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Try these 10 restaurants for Miami Spice and you'll be fat and happy

Break out the stretchy pants. The movable feast and unconquerable beast known as Miami Spice is here. Nearly 250 restaurants in Miami-Dade County are taking part in the popular dining promotion, which runs today through Sept. 30.

Participating restaurants will offer special, multicourse $23 lunch and brunch menus and $39 dinner menus, not including tax, tip or drinks. Some offer wine pairings for an optional surcharge. Some offer only lunch or dinner, some exclude peak days and some have limited Miami Spice seating available. It is best to call ahead for reservations.

Miami Spice, in its 17th year, is a win-win for eaters and eateries (but not arteries). It gives diners a chance to step out of their comfort zones and try restaurants that may be out of their usual price range. And it gives restaurants a chance to boost sales during the region’s steamy and stormy months.

This year’s edition has seen a slight slimming, with 246 participants currently listed (down from 252 last year). Some of the region’s finest and trendiest restaurants have signed up. Here are my 10 picks for Miami Spice 2018.

Stubborn Seed — 101 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 786-322-5211, StubbornSeed.com. Stubborn Seed, which opened in September 2017, is the only restaurant I have awarded four stars this year. It is not yet listed on the Miami Spice site, but the restaurant confirms it will offer Spice dinners nightly except Saturdays and Mondays (when it is closed). It also will offer a Sunday brunch menu. Chef Jeremy Ford, a rising star and Jean-Georges Vongerichten disciple, showcases a perfect mix of artistry and flavors with his modern American cuisine. Start with warm celery root with crackling maitake mushrooms and creamy mustard, have organic chicken with truffle butter, charred turnips and gnocchi as a main and finish with whiskey cake with brown-butter toffee and smoked banana ice cream.

Amara at Paraiso — 3101 NE Seventh Ave., Miami, 305-702-5528, AmaraAtParaiso.com. Chef-restaurateur Michael Schwartz’s other restaurants (Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Fi’lia) will also take part in Spice, but Amara is the newest (January 2018) and prettiest jewel in his collection. Schwartz calls Amara “a love letter to Miami.” With its gorgeous Biscayne Bay setting and delicious, Latin-inspired cuisine, it is easy to love it back. Amara will offer Spice dinners Sunday through Thursday. Starters include charred carrot and avocado salad with goat cheese or beef tartare with roasted poblano and mains include crispy flounder, arroz verde with poached egg and mushroom or spice rub pork chop. Dessert options are mango paleta or buttermilk dark chocolate with chipotle chile sauce.

Three — 50 NW 24th St., Miami, 305-748-4540, ThreeWynwood.com. Legendary chef and original “Mango Gang” member Norman Van Aken has made a triumphant return to South Florida, in trendy Wynwood of all places. Three is part of a Van Aken multiplex (restaurant, bar, cooking school) and it is dining for grownups, with serious food in an artsy setting. A Spice menu will be available for dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Appetizers include Sichuan cucumber fish dip or Venezuelan cachapa with shaved foie gras, and entree options are poached grouper with bonito butter and shiso chimichurri or grilled quail with smoked carrots and charred purple cabbage. The lone dessert is a winner: arroz con leche, a pudding made with Charleston gold rice.

Planta — 850 Commerce St., Miami Beach, 305-397-8513, PlantaRestaurants.com. For those who avoid meats, cheeses and the exploitation of animals (wait, aren’t plants sometimes cultivated and picked by exploited humans?), Planta is the hottest place going. Executive chef David Lee and nightclub impresario David Grutman opened Planta in South Beach earlier this year, the vegan restaurant’s second outpost after starting in Toronto. Planta will offer Spice dinners Sunday-Thursday and brunch Saturday-Sunday. Dinner appetizers include steamed dumplings filled with mushrooms and taro root, coconut ceviche and a Maui roll made with hearts of palm, cucumber and avocado. Entree options include bucatini pasta with zucchini cream and almond Parmesan, vegetable pizza and a Planta veggie burger. For dessert, there is mock soft-serve ice cream or Thai coconut with chia seed pudding and passionfruit sorbet.

