So many choices. So little time.
Two hundred forty-four restaurants, to be precise. And only 61 days to sample them. The 15th edition of Miami Spice runs Aug. 1 through Sept. 30, and the popular two-month restaurant promotion has become movable feast and unconquerable beast.
Some of Miami's finest and trendiest eateries are taking part, including 91 for the first time. They'll offer special, three-course menus for $23 at lunch and $39 at dinner, excluding tax and tip. Some restaurants don't offer the deals on Friday and Saturday nights. Some tack on upcharges for premium dishes and offer wine pairings for an additional fee. Others have limited seating, so call ahead for reservations.
How do you devour all those plates? You can't. But you can have fun with your picks.
There's the Elvis Costello spinning-wheel songbook tour approach, in which you put names in a hat and make random selections. There's the best of Zagat or Yelp approach, in which you work your way down the top-rated spots. There's the Pokemon Go! approach, in which you dine at any participating restaurant that harbors a Pokemon creature seen through your phone, part of the app fad that has swept the world (is it over yet?).
Or you can follow my guide, a mix of neighborhoods, ambiance and cuisines that give a true taste of Miami. Here are 15 picks for the 15th anniversary.
Palme D'Or, Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1926, BiltmoreHotel.com — Classic French elegance in the iconic Biltmore Hotel, built in the 1920s and still stylish after all these years. The room is Ninth Arrondissement Paris, but the hotel grounds are vintage tropical South Florida. The restaurant is offering Miami Spice dinners Tuesdays through Saturday. Begin with an octopus-snail-and-mushroom appetizer or lobster bisque, then move on to duck with kumquats or red snapper with potatoes and king crab in bouillabaisse sauce for mains. Oui, sil vous plait.
Blue Collar, 6730 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-756-0366, BlueCollarMiami.com — At the other end of the atmosphere spectrum, this is a cramped, unpretentious spot in the MiMo district that serves delicious comfort food from chef Daniel Serfer in a converted gas station from the 1930s. The Miami Spice dinner is offered every night. Start with shrimp and grits or the signature house potato latkes, then get the braised special du jour (oxtail is particularly good) and finish with berry cobbler or butterscotch Heath bar bread pudding.
Los Fuegos by Francis Mallman, Faena Miami Beach Hotel, 3201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-655-5610, Faena.com — This is pretty much the hottest place in Miami at the moment. Mallman is an Argentine grillmaster with a passion for South American live-fire cooking. The restaurant is offering Miami Spice lunches Monday through Friday and dinners Sunday through Thursday. Start with almond soup or a wood-oven fillet empanada, then have snapper ratatouille or skirt steak "a la parrilla" for the main course.
Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, 130 NE 40th St., Miami; 305-573-5550, MichaelsGenuine.com — James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz's eponymous restaurant takes part in Miami Spice for the first time since 2011, an acknowledgement that the event has become too big to pass up. Spice dinners will be offered Sunday through Thursday. Start with grilled peaches, wood-roasted Florida shrimp or beef tongue a la plancha, and move on to bucattini with rabbit bolognese, snapper or slow-roasted short ribs for the main.
Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar and Latin American Grill, 3067 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove; 305-444-0216, JaguarHG.com/jaguarspot — A hip eatery with outdoor seating in the heart of Coconut Grove, featuring ceviches served in spoons and grilled meats. Jaguar is offering Spice lunches and dinners every day, with a tuna, avocado and jalapeno-ginger ceviche as a starter, a 16-ounce grilled rib-eye main and banana crepes for dessert. .
Tuyo at Miami Culinary Institute, 415 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-237-3200, TuyoMiami.com — Located on the top floor of a downtown Miami Dade College building, this is one of the most delicious classrooms around, a living, breathing upscale restaurant overseen by a seasoned pro, executive chef Victor Santos, and staffed by culinary students. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner only, Tuyo will rotate its menu every two weeks to reflect different global regions. Wine pairings are available for an extra $19.
db Bistro Moderne, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami; 305-421-8800, dbBistro.com/miami — If you haven't been to the booming Brickell area in a while, Daniel Boulud's eatery is a good reason to visit. Boulud is one of the early French celebrity chefs who made his name in Manhattan and has gone on to conquer the world. The restaurant is offering lunches Monday through Friday and dinners every night except Sundays. At dinner, you can stick with classic basics such as paté and coq au vin, or you can splurge for upcharges with foie gras torchon ($10 extra) or skirt steak with charred ramp vinaigrette and crispy yucca ($8 more).
