting is enhanced by the menu. Peekytoe crab and corn fritters ($15), crisp Florida black grouper tacos ($16), and arroz con pollo ($28) will make you immediately fall in love — with the food. And if all else fails, bowling, ice skating, and dancing are in the same building to entertain your date. 2901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-257-4600; matadorroom.com.
7. Casa Tua. Set in an inviting and intimate Mediterranean villa surrounded by a serene garden, Casa Tua feels exactly like its name: "your home." The Tuscan theme extends to a menu that evokes a weekend getaway to Southern Europe: spaghetti, lasagna, beef tenderloin, lamb chops, and branzino. Leave room for dessert — the signature tiramisu ($14) and vanilla and orange crème brûlée ($14) are not to be missed. And if you don't plan to drive, explore the encyclopedic collection of wines to pair with your fairy-tale dining experience in this hideaway on James Avenue. 1700 James Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-1010; casatualifestyle.com.
8. Juvia. If you time your arrival right, you can catch the sunset through floor-to-ceiling windows or in the rooftop dining room complete with vertical gardens. With panoramic views of South Beach and beyond, this penthouse-level hot spot is a great place to impress your date. The menu isn’t too shabby either, offering an eclectic mix of contemporary takes on Japanese, French, and Peruvian cuisine. Order the hamachi espuma ($24) for a mildly spicy and citrusy start. Entrées range from arroz con pato ($38) to king crab risotto ($45). Specialty cocktails such as the Juvia lemonade ($18), made with Beluga Noble vodka, mixed berry purée, and lemon, will help alleviate date-night jitters and let Cupid take aim. 1111 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-763-8272; juviamiami.com.
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9. Il Gabbiano. If romance to you means big bucks and high caloric intake, this splurge-worthy authentic Italian restaurant is your best option. Try Il Gabbiano’s crowd-pleasing pastas, which include a creamy fettuccine Alfredo and spaghetti carbonara, each priced at $26.75. Or maybe you crave the incredibly tender filet mignon with truffle sauce for $65. Either way, you also get the beautiful vistas of Biscayne Bay. Food? Check. Views? Check. Vino? Well, you might as well go all out and order a bottle from the extensive wine list. After an evening of fine dining, your date will be singing "That's Amore" in no time. 335 S. Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-373-0063; ilgabbianomia.com.
10. Bazaar Mar. With decor that’s perfect for any celebration, Bazaar Mar is sure to calm first-date nerves. The space provides a fun, intimate setting for a birthday dinner or double-digit anniversary. Get lost in the whimsical blue-and-white tiles that depict seaside scenes inspired by the islands of the Mediterranean. As the name indicates, seafood is the star of chef José Andrés’ second Miami Bazaar concept, located in the SLS Brickell. Dishes arrive artfully plated: The savory California funnel cake ($13) — layered with crisp seaweed, chopped cucumber, avocado, and Maryland blue crab mixed with Japanese mayo and salmon roe — arrives atop a silver stand shaped like an octopus. The classic cobia ceviche ($26) comes fashioned as a delicate rose of tender fish, leche de tigre, nasturtium leaf, sweet potato, and corn nuts. No matter what you fancy, this wondrous seafood mecca will surely please. 1300 S. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-615-5859; sbe.com/restaurants.