Bazaar Mar by Jose Andres — SLS Brickell, 1300 S. Miami Ave., Miami, 305-615-5859, SBE.com/BazaarMar. At this shimmering seafood dream in the booming Brickell district, you may want to eat an entire aquarium’s worth of fish and sea treats in the playful, Philippe Starck-designed dining room. Usually, this restaurant is best enjoyed on an expense account or with a wealthy friend, but $39 Spice dinner menus will be offered Tuesday through Saturday. Choose from eight starters including the excellent “California funnel cake” of seaweed, avocado and blue crab, “bagels and lox” of smoked salmon from New York’s Russ and Daughters on puffed air bread and the “Po Boy Jose” of fried baby squid on a steamed bun with aioli. Six entree options include fried snapper, skirt steak or chicken thighs. Dessert is listed as “Jose’s surprise,” but the deconstructed Key lime pie may be worth an a la carte splurge.

Habitat — 1 Hotel and Homes South Beach, 2395 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-604-6700, HabitatMB.com. Celebrated local chef Jose Mendin (Pubbelly Group) and chef de cuisine Angel Palacios have teamed to create Latin-Asian hybrid cuisine. Since opening last fall, has become among the trendiest restaurants in town, attracting superstar Italian chef Massimo Bottura for a special, $650 one-night joint cooking event earlier this year. Habitat will offer Spice dinners Sunday-Thursday. The lineup includes a choice of a handheld item, appetizer, entree and dessert. Start with shishito peppers, lechon bao buns, steak tartare sliders as handhelds and then choose between beef gyozas, Korean barbecue short ribs or Swank Farms baby greens as an appetizer. Entree options include mussels frites, chicken with parsnips or an 8-ounce hanger steak with roasted beets. Dessert options from pastry chef Maria Orantes will change daily.

Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann — Faena Hotel, 3201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 786-655-5600, Faena.com. In a 2017 review, I called Los Fuegos the “South Florida restaurant I’d most want to marry” because it is drop-dead gorgeous, the food is mostly delicious and the service is impeccable. Housed in the stunning Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, it has an elegant dining room and a playful terrace, and features smoke and flame cooking from acclaimed Argentine grill master Francis Mallmann. A Spice menu will be offered for lunch Monday-Friday and at dinner Sunday-Thursday. At dinner, start with chilled beet soup, a flatbread pizza with wild mushrooms or black and blue salmon with horseradish cream. Entree choices include thin-sliced, New York strip with chimichurri, catch of the day with tapenade crust or eggplant Milanesa. Finish with dulce de leche flan or the excellent grilled pineapple with coconut ice cream and hazelnut nougat.

Ariete — 3540 Main Highway, Coconut Grove, 305-640-5862, ArieteMiami.com. Chef Michael Beltran has earned accolades and devotees for his fine food in a casual and family-friendly Coconut Grove setting. The 2-year-old Ariete will offer a Spice menu nightly and at Sunday brunch. At dinner, start with mamey gazpacho, black beans with bone marrow or avocado Lyonnaise with beef-tongue bacon. Entrees include braised oxtail, swordfish Milanese or the signature Chug burger. Finish with flan, turtle cookie or olive oil cake with pecans and caramel.

KYU — 251 NW 25th St., Miami, 786-577-0150, KYUMiami.com. The simple yet delicious “Asian-inspired wood-fired” cuisine from chef Michael Lewis makes this my favorite Wynwood restaurant, one that has been honored as a James Beard Award semifinalist. I awarded it four stars in 2016, admiring Lewis’ precise technique in an unpretentious atmosphere. KYU will participate in Miami Spice for weekday lunches only. Start with mussels with chili and lime or grilled beef skewers in soy-garlic butter with roasted shishito pepper and try Korean fried chicken or roasted cauliflower with goat cheese for the main course. Finish with Lewis’ signature coconut cake, a recipe from his mother.

Bourbon Steak Miami — Turnberry Isle Resort, 19999 W. Country Club Drive, Aventura, 786-279-6600, TurnberryIsleMiami.com. For those who live in Broward and Palm Beach counties and don’t want to travel too far south, this upscale and solid steakhouse from celebrity chef Michael Mina in a resort setting fits the Miami Spice bill. The $39 Spice dinner will be offered nightly, and features starters such as cobia crudo, beef carpaccio or crispy pork belly and mains such as branzino with sunchokes or Yemenite-spiced New York strip steak. Finish with s’mores or hazelnut cloud of panna cotta with caramel.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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