Carlo Allegri  /  Getty Images file
Theresa Bloom (L) and Sheila du Bois eat lunch at the Paloma Restaurant in Miami.
updated 4/4/2007 7:14:17 PM ET 2007-04-04T23:14:17

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 the in-line skating on Ocean Drive. With over 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, 10 years in the making, now rivals that of San Francisco -- or even New York. Nouveau Cuban chef Douglas Rodriguez may have fled his Miami kitchen in favor of one in Manhattan, but he's coming back to a yet-to-open restaurant at 5061 Biscayne Blvd. In addition, other Food Network-caliber stellar chefs such as the Food Network's own Michelle Bernstein, Mark Militello, Allen Susser, Norman van Aken, and Jonathan Eismann remain firmly planted in the city's culinary scene, fusing local ingredients into edible masterpieces. Indulging in 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. And since 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 -- oftentimes 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 9 p.m., 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, creative 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 really exist here as they do in other cosmopolitan areas. I've tried to cover a range of cuisines in a range of prices. But with new restaurants opening on a weekly basis, you're bound to find a savory array of dining choices on every budget.

Best for Celebrating a Big Deal: The Forge Restaurant on Miami Beach (tel. 305/538-8533) is a multichambered, ornately decorated (and priced) monument known for its decadent wines, steak, and fish.

Best Romantic Restaurant: Casa Tua, in South Beach (tel. 305/673-1010), offers exquisite Italian cuisine in a Mediterranean villa that's hidden from the street with lush landscaping and an iron gate, resplendent outdoor garden, cozy Hamptons-esque dining room, communal kitchen, and intimate upstairs lounge and patio.

Best Waterfront Dining: It's a tossup between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, but whichever you prefer, there are two restaurants that provide front-row seats to both. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel's global fusion restaurant, Azul (tel. 305/913-8258), faces the Miami skyline and beautiful, tranquil Biscayne Bay, while the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne's Aria (tel. 305/365-4500) faces the Atlantic, but its Mediterranean cuisine could have you thinking you're floating off the coast of, say, Spain. Tough decisions, but both are winners.

Louie's Backyard in Key West (tel. 305/294-1061) offers Caribbean cuisine and one of the best views of the gulf you'll ever have.

Best Restaurant Worth the Wait for a Table: The legendary South Florida institution known as Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant, in Miami Beach (tel. 305/673-0365), refuses to take reservations, but that doesn't stop people from clawing their way into the restaurant for a table -- despite a wait that's often in excess of 3 hours.

Best Cuban Restaurant: There's always a debate on who has the best, most authentic Cuban cuisine, but for those of you who have never been to Havana, Miami's Versailles, in Little Havana (tel. 305/444-0240), is the quintessential Cuban diner, featuring enormous portions at paltry prices.

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Best Steakhouse: Miami's Capital Grille (tel. 305/374-4500) may be part of a chain, but its dry-aged steaks are still a cut above the rest.

In addition to the Forge Restaurant, Christy's, in Coral Gables (tel. 305/446-1400), is another top carnivorous choice, with superb steaks and famous Caesar salads.

Best New World Cuisine: It's a tossup between the restaurants of the original founders of the palate-pleasing fusion of Florida and Caribbean (Floribbean) ingredients: Norman's, in Coral Gables (tel. 305/446-6767), owned by James Beard chef Norman van Aken, and Chef Allen's, in Aventura (tel. 305/935-2900), owned by chef Allen Susser. Whichever chef's cuisine you choose, they both do wonders with mangoes.

Sexiest Restaurant: Grass Restaurant and Lounge, in Miami's Design District (tel. 305/573-3355), brings an exotic element to the urban chic neighborhood with an Asian menu, thatched roof tiki huts, and an equally sultry crowd that always seems to know where the grass is greener when it comes to Miami's ever evolving it list.

Best Scene: Nobu, in Miami Beach (tel. 305/695-3232), is the unrivaled sushi den in which everyone from Justin Timberlake to Madonna have been spotted swooning over their sashimi.

Taverna Opa, also in Miami Beach, Hollywood, and Ft. Lauderdale (tel. 305/673-6730; 954/929-4010; 954/567-1630), makes the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding look like a big fat bore with its own plate breaking, table dancing, ouzo pouring version of a Greek bacchanalia.

Best Sunday Brunch: The Blue Door on Miami Beach (tel. 305/674-6400) turns the sleek and chic Delano lobby into a help-yourself-to-anything, calorie-busting Sunday brunch of gourmet fare and insanely good desserts.

