The slow season for tourism means quickening pulses for food lovers across South Florida. Miami Spice returns Aug. 1–Sept. 30, with more than 250 restaurants across Miami-Dade County offering discounted multicourse meals.
The popular promotion gives restaurants a chance to boost sales during the region’s steamy and stormy months. It also allows diners to step out of their comfort zones and try restaurants that some people otherwise could not afford. The 16th edition is the biggest yet, with 252 participants listed on the Miami Spice website, including some of the region’s finest and trendiest restaurants. They will offer special $23 lunch and weekend brunch menus and $39 dinner menus, not including tax, tip or drinks.
Some restaurants do not offer the deals on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. Some only take part for lunch or dinner. Some tack on surcharges for premium dishes and offer wine pairings for an additional fee. Others have limited Miami Spice seating, so call ahead for reservations.
The event is a movable feast and unconquerable beast. Because there are 61 days and 122 meals on the Spice calendar, a diner who tries a different restaurant for each slot still will not be able to taste half the options. But eaters certainly can have fun getting around. Here are my picks for Miami Spice 2017, with a mix of cuisines, styles and neighborhoods that give a true taste of the area’s dining diversity.
Los Fuegos by Francis Mallmann — Faena Hotel, 3201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 786-655-5600, Faena.com. In a recent 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. Some premium items are not on the Spice menus, but you can’t go wrong with a high-end beef empanada and grilled red snapper at lunch, or a thin rope of salchicha sausage and slow-cooked cheeks at dinner. The Miami Spice menu is available for lunch daily except Sunday, and at dinner Sunday-Thursday. It is worth a visit for the atmosphere alone.
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 Wynwood’s top restaurant, a James Beard Award semifinalist as one of the country’s best new restaurants in 2016. I awarded it four stars, admiring Lewis’ precise technique in an unfussy and unpretentious atmosphere. KYU will participate in Miami Spice for weekday lunches only, and there are no clunkers on the menu. Start with the roasted cauliflower with goat cheese or house-cured bacon with tomato, move on to the crispy lionfish or Thai fried-rice stone pot with egg, and don’t miss the coconut cake for dessert.
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 might want to eat an entire aquarium’s worth of fish and sea treats in the joyous, Philippe Starck-designed dining room. Molecular gastronomy in the wrong hands can make for a maddening experience, but the Spanish-born Andres has trained his crew well. Nearly every plate here works. The Spice menu will be offered at dinner Monday-Frdiay for maximum parties of eight and features a dizzying choice of items, including signature liquid olives, California “funnel cakes” of crab and seaweed, liquid-filled oysters ceviche and a deconstructed Key lime pie for dessert. Word of warning: Portions are small and some of the heftier dishes have $15 surcharges (such as paella or Iberian pork), so you may need to pay extra to avoid leaving hungry.
Mignonette Uptown — 13951 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami Beach, 305-705-2159, MignonetteMiami.com/Uptown. For a different take on seafood away from glitzy hotels and tourist crowds, check out the latest restaurant from chef-owner Danny Serfer (Blue Collar). The fish and other sea creatures at Mignonette Uptown are simple and delicious, served in a converted 1950s diner that feels like a neighborhood joint. Serfer grew up nearby. Miami Spice menus will be offered for all meals except weekend brunch, and dinner options include a half-dozen oysters or lamb meatballs to start and crispy branzino with shrimp-scampi hash as an entree. Try bread pudding with cayenne whipped cream for dessert with a spicy kick.
Kiki on the River — 450 NW North River Drive, Miami, 786-502-3243, KikiOnTheRiver.com. The Miami River once was infamous for barges filled with cocaine and other contraband, but the area has cleaned up big time. Kiki on the River opened this year, part of a sprouting restaurant pocket that features velvet ropes, bouncers and A-list celebrities. Sundays at Kiki have become quite the drinking and dancing scene, but Greek and Mediterranean food take center stage at other times. Miami Spice will be offered at dinner Monday-Friday with a rotating menu. Try lamb chops, flaming cheese or lobster pasta if available.
Plant Food + Wine — 105 NE 24th St., Miami, 305-814-5365, SacredSpaceMiami.com. You don’t have to be vegan to love this hard-to-find oasis near the railroad tracks that separate Edgewater from Wynwood. You just have to love food to enjoy the amazing and delicious things the kitchen does with plants, vegetables, fruits, nuts, flowers, herbs and even seaweed. There has been some behind-the-scenes drama recently between the landlord and celebrity vegan chef Matthew Kenney, but key kitchen personnel remain. Miami Spice will be offered for weekday lunches and dinners Sunday-Thursday, with a rotating lineup of creative vegan dishes. Try the kim chi dumplings, gazpacho or pasta made from kelp when available.
Bourbon Steak Miami — Turnberry Isle Resort, 19999 W. Country Club Drive, Aventura, 786-279-6600, TurnberryIsleMiami.com. For people 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 octopus, carpaccio or corn chowder and mains such as halibut or 5-ounce Angus strip steak.
Gianni’s at the Villa Casuarina — 1116 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, 786-482-2200, VMMiamiRestaurant.com. With the 20th anniversary of Gianni Versace’s murder recently marked by the media, curiosity seekers and macabre diners can gather for a meal at the South Beach mansion that Versace called his part-time home and where he met his tragic demise. Gianni’s is an Italian restaurant at Villa Casuarina, which has been converted into a resort. The restaurant will offer $39 Miami Spice dinners Tuesday-Friday and Sunday, with a choice of salad or grilled octopus to start and spaghetti chitarra, mushroom risotto or roasted chicken for entrees, with chocolate lava cake or coconut panna cotta for dessert.
Redlander Restaurant at Schnebly Winery — 30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead, 305-242-1224, SchneblyWinery.com. For a change of pace, how about an agricultural dining experience at a South Florida vineyard? Chef Rolando Roman has brought farm-to-table cuisine to a winery and craft brewery near Homestead, and his Redlander restaurant will offer Spice lunches and dinners Wednesday-Sunday. Dinner choices include mussels steamed in Shark Bait craft beer, sour-orange-marinated lamb chops, mango-glazed Cornish hen with sticky rice, or pork skirt steak with chimichurri and yucca mash. Finish with guanabana cheesecake or mango creme brulee.