People always ask me how I make it through the long, cold Minnesota winters. And while I’ve grown to love Jack Frost in many ways, my real survival secret is Florida. Nothing beats the winter blues like grabbing a few days in the sun, and one of my favorite Sunshine State destinations has to be Miami. With my wild, out-all-night partying days well behind me, I have come to cherish the low-key side of this white-hot city. There are my perennial must-go spots such as Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, Joe’s Stone Crab, Nobu, and Michy’s, but here are some of my favorite newcomers.
Finding a place for seafood in Miami isn’t difficult; uncovering the places that do it well is another story. Take the guessing out of finny fare at Area 31, a seafood spot dedicated to fresh and sustainable seafood caught right at its doorstep. Chef E. Michael Reidt’s rigid selection process ensures only the most high-quality fish ends up on your plate. Atmosphere: The restaurant sprawls over the 16th floor of EPIC Hotel, one of the city’s premier boutique lodgings. The restaurant boasts 12-foot windows showcasing a dramatic view of downtown and the ocean. Hit up the bar for drinks, appetizers, and a lively happy hour scene. If you’re looking for a quiet dinner, the restaurant’s terrace is the place to be. What to Order: Grazers will love a plate of Island Creek oysters and the fritto misto. The Ocean to Table menu highlights simple preparations of yellowtail snapper, sepia, and other fresh fish, but if seafood isn’t your thing, Area 31 also offers short ribs, chicken, and pasta. Looking to linger? Opt for the five-course tasting menu. The courses highlight chef Reidt’s favorite dishes (paired with wine) while supporting a great cause—a portion of the tasting menu’s proceeds benefit the Marine Mammal Conservancy of the Florida Keys. 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, 305-424-5234,
In case you haven’t heard, burgers are in. And if you’re jonesing for a burger (sorry, Phil) in South Beach, check out Beer and Burger Joint. With brick walls, dim lighting, and a rock and roll sort of vibe, the space feels more Chicago than Miami. It’s a great spot to bring the kids during the day (try nabbing a picnic table outside if it’s sunny) but is edgy enough to satiate the night owl’s appetite for food, drinks, and music. A Burger for Everyone: No matter your tastes, B&B has you covered. Meat lovers will dig the Thunder Road—10 ounces of prime Angus beef topped with hickory smoked bacon, American cheese, and barbecue sauce. The Rock Lobster piles a poached and seared half-lobster tail onto your patty. Veg-heads are covered with the Dear Prudence portabella burger. Burgers come with fries of some sort (house skinny fries, sweet potato, and onion rings, to name a few), but you should add an order of tempura battered pickles. They’re ridiculously good. Quench that Thirst: In addition to its impressive array of American brews (Yuengling and Rogue Dead Guy Ale are crowd favorites), you’ll find some interesting international bottles. Maybe you’ll discover your love for Morocco’s Casa Beer, Brazil’s Cerveharias Xingu Black, or B.B. Burgerbrau from the Czech Republic. If you don’t do beer, B&B also offers regular and adult milkshakes, as well as old-fashioned soda fountain drinks. 1766 Bay Rd., Miami Beach, 305-672-3287,bnbjoint.com
Located in The Shops at Midtown, Sakaya specializes in simple Asian fare made from scratch. Chef/owner Richard Hales, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten alum, is among the ranks of classically trained chefs who’ve swapped white tablecloths and multi-course meals for counter service and fountain sodas. Though Sakaya is casual, it’s anything but ordinary. The Story: Between cooking gigs in New York and Miami, Hales sought out firsthand experience cooking all over Asia. Sakaya’s menu highlights street food from these regions, focusing mainly on Korea. Sauces are made from scratch, and Hales cures his own meats. What to Order: Sakaya’s mantra is “No frills just good f’n food.” Choose from favorites such as buns stuffed with eight-hour roasted pork, pickles, ssamjang, and sweet chili sauce, or Korean barbecued beef dishes such as bulgogi. For something on the lighter side, go with the fresh lumpia rolls (like a spring roll), made with a recipe passed down from Hales’s Filipino grandmother. The menu stays small to ensure everything is fresh. On the Go: In conjunction with the brick-and-mortar location, Hales started the Dim Ssäm à Gogo food truck. For location details, follow it on Twitter (@sakayakitchen). The Shops at Midtown, between 34th & 36th Streets at Buena Vista Avenue, 305-576-8096, sakayakitchen.com
The Fish Box
Though The Fish Box has only been on the streets since September, these fish guys aren’t Miami newbies. The Garcia brothers—11 in total—left Cuba in the mid-’60s. In 1966, they opened La Camaronera in Little Havana, a fresh fish market, wholesaler, Cuban fish-fry joint, and, in the newest incarnation, mobile food truck. More than 40 years later, it’s still family owned and operated. The Food: Think Floridian fried fish shack on wheels. Regulars are crazy about the camaronera sandwich—fried shrimp topped with a spicy ketchup and tartar sauce—but it’s the minuta sandwich that put these guys on the map. Created in the early ’50s, it consists of crispy, butterflied snapper filet seasoned with lemon, garlic, cumin, and black pepper, served on a Cuban-style bun. If you want a serious meal, go for The Fish Box Combo: the catch of the day (usually mahi, corbina, or grouper) cut into fingers, served with fries, dessert, and a soda. Location: Eating at The Fish Box requires a little legwork. The truck doesn’t set up in the same place every day (though the city’s gorgeous Bayfront Park is a favorite spot), meaning that finding this gem is for the resourceful. You can do so on Twitter (@LaCamaronera), Facebook, or the old-fashioned way—by telephone. 786-975-9225
Migrating to Miami
Some of the best new eats in Miami earned their chops and stellar reputations elsewhere. Danny Meyer’s take on a roadside burger spot turned New York City upside down when it opened in 2004. Now it’s Miami’s turn to fall in love (and wait in line) for burgers, fries, and frozen custard at Shake Shack in Miami Beach (1660 Lenox Ave., 305-434-7787, shakeshack.com). Go for a modern take on the classic steak house at BLT Steak (1440 Ocean Drive, 305-673-0044, bltsteak.com) in the newly renovated Betsy Hotel. This New York transplant, now with 17 locations nationwide, offers up great steaks, poultry, and fish. If you love authentic Chinese cuisine, the UK’s very upscale Hakkasan (4441 Collins Ave., 877-326-7412, w3.hakkasan.com/miami) recently opened its first North American location in the historic Fontainebleau resort. It’s great for dim sum, spicy seafood stir-fry, and savory dishes cooked in a clay pot. I dare you to try the Peking duck, an edible stargazer lily of a dish gilded with 30 grams of golden Osetra caviar that goes for a whopping $198. No one ever said being fabulous isn’t expensive.
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Nothing is more quintessentially Miami than spending a weekend at the Fontainebleau. Built in the 1950s, this magnificent and storied oceanfront resort just underwent a massive $1 billion renovation. In its new incarnation, the Fontainebleau is the city’s premier property for pampering in the sprawling 40,000-square-foot spa, lounging on sunny South Beach, staying up past your bedtime in on-site clubs, and sleeping late. In addition to Hakkasan, NYC superchefs Alfred Portale (Gotham Steak) and Scott Conant (Scarpetta) operate restaurants here, making the Fontainebleau easily the best place in town for a food lovers’ long weekend—and you never have to get in a car! Spending a day relaxing around the jaw-dropping pool in a private cabana or a lounge bed is a must—be sure to don dark sunglasses to discretely partake in some of the best celebrity sighting in town. 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 800-548-8886, fontainebleau.com