If you live in Miami and love to eat, you're probably well aware that Miami Spice is in our midst right now and will be so until the end of September. The two month restaurant promotion that began on August 1st has been a yearly tradition in Miami for over a decade now and is perhaps one of the most anticipated dining events in South Florida after the South Beach Wine & Food Festival...at least to the bargain hunting gourmand. Nevertheless, perusing each and every menu of the well over one hundred restaurants that are participating this year is a daunting task. There are restaurants that choose the cheapest things from their regular menu to offer on their Miami Spice menus, making the prix fixe dinner barely a bargain, and there are those normally spectacular restaurants that create a special Miami Spice menu featuring dirt-cheap and boring options like Caesar salad and grilled chicken breast with steamed asparagus. Furthermore, this year there are two categories of dining instead of just one, and the prices for lunch and dinner are reflective of which category a restaurant thinks it's part of - luxury dining ($39 dinner, $23 lunch) or fine dining ($33 dinner, $19 lunch). As one can imagine, some of Miami's restaurants are suffering from delusions of grandeur, and while they might be offering a good Miami Spice menu, it is hardly worth the luxury dining price tag.
I have gone through the effort to comb through each restaurant's menus to pair down the list to something a bit more manageable while avoid ing some of the pitfalls mentioned above. The list is subjective, and I'm sure that there will be some disagreement, but the majority of the restaurants on this list do follow some basic rules. Each restaurant must present a bargain (for that's what Miami Spice is all about), meaning that it would be noticeably less expensive to dine at there during Miami Spice than any other time of the year. Each restaurant's Miami Spice menus must also offer dishes that are unique and interesting and be restaurants that one would want to visit during the rest of the year. Some restaurants have been added to the list based on the "extras" that they give during Miami Spice, like a free cocktail, an extra course, or an amuse bouche in addition to the quality of their food. Additionally, restaurants that offer the same menu for both lunch and dinner have been chosen for their lunch menus for reasons of price ($19/$23 versus $33/$39). There is a wealth of authentic Italian restaurants that are participating this year, as well as restaurants from Michelin-starred French chefs and several restaurants offering exotic authentic cuisines from Peru, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, and India to name a few.
A list of all participating restaurants with links to restaurant websites, addresses, business hours and menus is available online at www.ilovemiamispice.com/participants
- Asia de Cuba - If you’re skeptical about Cuban/Asian fusion, then you need to try this restaurant during Miami Spice and become one of the many converts. The combinations really work, and the setting could not be more beautiful and unique (read review here). Don’t miss out on the tunapica, a tuna tartare that embodies the essence of traditional Cuban picadillo.
- Bianca - This new addition to the iconic Delano hotel is making some serious waves with their truffle-centric menu sure to captivate any enthusiast of the luxurious fungus, although the rest of the menu shows a true mastery of gourmet Italian cuisine (read review here). The truffle gelato dessert will change your life!
- J & G Grill - I am really excited that Michelin-starred chef, Jean Georges Vongerichten, has brought one of his restaurants to Miami! Although the famous chef, known for fusing French and Asian flavors, doesn’t helm the kitchen here, Executive chef Richard Gras stays true to Chef Vongerichten’s culinary philosophy and offers some beautifully balanced dishes. The experience is only made better with desserts from one of the country’s top ten pastry chefs, Antonio Bachour.
- Quattro - This has been one of South Beach’s finest Italian restaurants for many years, and the nuanced Piedmontese-influenced menu continues to impress with simple dishes prepared exquisitely well. An appetizer of truffled burrata with porcini sauce looks particularly promising, as does a duck ravioli simply dressed with balsamic reduction.
- Scarpetta - There could not be enough accolades for this restaurant, which is considered to be one of the finest in South Florida, if not the country. Menu descriptions appear deceptively simplistic, but entrées like spaghetti with tomato and basil demonstrate a fair amount of complexity and use of top-quality products. The polenta appetizer with truffled mushroom fricassé is not to be missed!