Plant Food and Wine, 105 NE 24th St., Miami; 305-814-5365, MatthewKenneyCuisine.com/Hospitality/PlantFoodAndWineMiami — Time to throw a bone — uh, make that a stem — to all the vegans and vegetarians looking to Spice up their lives. Acclaimed raw-food chef Matthew Kenney has been drawing raves and crowds since opening this Wynwood spot in February. It is offering promotional lunches and dinners Sunday through Thursday. Start with green gazpacho or banh mi rolls, move on to achiote-cauliflower tacos or barbecue mamey for mains, and finish with lucuma quinoa for dessert. Once there, you might as well spring a little extra for one of the fresh juices or detoxing beverages.
Larios on the Beach, 820 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, 305-532-9577, LariosOnTheBeach.com — No Miami Spice list would be complete without a trip to the heart of glamorous, glitzy, touristy Ocean Drive on South Beach, and no Miami-Dade culinary tour would be complete without Cuban. In this case, you can get the best of both worlds at Larios, founded by Miami's unofficial first couple, Gloria and Emilio Estefan. It's offering Spice lunches and dinners seven days. Start with lechon on crispy morros cake, get shrimp criollo for a main, and finish with vanilla or rice pudding.
Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, 1600 Lenox Ave., Miami Beach; 305-538-5220, RunChickenRun.com — It's easy to forget that Miami used to be a Southern city, pronounced Miam-uh by those born here, before it became an international melting pot. Yardbird is a modern, trendy homage to those roots, with a tip of the toque to all things fried and buttery from Tuscaloosa to Tupelo. Its Miami Spice menu is available at lunch only Monday through Friday. Try deviled eggs with smoked trout roe or fried-green-tomato BLT with pork belly to start, get fried chicken with a buttermilk biscuit for the main, and finish with deep-fried Oreo cookies and ice cream. Phone: 305-538-5220.
La Mar by Gaston Acurio, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami, 305-913-8358, MandarinOriental.com — Once upon a time, Michelle Bernstein cut her teeth and became a culinary star at Azul in this luxury hotel on Biscayne Bay. Azul is still here. It's now helmed by chef Benjamin Murray, and also participating in Miami Spice. But La Mar has become the hot spot, a global outpost of acclaimed Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio overseen by Lima-born executive chef Diego Oka. It is offering Miami Spice lunches daily except Sunday and dinners Sunday through Thursday. Start with a seafood ceviche chalaco, get a Peruvian basil pesto pasta with beef milanese for the main, and finish with the lucuma parfait layered with almond crumble and flourless chocolate cake.
Beaker and Gray, 2637 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 305-699-2637, BeakerAndGray.com — A newcomer in Wynwood, this collaboration between executive chef Brian Nasajon and bar manager Ben Potts opened earlier this year and has been drawing in crowds with inventive drinks and fusion food. It's serving Spice dinners Sunday through Thursday. Try the turkey leg with butternut squash or rice noodle with pork rib and huancaina (a spicy, creamy Peruvian sauce), and finish with goat cheese cheesecake with herbs de Provence and rosemary.
River Seafood and Oyster Bar, 650 S. Miami Ave., Miami, 305-530-1915, TheRiverMiami.com — The Miami River has gone from a setting for cocaine cowboy shootouts and drug drops to a place where a cozy seafood eatery sells $3 oysters from Canada and the Pacific Northwest. A good place for fresh simple fish, this spot already has a value $20 three-course lunch menu ($3 cheaper than Spice) and a $20 Tuesday lobster dinner, but it will offer rotating seafood menus for $39 on other nights except Fridays.
Timo, 17624 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach, 305-936-1008, TimoRestaurant.com — Since 2003, chef Tim Andriola has been serving quality Italian-Mediterranean food in this intimate neighborhood spot. It has endured for a reason. Specialties include seafood, housemade pastas and brick-oven pizza.
Shula's Steak House, 7601 Miami Lakes Drive, Miami Lakes, 305-820-8102, DonShula.com/Shulas-Steak-House-Miami-Lakes — Before you know it, football season will be here. And before you know it, our high hopes for the Dolphins will once again be dashed by another year of mediocrity and disappointment. But it's always 1972 at the original outpost of Don Shula's steak house chain (motto: the Perfect Season), where photos and souvenirs of distant Super Bowl championships adorn the dark wood walls. There are newer, hipper steak joints around, but why not revel in the happy nostalgia in remote Miami Lakes, where the Don himself once lived on the golf course? Miami Spice dinners are offered Tuesday through Saturday with salad, steak and seafood basics, or you can pay an additional $20 for the 22-ounce cowboy (bone-in ribeye) steak.