In 2002, restaurateur Steve Haas pitched an idea to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau: Host a month of dining deals at local restaurants. It was just a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and many people were still wary of travel. The program would incentivize coming to South Florida during the long, hot summer, he said.
Modeled after New York City’s restaurant week, Miami Spice began as a monthlong program in August. About three dozen restaurants participated, including the now-shuttered Azul, where a young chef named Michelle Bernstein was making a name for herself. The new event offered three-course prix fixes for lunch ($23) and dinner ($29). Even in its infancy, Miami Spice was well received, says Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB). “Restaurant owners asked us to extend it to two months.”
Over the years, Spice has evolved and expanded. In year two, the dining deals were made available through the last day of September, which has continued. This year, the restaurant count will top 250. The two-month promotion that begins this Thursday, August 1, will offer three-course meals priced at $23 for lunch/brunch and $39 for dinner, and Miami’s biggest restaurateurs are participating.
The goal is to draw attention to eateries in neighborhoods ranging from Wynwood to Little Havana to Doral. “The program is focused on traditional, white-tablecloth dining experiences,” Aedo says. “We want to celebrate more of the city’s neighborhood restaurants.”
To participate in Miami Spice, restaurants must submit menus to the GMCVB that represent value to the consumer, Aedo explains. “When you add it up, the regular per-check average of the establishment has generally been around $55, so we’re looking for restaurants to offer a 35 to 40 percent discount.”
Aedo and his staff encourage restaurants to offer extra perks such as drinks or an additional appetizer. Each restaurant pays $950 to participate. The money goes toward the GMCVB’s social media and marketing efforts.
Though the program was initially meant to attract tourists to Miami, chefs and restaurateurs now use it to lure locals. Restaurateur and nightclub owner David Grutman has three concepts (Komodo, Swan, and Planta) participating.” I think our Miami Spice menus give people the option to try more dishes than they normally would, at a great value. Dress up, have an awesome date night, and take advantage of Miami Spice over the summer.”
So how does one decide where to eat? A good way to start is to visit GMCVB’s website, miamitemptations.com, which offers participating restaurants’ menus. Then take a look at New Times‘ recommendations, listed below by neighborhood.
Dragonfly Izakaya & Fish Market delivers the best value in Doral.
Photo by Ruben Cabrera
Kendall & Doral
Although South Florida restaurants east of I-95 get most of the attention, the landscape expands west and south during Miami Spice. With its ever-growing Venezuelan population, Doral is a hotbed of cuisine from the South American nation. Here you can find a panoply of arepas alongside everything from Ecuadorian to Lebanese cuisine. At one time, chains filled Kendall’s restaurant scene. With the addition of eateries by chefs such as Adrianne Calvo and Jose Mendin, the dining scene has grown by leaps and bounds.
Only ten restaurants in Doral are participating in Miami Spice, far fewer than the more than three dozen in Brickell and downtown. The best bets out west are the dinner and lunch menus at Dragonfly Izakaya & Fish Market (5241 NW 87th Ave., Doral; 305-222-7447; dragonflyrestaurants.com). The concept, which opened in 2016, brought a veritable wonderland of Asian bric-a-brac to Downtown Doral, the billion-dollar project to transform the traffic-clogged city into a more urban living space. Though the regular menu offers everything from the savory steamed egg custard called chawanmushi to a respectable yakitori, the Spice offerings are a greatest hits of both traditional and sought-after Japanese cuisine. During lunch, available Sunday through Friday, you’ll find chicken karaage — fried crisp, dusted with tangy citric salt and sansho pepper, and squiggled with kewpie mayonnaise.
Keep the crunch going with a pork katsu sandwich — a juicy cutlet topped with kewpie mayo, tonkatsu sauce, cabbage, and nori; squeezed between slices of Japanese milk bread; and accompanied by lotus chips, miso soup, and a mini wedge salad.
The Spice dinner menu, which is available nightly, includes a whole grilled snapper slicked with Japanese chimichurri or an über-traditional clay pot of braised short rib with the Japanese barbecue sauce tare.
South in Kendall, four restaurants are set to participate in Spice. The Peruvian spot Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar (8405 Mills Dr., Miami; 305-630-3844; piscoynazca.com) will dish out a dynamic pair of menus (lunch Monday through Friday and dinner nightly) drawn from one of Latin America’s most exciting culinary traditions. Executive chef and Lima native Miguel Gomez traded a career in finance for one in the kitchen: He worked his way up the ranks at the celebrated Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio’s San Francisco outpost, La Mar Cebichería Peruana, before moving to Miami. This year, he’s overseeing a Spice menu that reads like a greatest hits of Peruvian cuisine. The highlight is the restaurant’s chaufa, which arrives in a ripping-hot stone bowl filled with supple shrimp and squid. But there are plenty of other standouts, such as causa crocante — panko shrimp perched on piquant whipped potato and topped with rocoto aioli — and a lunchtime lomo saltado sandwich featuring beef tenderloin, oyster and soy sauces, tomatoes, shoestring potatoes, and rocoto aioli on fluffy ciabatta. — Zachary Fagenson
Experience Coconut Grove’s culinary renaissance at Tigertail + Mary during Miami Spice
Tigertail + Mary
Coconut Grove & Coral Gables
Two of South Florida’s most visually stunning and walkable neighborhoods are Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, so it’s easy to turn a Miami Spice lunch or dinner into a full-day event by pairing a meal with some shopping or a cocktail or two.