The Design District's bohemian, Haight Ashbury-ish 190 (tel. 305/576-9779) offers up fried green tomatoes, huevos rancheros, and an entire menu and pool table full of dishes, all for an unheard of $15 all you can eat price tag. At the stately Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Palme d'Or (tel. 305/445-1926) rolls out a regal buffet that's good enough to feed royalty. Delray Beach's De La Tierra (tel. 561/272-5678) features a gourmet all-you-can-eat $35 brunch including alcoholic beverages -- an unheard-of value that comes complete with a stunning outdoor garden setting.

Best View: Big Fish, in Miami (tel. 305/373-1770), is all about gritty-chic, located on the Miami River, where tugboats and cargo ships slink by as you indulge in fresh fish and sip good Italian wine under the glow of the brilliant downtown skyline hovering above. Red Fish Grill (tel. 305/668-8788) is ensconced in Coral Gables' Matheson Hammock Park and located on the edge of a saltwater lagoon, a setting so blissfully distracting, you may forget to pay attention to what's on your plate. Le Tub (tel. 954/921-9425) may not be considered fine dining, but when you sink your teeth into one of their incredible burgers while overlooking the Intracoastal, nothing could be finer.

Best Haute Cuisine: Mark's Las Olas, in Fort Lauderdale (tel. 954/463-1000), and Miami's Azul (tel. 305/913-8254) are both run by celebrity chefs Mark Militello (whose New American cuisine restores the faith of gourmands whose palates once belonged to the Pan-Asian Fusion movement) and the Food Network's Michelle Bernstein (whose Latin, Asian, Caribbean, and French fusion cuisine is inimitable and worshipped by foodies all over the world).

Best People-Watching: The News Café, in South Beach (tel. 305/538-6397), practically invented the sport of people-watching, encouraging its customers to sit at an outdoor table all day if they want, lingering over the passing parades of people while sipping a cappuccino. Lincoln Road's Euro-fabulous Segafredo Espresso cafe (tel. 305/673-0047), provides a front-row seat to the hordes of people who parade along the pedestrian mall.

Best Comfort Food: Big Pink, in Miami Beach (tel. 305/532-4700), serves kitsch in large doses, featuring TV dinners served in compartmentalized trays. It's fun and funky, and the food's pretty good, too.

Best Italian Food: Miami Beach's Macaluso's (tel. 305/604-1811) would make Tony Soprano very proud of his Italian heritage, thanks to Chef Michael's expertly prepared Staten Island-meets-SoHo cuisine.

Best Kids' Restaurant: South Miami's GameWorks (tel. 305/667-4263) is the brainchild of co-owner Steven Spielberg, whose virtual reality and video games contribute to the actual reality of kids cleaning their plates so that they can play. The videogames also appeal to adults, as do the restaurant and full bar, which make nights at GameWorks a 21-and-over hangout.

Best Mexican: The fresh, authentic Mexican fare at El Rancho Grande, in Miami Beach (tel. 305/673-0480), will have you swearing off Taco Bell forever.

Best Star-Studded Sushi Restaurant: Nobu, at The Shore Club hotel in Miami Beach (tel. 305/695-3100), is known for its star sushi chef and owner, the legendary Nobu Matsuhisa, but the raw facts about this restaurant are as simple as its stellar clientele (which includes Madonna, among others): It's unquestionably the best sushi in town. For fabulous sushi minus the Hollywood vibe, Miami Beach's Shoji Sushi (tel. 305/532-4245) is at the top of the A-list.

Best Seafood: Grillfish, in South Beach (tel. 305/538-9908), is simple, unpretentious, and consistently serves the freshest fish in town -- any which way you desire.

Best Late-Night Dining: In addition to the 24-hour News Café and Big Pink, Jerry's Famous Deli (tel. 305/534-3244) on South Beach serves a deluge of deli food 24/7. Ft. Lauderdale's Lester's Diner (tel. 954/525-5641) is a 24-hour institution, serving classic greasy-spoon fare at ridiculously cheap prices. The Floridian Restaurant, also in Fort Lauderdale (tel. 954/463-4041), serves everything from eggs to steaks, 24 hours a day, but the vantage point for people-watching rates higher than the food.

Kitschiest Dining: Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House (tel. 305/947-4581) is a must for those looking for a retro-fabulous North Miami Beach experience, with a wait staff as old as the vinyl booths and the best corned beef on rye south of the Lower East Side. Dogma Grill (tel. 305/759-8434) is a cool little hotdog stand whose motto is "A Frank Philosophy." Green Turtle Inn, on Islamorada (tel. 305/664-9031), is an old-fashioned Florida Keys institution since 1947, featuring moderately priced steaks, stone crabs, and, yes, turtle, to the tune of campy pianist Tina Martin.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit ourMiami dining index.