- SUSHISAMBA dromo - Similar to Asia de Cuba, Sushi Samba on Lincoln Road ingeniously fuses several seemingly disparate cuisines - Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian - resulting in dishes with unique, and highly interesting flavor profiles right through to the desserts. While the sushi here is excellent, I would forgo it in place of some of the more interesting menu options that fuse ingredients and techniques from the three cuisines, such as steamed seabass gyoza with yucca puree, crispy shallots, and black truffle jus. Desserts here are perhaps the most unique in Miami.
Mainland Miami (South)
- Pascal’s on Ponce - There’s a reason why this French restaurant, which has become a Coral Gables institution, has remained in business while other French eateries have come and gone. The weekly changing menu offers classic French haute cuisine with unique twists. At the time of composing this list, it included gruyère cheese soufflé and a hangar steak with shallot fondue, as well as a nougat ice cream with cherry aspic. Check the Miami Spice website for this week’s menu.
- Toscana Divino - If you’re tired of eating predictable Italian cuisine, then definitely visit this restaurant for exotic Tuscan-influenced dishes like an appetizer of venison carpaccio with porcini “tartare” or an entrée of pici (a type of pasta from Siena) with duck ragù.
Mainland Miami (North)
- Amuse - While some of the dishes look to be a little standard and unimaginative, there are a couple of menu options that are intriguing, such as a chilled watercress and cucumber flan and a trio of duck consisting of confit, foie gras, and pastrami. A mango charlotte dessert is a nice tropical take on a very traditional dessert.
- Green House - This brand new North Miami Beach restaurant is showing some promise with a menu that boasts being organic and sustainable with avant-garde flourishes. A sturgeon and corvina ceviche with sweet potato foam and black rice gel sounds particularly interesting, and there are photos of all of their Miami Spice offerings on their website.
- Michy’s - Miami’s golden child, Chef Michelle Bernstein, is still satisfying with her homey dishes using classic French technique flecked with Asian and Latin American flavors, which have always managed to remain consistent in a city where restaurants tend to change for the worse. Although her famous bread pudding does not appear on the Miami Spice menu this year, menu offerings are unpretentious, fun, and demonstrate Bernstein’s varied culinary influences.
- Sugarcane - This year’s Miami Spice Menu gives diners the impression of going to a gourmet Southern barbecue with offerings like pork ribs, smoked brisket, rum baked beans, and spicy melon slaw. As always, the restaurant uses some of the best ingredients and always manages to prepare seemingly humble American fare in surprising new ways.
LUXURY DINING (Lunch $23)
- Hakkasan - The Miami Spice dim sum lunch offered only on weekends is amazing, and diners get a selection of dumplings, Chinese barbecue, an entrée, congee (rice porridge), and dessert along with traditional Oolong tea service. The ambiance is sexy and very intimate with views of the ocean.
- Il Bolognese - This place doesn’t seem to be worth the $39 pricetag for dinner, but they offer the same menu for lunch at $23, which makes it worth a visit. The menu is simple but authentic with dishes like farro salad, burrata caprese, tagliatelle with bolognese sauce, and ravioli with mushroom, sausage, and black truffle.
- J & G Grill - The lunch menu is much more concise than at dinner, and the dishes seem to be a little on the lighter side, but the menu still impresses.
- Mixtura - Surprisingly, the lunch menu at this new Peruvian fusion restaurant with locations in Coral Gables and Miami Beach seems much more interesting than the dinner options. Dishes like chipotle-spiked ceviche, ají de gallina ravioli, and a pisco and carob semifreddo demonstrate an innovative mixture of cuisines.
- Quattro - While definitely more concise and simpler than the dinner menu, lunch at this Italian eatery still impresses with a vittello tonnato appetizer, a carbonara pasta with guanciale, and a vanilla blancmange.
- SUSHISAMBA dromo - Lunch at this restaurant is just as interesting as dinner with an appetizer of Japanese-Peruvian tiradito with gooseberries and a dessert of pineapple flan with a curry foam.
