You’re in luck, Miami. The weekend of Feb. 23-25 is the best time to dine out in South Florida — and I’m not talking about dropping big bucks at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Instead, go against the flow of traffic.
While everyone else is distracted by the largest food festival in the country, you can snag reservations at some of the best, hottest and hardest restaurants to get into in Miami.
Look, no one is stopping you from spending $250 a ticket to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with sweaty strangers on the South Beach sand for bites of hastily prepared burgers. By all means, hang that wine glass on a lanyard around your neck and join the debauchery until hour five of the Grand Tasting for a cool $225. You do you!
But if a great meal is what you’re after, we have some alternatives.
Instead of Burger Bash…
There’s nothing like waiting in a line two city blocks long, on the sand, just to get into the venue, where you will wait in more lines for sliders with 8,000 of your closest friends. Just kidding. It’s only about 3,500. Fun! And at $250 a person ($350 for VIPs), what a bargain!
Jr.’s Gourmet Burgers: This little Miami Springs spot won the people’s choice award at last year’s Burger Bash, and the line for a seat has been out the door on weekends. The owner, Jesus de la Torre, had to hang a sign that reads, “If you experience delay, blame Rachael Ray. #SoBeWFF.” Order the winning creation, That Guy’s Burger: an Angus patty with cream cheese and guava ketchup on Texas toast, covered in a basket weave of bacon that is then cooked on the griddle.
7 Westward Dr., Miami Springs
Airport Cafe & Liquors: Reuben Ruiz’s killer burgers got him noticed on Food Network Star, and he serves them alongside classic Latin food at a hole in the wall you might otherwise drive by. Have the Jameson apricot-glazed cheddar cheese burger.
4427 NW 36th St., Miami Springs
Instead of the Tribute Dinner…
I’m sure Bobby Flay will forgive you for not honoring him with your presence at this $550 a person event, where some of his best friends will cook for him and you. Put half that into a depressed stock market index fund (buy low, sell high!) and use the rest on dinner out.
Stubborn Seed: Miami’s first Bravo TV “Top Chef” winner Jeremy Ford is creating the kind of delicious, layered and stunning cuisine that would bring people to Miami even if everyone wasn’t in town for SOBEWFF. If you’re going to splurge, go for the $125 chef’s tasting menu and have what may be the best meal in Miami.
101 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
Kiki on the River: The place to hang these days is the Miami River, and this is the spot to dine. You’ll likely share the restaurant with a celebrity, such as Jay Z or maybe a visiting LeBron James.
450 NW North River Dr., Miami
Instead of Emeril’s Clambake…
Bam! You just dropped $200. The scrum is on to snatch clams passed around by waiters, and you’ll be drinking to kill time between bites. Set money aside for an Uber.
Ella’s Oyster Bar: This seafood spot, less than year old, takes its inspiration from Calle Ocho. You’ll find crispy, fluffy crab croquetas and oysters Rockafeller in a dreamy uni butter sauce. A Little Havana Clam Bake in a cast-iron skillet includes lobster, mussels, shrimp and purple Peruvian potatoes. And finish with a guava pastelito ice cream sandwich you’ll later dream about. Oysters are also $1.25 during a happy hour that runs seven days a week, until 7 p.m.
1615 SW Eighth St., Miami
Mignonette: Want to spend a few more clams? Mignonette raises the level of seafood and oyster bars. You can go high end with caviar and seafood towers of oysters, clams, snow crabs and a killer shrimp cocktail, to comfort dishes such as a bouillabaisse that will warrant extra bread to sop up every last saucy drop. Finish with the Heath bar bread pudding.
210 NE 18th St., Miami
Instead of the Grand Tasting…
You know what’s awesome? A bunch of Miami-famous drunk people spilling their wine on you after five hours of drinking. This is not how to adult.
Lagniappe: Warm string lights hang over a lush, hidden patio on a cool February night, where diners tap their toes to the music of a blues band playing in the lounge inside. You choose a bottle of wine from an expansive list and cured meats and cheeses that the staff will arrange into a stunning charcuterie board. Lagniappe doesn’t accept reservations, which makes the weekend of the festival the perfect time to come.
3425 NE Second Ave., Miami
Happy Wine: Think of Happy Wine like your favorite bookseller for wines. You’ll find the last, few remaindered bottles of favorite wines and an endless selection in crates and racks stacked to the ceiling around rustic tables perfect for sharing tapas and charcuterie boards. Sophisticates prefer the Coconut Grove spot. But the no-nonsense location on Southwest Eighth Street has karaoke on Wednesdays. It’s a no-fuss way to enjoy delicious wines.
2833 Bird Ave., Coconut Grove
5792 SW Eighth St., Miami