Restaurants at airport hotels are often indifferent to local flavor and seldom try hard to please their captive audience of exhausted travelers, so it was a kick to come across Rioja Grille’s thoughtful and adventuresome menu at the DoubleTree Hilton on the outskirts of Miami International Airport. From the delicious ceviche spoons heaped with chopped colossal scallops, crisp green apple salsa, cucumbers, cilantro, lime and Serrano chile (pictured) to the comforting familiarity of grilled churrasco and crispy yuca frita, the dinner-only restaurant aims to wow diners with South Florida flavors.
Raised in Ponte Vedra Beach south of Jacksonville and trained at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, executive chef Michael Meuse, 40, lists local-flavor champions Oliver Saucy and Allen Susser among his culinary heroes. When Meuse left the Boca Lago Country Club to revamp the hotel’s steak-and-pasta menu, he kept a few of the classics but added Miami flair.
Ambience: Located in a hotel known for conferences, awards luncheons and its wholesale Merchandise Mart, Rioja Grille faces some indisputable challenges. There’s the “I’m not eating next to the airport” mentality for starters, plus a cavernous dining area that feels institutional despite amber wall sconces, white candles and tropical flowers. (The weeknight bargain buffet tables at the back don’t help.) Parking also can be a hassle. While there’s two-hour complimentary parking in a self-park lot west of the hotel, restaurant visitors must first pay the $5 lot fee, which is reimbursed after you present a voucher stamped by the restaurant.
- The gigantic wedge salad boosted with a fun, smoky crunch from chorizo and matchstick potatoes
- Bone-in grilled pork chops barbecued & sweetened with a guava glaze
- Mojito-roasted chicken
- Cuban-style shrimp in a tomato-based sauce
- Mango tart
- A respectable flan
- A heavenly banana rum crème brûlée
- Charming, eager-to-please servers
- Flavorful grilled rib-eye steak with sweet, sautéed bourbon onions
- Angel hair pasta with sweet peas and basil
- A side of fresh, sautéed green beans
- Zesty seafood ciopinno with a hunk of swordfish paired with smaller bites of scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari in an elliptical bowl with garlic crostini
What Didn’t Work
- A disappointing picatta dish boasting an unadorned filet and a small bowl of creamy citrus butter
- Slightly overcooked & tough almond-crusted mahi entrée
DoubleTree by Hilton, 711 NW 72 Ave, Miami (in the Blue Lagoon area)
Hours: 5-10pm daily
Prices: Appetizers $7-$13, entrees $13-$28, desserts $5-$7; Table for Two deal (two starters, entrees and desserts plus a bottle of house wine) $59 per couple