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Memorable Meals
Fine dining in Miami has come a long way over the past two decades as the rather predictable American and Continental menus of yore have given way to a new class of stylish restaurants serving top-notch contemporary cuisine. Many cultures and culinary styles are represented, along with a fusion of Caribbean, Latin and Southern influences variously described as "Floribbean" or New World cuisine. South Beach is the epicenter of trendy, upscale dining, but other great places can be found in downtown Miami, Coral Gables and elsewhere in the sprawling Miami-Dade County metropolitan area.
Fashion and furniture designer Todd Oldham created the decor for this gorgeous indoor/outdoor restaurant in South Beach, located in an extensively remodeled 1930s art deco hotel known simply as "The Hotel." In the kitchen, chef Michael Bloise and his team dish up creative Asian-influenced American fare to be served in the cozy Persianesque interior space or beneath the twinkling lights of the exceptionally romantic outdoor patio. For a fun bit of kitsch, order one of Wish's signature cocktails, which come with submersible battery-powered light-up "ice cubes."
Information: Official Site, (305) 674-9474
 The Restaurant at The Setai 
New York Times food writer Mark Bittman recently described The Restaurant at The Setai -- a wildly successful ground-floor space in the trendy Setai Hotel -- as "South Beach's most opulent dining spot, and perhaps one of the most interestingly and arguably perfectly designed restaurants in the world." Modern Asian styles dominate the restaurant's theatrical interior and the dishes produced in its showy open kitchen, which is currently under the direction of Ritz-Carlton veteran Shaun Danyel Hergatt.
Information: Official Site, (305) 520-6600
 Prime One Twelve 
Prime One Twelve, a cool, modern steakhouse near the southern end of Miami Beach, is all the rage these days, offering its fashionable clientele a selection of dry-aged USDA prime beef along with impeccably prepared seafood and a long list of sides. Among the more serious dishes on the menu you'll find a few whimsical surprises, like Kobe beef hot dogs and house-made "Tater Tots." This perpetually bustling and crowded spot is located on the ground floor of the Browns Hotel, a 1915 wood-framed building recently transformed into a small and luxurious inn.
Information: Official Site, (305) 532-8112
 The restaurant at Casa Tua 
The restaurant at Casa Tua, another chic South Beach boutique hotel, has earned a loyal following as much for its stylishly homey interior and first-class Italian cuisine as for the "in the know" frisson of dining at an establishment that's so exclusive it never advertises and hasn't a scrap of exterior signage. From the street, the refurbished 1925 Mediterranean-revival structure looks like an elegant private home. This sense of privacy and refinement carries over to Casa Tua's intimate interior dining rooms and pleasant garden patio.
Information: Official Site, (305) 673-1010
Azul, the fine dining restaurant at Miami's Mandarin Oriental hotel, is a great place to go for sensational views of Biscayne Bay and the downtown skyline, but there's more to this attractive space than a pretty setting. The clever, Asian-influenced Mediterranean fare produced under the direction of chef Clay Conley stands on its own merits, as does the restaurant's impressive wine list. If a meal at Azul is a beyond your budget, you can enjoy essentially the same view with a lower price tag at Cafe Sambal, the hotel's more casual Asian restaurant.
Information: Official Site, (305) 913-8358
 Chef Allen 
Don't let the unassuming strip mall location of Chef Allen's fool you. For the past two decades, Allen Susser has been a leading practitioner of New World cooking, and his 20-year-old restaurant in North Miami Beach remains one of South Florida's top culinary destinations. Susser's menus feature an exciting blend of Caribbean and Southern influences, with abundant use of tropical fruits, local seafoods and New World spices. The atmosphere in the "jackets suggested" dining room is understated and comfortable, with none of the flash and pizzazz of a typical South Beach hot spot.
Information: Official Site, (305) 935-2900
Norman Van Aken, another acclaimed pioneer of South Florida's indigenous form of fusion cuisine, plies his trade at a pleasantly casual signature restaurant a few blocks south of the Miracle Mile in Coral Gables' historic commercial district. Like Chef Allen's, the open kitchen at Norman's produces a choice of a la carte and tasting menus featuring a distinctly local blend of Southern and Caribbean ingredients and culinary styles.
Information: Official Site, (305) 446-6767
 Biltmore Hotel 
For more of an Old World dining experience, try brunch or afternoon tea at the venerable Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Formal tea service with finger sandwiches, scones and all the trimmings is offered weekday afternoons in the lobby of the grand 80-year-old Spanish-revival hotel. The Biltmore's popular Sunday Champagne brunch features live music along with a lavish buffet that includes prime rib, leg of lamb and made-to-order sushi and pasta dishes.
Information: Official Site, (305) 445-8066
Finally, no visitor should leave Miami without sampling local Cuban cuisine, which arrived in Miami-Dade County along with the influx of Cuban immigrants beginning in the 1960s. Dozens of places throughout Miami-Dade County offer hearty, home-style Cuban fare, but Versailles Restaurant in Miami's Little Havana district is considered one of the best. For more than four decades, Versailles has been a gathering place for the city's Cuban-American elite, and over the years it has become something of a tourist attraction as well, with a crowded, bustling atmosphere, pseudo-French decor and terrific food.
Information: , (305) 444-0240