advertisement

Don't be fooled by the plethora of superlean model types you're likely to see posing throughout Miami. Contrary to popular belief, dining in this city is as much a sport as plastic surgery and in-line skating on Ocean Drive. With more than 6,000 restaurants to choose from, dining out in Miami has become a passionate pastime for locals and visitors alike. Our star chefs have fused Californian-Asian with Caribbean and Latin elements to create a world-class flavor all its own: Floribbean. Think mango chutney splashed over fresh swordfish or a spicy sushi sauce served alongside Peruvian ceviche.

Formerly synonymous with early-bird specials, Miami's new-wave cuisine now rivals that of San Francisco -- or even New York. Nouveau Cuban chef Douglas Rodriguez returned to his roots with a fabulous South Beach nouveau Latino eatery. In addition, other stellar chefs -- such as Michael Schwartz, Michelle Bernstein, Allen Susser, Norman Van Aken, and Clay Conley -- remain firmly planted in the city's culinary scene, fusing local ingredients into edible masterpieces. Florida foodies are still bracing themselves for the arrival of Alain Ducasse -- sometime when the construction ends on Biscayne Boulevard -- just as they did for Alfred Portale at the swanky new Fontainebleau, and Laurent Tourondel at The Betsy on Ocean Drive. Now that Masaharu Morimoto's restaurant has finally opened (in the Boca Raton Resort & Club), foodies fixate on which mega-chef plans to open in Miami next. This New World cuisine is not only high in calories, it's high in price. But if you can manage to splurge at least once, it'll be worth it.

Thanks to a thriving cafe society in both South Beach and Coconut Grove, you can also enjoy a moderately priced meal and linger for hours without having a waiter hover over you. In Little Havana, you can chow down on a meal that serves about six for less than $10. Because seafood is plentiful, it doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg to enjoy the appendages of a crab or lobster. Don't be put off by the looks of our recommended seafood shacks in places such as Key Biscayne -- often, these spots get the best and freshest catches.

Whatever you're craving, Miami's got it -- with the exception of decent Chinese food and a New York-style slice of pizza. If you're craving a scene with your steak, then South Beach is the place to be. Like many cities in Europe and Latin America, it is fashionable to dine late in South Beach, preferably after 9pm, sometimes as late as midnight. Service on South Beach is notoriously slow and arrogant, but it comes with the turf. (Of course, it is possible to find restaurants that defy the notoriety and actually pride themselves on friendly service.) On the mainland -- especially in Coral Gables and, more recently, downtown and on Brickell Avenue -- you can also experience fine dining without the pretense.

The biggest complaint when it comes to Miami dining isn't the haughtiness, but rather the dearth of truly moderately priced restaurants, especially in South Beach and Coral Gables. It's either really cheap or really expensive; the in-between somehow gets lost in the culinary shuffle. Quick-service diners don't exist here as they do in other cosmopolitan areas. I've tried to cover a range of cuisine in a range of prices. But with new restaurants opening on a weekly basis, you're bound to find an array of savory dining choices for every budget.

Many restaurants keep extended hours in high season (roughly Dec-Apr) and may close for lunch and/or dinner on Monday, when the traffic is slower. Always call ahead, as schedules do change. During the month of August, many Miami restaurants participate in Miami Spice, where three-course lunches and dinners are served at affordable prices. Check out www.miamirestaurantmonth.com. Also, always look carefully at your bill -- many Miami restaurants add a 15% to 18% gratuity to your total due to the enormous influx of European tourists who are not accustomed to tipping. Keep in mind that this amount is the suggested amount and can be adjusted, either higher or lower, depending on your assessment of the service provided. Because of this tipping-included policy, South Beach waitstaff are best known for their lax or inattentive service. Feel free to adjust it if you feel your server deserves more or less.

Hotel Dining

Although travelers don't necessarily choose a hotel by its dining options, a number of Miami's best restaurants can be found inside hotels. Some of the city's most hailed cuisine can be had at the W's Soleà and Mr Chow, The Setai's Grill and Restaurant, Delano's Blue Door, Mondrian's Asia de Cuba Casa Tua's eponymous eatery, Loews Hotel's Emeril's Miami Beach, The Hotel's Wish, and Mandarin Oriental's Azul, Gansevoort South's Philippe and STK, The Betsy Hotel's BLT Steak, The Sanctuary's Ola, Viceroy's Eos, EPIC's Area 31, Fairmont Turnberry's Bourbon Steak, and the reigning king on the cuisine scene: Nobu, a New York import at The Shore Club.

Miami's Best Food Trucks

Perhaps because of our location at the bottom of the map, Miami is often last in receiving trends that have already swept the nation several times over. In 2009, we saw a welcome, albeit minor, congestion of food trucks clogging our arteries both literally and figuratively. The first is gastroPod Mobile Gourmet (www.twitter.com/gastropodmiami), a customized, vintage 1962 Airstream with ultra-modern kitchen serving up some serious street food -- triple-decker sliders stuffed with shaved pork belly on a potato bun, and short rib hot dogs. Joining this retro-fab, nomadic kitchen on wheels on the streets of Miami is Food Network star Ingrid Hoffmann's Latin Burger and Taco (www.twitter.com/latinburger) and the more bare-bones greasy spoon on wheels A Chef's Burger (330 NW 29th St.; tel. 786/344-5825). And, racking up mileage, albeit in a Scion instead of a truck, is Feverish Ice Cream (www.twitter.com/feverishmiami), a hipster's version of the old-school ice cream truck serving gourmet frozen treats. Look for these trucks everywhere from downtown and the beaches to Coral Gables and Coconut Grove.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.