Frommer’s is America’s bestselling travel guide series. Visit Frommers.com to find great deals, get information on over 3,500 destinations, and book your trip. © 2006 Wiley Publishing, Inc. Republication or redistribution of Frommer's content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Wiley.

Photos: Miami: Sunshine statement

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  1. Tower to the people

    Lifeguard towers on Miami Beach are colorful and easy to distinguish. Lifeguards care over swimmers who play nearby, and the towers make a great meeting place when surrounded by an endless area of sand, surf and beach umbrellas. (Richard Cummins / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Hot spot

    Thousands of people descended on Miami Beach for Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. The city hosted a number of private and public events ahead of the big game. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Wet and wild

    Jet skis cruise along Biscayne Bay near Miami Beach Marina. Tourists visiting the Bay can enjoy a number of recreational activities, including snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and more. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Life's a beach

    South Beach, also nicknamed "The American Riviera," is well-known for celebrities, chic lifestyles and, of course, beaches. The man-made beach runs along the Atlantic Ocean for miles. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Savoring history

    The Art Deco district of South Beach is a hot spot for celebrities and is home to eccentric residents. The district has more than 800 buildings, built in the '30s and '40s, that are architecturally protected, helping its image as a chic, popular destination. (Randy Faris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ear to the ground

    Caribbean Flamingos -- this one eats from a pond at the Metro Zoo in Miami -- gets their color from the carotene in its diet. (Robert Sullivan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Dolphins walk, whales fly

    The Miami Seaquarium is a popular attraction that features eight marine animal shows. General admission tickets cost $37.95, and kids between the ages of three and nine get in for $27.95 (plus 7 percent sales tax). (Jon Davison / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Luxe lodgings

    The Biltmore Hotel of Coral Gables "has been a favorite of world leaders, celebrities and sports stars since its opening in the 1920s," its Web site boasts. The resort features 275 rooms, including 130 suites, a spa and fitness center. (The Biltmore) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pretty in pink

    Classic buildings aren't the only thing visitors to Miami Beach will find. Vintage cars are often spotted in the Art Deco district. The annual Art Deco Weekend hosts a classic car fest where proud owners can show off their treasures. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Colorful celebration

    A dancer wears a costume as she participates in the Miami Carnival. The carnival has been an annual event since 1984. It has grown from a small neighborhood festival to an international event bringing live bands and calypsonians from the islands. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Collins mix

    The renovated Delano Hotel (left), National Hotel (center) and the Sagamore Hotel line up Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The city has a concentration of over 800 Art Deco buildings all within one square mile. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Double-tall MOCA

    Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art "is internationally recognized as a force in defining new trends and directions in contemporary art," its Web site says. Admission is $5 per person, $3 for students and seniors. MOCA Members and kids under 12 can enter for free. (MOCA Miami) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bass appeal

    The Bass Museum of Art was established 47 years ago ater Miami Beach accepted the art collection of John and Johanna Bass, and agreed it would maintain the works and make it available to the public. (Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Different strokes

    A visitor looks at "Thinking" during Art Basel Miami Beach back in 2008. "Art Basel Miami Beach is the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas," the event's Web site boasts. This year's event takes place Dec. 2-5. (Juan Castro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Reflective moment

    Artist Jude Papaloko is reflected in a mirror on a painted wall in his gallery, the Jakmel Gallery, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Feeling the groove

    Club patrons enjoy themselves on the dance floor at Mansion nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla. Once thought of as a place to visit Grandma in January, Miami's reputation as a party city has grown since the days of "Miami Vice," through the birth of the Art Deco fashion district in the early 1990s and the more recent explosion of the South Beach club scene. (David Adame / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Port of call

    Frequent cruisers can be forgiven for seeing Biscayne Bay and Miami simply as a departure point. However, the area offers a wealth of activities and events that can satisfy tourists with a variety of different interests. (Jeff Greenberg / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Can I get a refill?

    The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Miami, started out as a quarry pit and was transformed in 1924 into the Venetian Casino. Now, more than 100,000 people visit Venetian Pool each year. During summer months, the pool is drained nightly and replentished from a subterranean aquifer. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Year of the crab

    Plates full of cracked stone crab claws are ready to be served at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach. Joe Weiss opened a lunch counter in 1913, and the eatery has been serving the public for 97 consecutive seasons. (Wilfredo Lee / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Feeling the beat

    A crowd dances to the rythmic sound of congas at a local latin club in Calle Ocho (8th street), the main street of the Little Havana district of Miami. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Home field

    Miami's Sun Life Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a final score of 31-17. (Dave Cross / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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