Mainland Miami (South)
- DB Bistro Moderne - The lunch menu offers many of the same dishes as the dinner menu at Chef Daniel Boulud’s Miami outpost of his famed NYC restaurant, making it the perfect opportunity to sample some of the restaurant’s impeccably-prepared French fare at an excellent price. For those who aren’t too big on sweets, diners get the option of an expertly-selected cheese platter as a third course.
- Toscana Divino - Lunch at this Tuscan restaurant is equally appealing as dinner with entrées like gnocchi with rabbit ragù and braised and seared baby pig with an apple lavender relish
FINE DINING (Dinner $33)
- Azzuro - Located in Sunny Isles Beach, this restaurant offers some truly unique Italian dishes such as scallops in a Campari sauce with blood orange pearls, braised lamb shank with licorice and red wine reduction, and a panna cotta in a Bellini sauce.
- Copper Chimney - This is the only Indian restaurant participating in Miami Spice and perhaps one of the finest Indian restaurants in South Florida. The restaurant is offering four courses that include vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes from many regions of India, including Indian-Chinese dishes like Manchurian Chicken. Imagine Chinese stir fries with intense Indian heat and spices.
- Pubbelly - The 5 course small plates menu at this gastropub offers some unique dishes that meld together different cuisines and techniques, such as their selection of Asian-style dumplings with unconventional fillings like pastrami and sauerkraut, and duck and pumpkin. Pork lovers will love selections from the “Pig Out” course.
Mainland Miami (South)
- Edge, Steak & Bar - This is perhaps one of the finest steakhouses in Miami (read review here), although people in the know order some of the chef’s non-steakhouse standards including a half roasted chicken that will change the way in which you think about the humble bird. Steak is also on the Miami Spice menu, as well as one of Edge’s famous tartares.
- Whitney’s - Try finding a Chilean restaurant on Yelp!, and your options are pretty limited for places to savor Chile’s subtle cuisine utilizing fresh seafood and South American produce with European techniques. I was thrilled to find that Whitney’s 4 course menu not only offers some more traditional Chilean specialties like pastel de choclo (a sweet corn pie), but also some very innovative dishes that reflect Chile’s diverse heritage. Definitely a place to go this August and September if you’ve never had Chilean food.
Mainland Miami (North)
- Egg & Dart - You gotta love a restaurant that offers a little something extra, and this Greek restaurant in the Design District gives you a shot of ouzo to finish your meal. Miami spice menu options include some dishes that aren’t found at other Greek restaurants in Miami, like a grilled Manouri cheese and watermelon salad and braised lamb in cinnamon and tomato sauce over orzo.
- Mercadito - If you love extras, you’ll love Mercadito’s Miami Spice menu. The five course menu is inspired by Mexican snack and street food (botanas) and offers authentic flavors, a commitment to quality ingredients and freshness (tortillas are made in house) and innovative twists. You’ll find tables filled with Miami’s well-heeled Mexican elite on any given weekend. Did I mention that your meal includes a free cocktail?
- Copper Chimney - If you really love Indian cuisine, this is the lunch place for you, and it’s formulated with the aficionado in mind. A South Indian thali includes shambar, cabbage stir fry, vaddas, idlis, dosas or uttapams, and coconut chutney. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian northern lunch sets feature beautifully made mughlai dishes from the courts of the Mughal emperors. Or you can choose to have an Indian Chinese lunch featuring addictive chicken Manchurian, corn soup, and spicy stir fried noodles.
Mainland Miami (South)
- Old Lisbon - This is a good place to sample Portuguese food at a very reasonable price this summer. The exact same menu is offered for dinner, making the lunch menu a great deal. Caldo Verde is a great intro into this cuisine, offering a silky potato soup with collard greens and Portuguese sausages.
- Whitney’s - The Chilean-influenced menu is just as good during lunch as it is for dinner, with dishes like a gratin of blue crab and a dessert of pavlova with lúcuma mousse.