Take A Bite Out of Miami

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Our neighbor to the south is known for many things. Sun and sand. Sparkling ocean views. Celebrities and clubs. Lifestyles of the rich, tanned and thin. Latin culture. And restaurants.

Restaurants? In Miami? C’mon.

Only a few years ago, the notion of Miami as a serious dining destination was as believable as the Tooth Fairy. Sure, there were a handful of well-regarded restaurants from a handful of respected local chefs, a few iconic spots like Joe’s Stone Crab and Versailles. But to knowledgeable foodies from such restaurant-centric cities as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Miami was basically Podunk with better seafood.

But those days are over.

From homegrown talent like Michael Schwartz, Michelle Bernstein, Kris Wessel and the trio behind the Pubbelly group of restaurants to such celebrated culinary immigrants as Daniel Boulud, Scott Conant, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Masaharu Morimoto, the Miami dining scene has grown up with remarkable speed. These days, Miami restaurants can go whisk-to-whisk with the best restaurants anywhere in the country, and the future is only looking brighter.

Time to start believing in the Tooth Fairy.

Miami’s Hottest Restaurants:

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink

130 N.E. 40th St., Miami

When Michael Schwartz opened this aptly named restaurant in 2006, he had yet to earn a national reputation as a chef of uncommon creativity, the Design District had yet to become a trendy haunt for foodies fleeing the tourist hordes of South Beach, and the local seasonal-sustainable ethos had yet to be the guiding light of every Miami chef worthy of his whites.

Nine years later, Schwartz is hailed as a visionary, though hardly one who is resting on his laurels.

Now with three more restaurants in Miami, one in Grand Cayman and two on cruise ships, the parent to them all is as vital as ever, supplementing signatures like slow-roasted pork shoulder with parsley sauce or crispy pork belly pizza with items from the recently installed raw bar (cobia and shrimp ceviche, sea bream tartare). The “snack” menu alone— think chicken liver crostini, duck rillettes and crispy pig ears—is worth a visit.

Contact: 305/573-5550, michaelsgenuine.com

Naoe

661 Brickell Key Drive, Miami

It’s probably safe to say that no restaurant in South Florida is as purely and uncompromisingly true to its chef-owner’s vision as Kevin Cory’s serene eight-seat restaurant in the Courvoisier Centre on Brickell Key. No, you can’t have it your way at Naoe, at least not unless you clear it with the chef a minimum of 10 days prior to your reservation (which is required).

When you put yourself in Cory’s very capable hands, what you get is exquisitely conceived and crafted Japanese cuisine and sushi that’s matched by only a handful of restaurants on either side of Tokyo. The $200 per person menu—served omakase style (in other words, left to the chef to determine)— changes daily, depending on what fish meet the chef’s exacting standards. “Fresh” is the bare minimum. Naoe’s motto is, “It’s not fresh … it’s alive.”

A second restaurant at the same address—N by Naoe—opened last summer as a communal table alternative. Cory describes it as “a lighter version of Naoe” and only $100 per person.

Contact: 305/947-6263, naoemiami.com

Oolite

1661 Pennsylvania Ave., Miami Beach

Taste the food coming out of the kitchen at Kris Wessel’s smart-looking South Beach restaurant and you’d probably never guess it’s as good for you as it is good-tasting. Perhaps Miami’s only 100-percent gluten-free restaurant, it also shuns processed sugars, oils and grains.

What it doesn’t shun, though, is flavor, as Wessel digs deep into local ingredients and the multitude of culinary cultures that mix and mingle in South Florida.

He might poach Florida grouper in coconut water and pair it with bibb lettuce, boniato, lime and locally caught whitewater clams.

Or he might stuff arepas with slow-roasted duck and goat cheese. Or give eggs Benedict a Cuban touch with roasted pork and mojo hollandaise. There’s also a four-course prix fixe vegan menu with choices like Florida kale, white bean and cauliflower cassoulet and flourless chocolate cake with raspberry whiskey sauce.

Contact: 305/907-5535, ooliterestaurant.com

For more of Miami’s hottest restaurants, pick up the March/April issue of Boca Raton magazine.