The Grove is enjoying a culinary renaissance, and the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz offers a chance for diners to get a peek at his newly opened Tigertail + Mary (3321 Mary St., Coconut Grove; 305-772-5688; tigertailandmary.com) during Spice. The promotional menu is available for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Sunday through Thursday.
Schwartz is at his best when he lets quality meat, fish, and produce speak for themselves, so the entrée choices are concise: A hanger steak is served with escarole, and black grouper arrives with baby Dutch potatoes. Before you order, consider the spaetzle. Chef Stephen Ullrich makes them from a recipe he enjoyed as a child: “They’re the German version of mac ‘n’ cheese,” he says. These light little dumplings are sautéed with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and Florida corn and then finished with Gruyère. It’s a good way to get your veggies in a creamy, soulful dish — after all, Schwartz’s eatery specializes in vegetables. Finish with the chocolate brownie bomb with roasted banana ice cream.
In Coral Gables, nearly two dozen restaurants are participating in Miami Spice, and you could do well with either Christy’s half rack of lamb or Fiola’s rigatoni with ragu Bolognese.
There’s no debate, however, that the Biltmore’s Palme d’Or (1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1926; biltmorehotel.com) is the gold standard for Spice. Miami’s grande dame of dining, Palme d’Or, for us mere mortals, is reserved for only birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. If this isn’t an annual tradition, you must make it one. Put on your finest duds and make it a date night. Marvel at the white-tablecloth service while you peruse the menu created by chef Gregory Pugin. Though the atmosphere is old-school, the Michelin-starred chef’s menu is anything but stuffy.
The most popular appetizer is the foie gras with sautéed apples and strawberry foam, but there’s much creativity in the ahimi — a tomato-based ahi tuna substitute. It’s served with potatoes, corn, black olives, coriander, and Thai basil cream. Entrées include seared Arctic char, roast duck breast with wild berry gastrique, and a marinated flat-iron steak with a classic pink peppercorn sauce. In past years, the dessert options included a cheese cart experience. Unfortunately, that’s gone, but a macaroon tart with pineapple compote, mango sauce, and coconut cream adds a tropical finish to a wonderful meal. Palme d’Or’s Spice menu is available for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. — Laine Doss
Dinner at Edge Steak & Bar should be at the top of your list during Miami Spice.
Edge Steak & Bar
Brickell & Downtown Miami
Miami’s metropolitan neighborhood was once a place where workers in the financial sector would commute to the office but never stick around after hours. Over the past decade, Brickell and downtown Miami have become a place where people can live, work, and play — with plenty of incredible dining options.
There are 37 restaurants in the nearly four-square-mile area are slated to participate in Miami Spice. For a quick lunch and a killer deal, head to Zuma inside the Kimpton Epic Hotel (270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, Miami; 305- 577-0277; zumarestaurant.com). Italian-food lovers should check out the Spice dinner options at Toscana Divino (900 S. Miami Ave., Miami; 305 371-2767; toscanadivino.com), where every night of the week, guests can choose from six appetizers, eight entrées, and four desserts. A featured dish is the grilled Mediterranean branzino (typically $34 on its own).
When it comes to the most exciting Miami Spice deals in the Brickell/downtown area, Edge Steak & Bar (1435 Brickell Ave., Miami; 305-381-3190; edgerestaurant.com) is at the top of the list. This steakhouse, helmed by executive chef Aaron Brooks, is located on the seventh floor of the Four Seasons. Edge is one of the best restaurants in the area on any given day, but the chance to take advantage of a dining deal here makes the experience even better, because the usual dinner tab easily tops $39 per person.
Edge is participating in Miami Spice for dinner seven days a week, so it’s a great choice for both working meals and date nights. Brooks’ menu focuses on what’s fresh and in season.
Appetizers include a seafood and tomato arancini, a radicchio and summer strawberry salad, and a chicken, pork, and hazelnut terrine with pickled carrots, beets, and apple butter. For those who appreciate a good terrine, Edge’s is not to be missed.
As for entrées, carnivores can go for the Creekstone Farms flat-iron steak served with grilled squash, green olive and rosemary salsa verde, and blistered baby tomatoes or a Berkshire pork chop served with heirloom carrots, watercress, carrot dill yogurt, and date and black pepper molasses. Though Edge is a steakhouse, vegetarians are not forgotten: The ricotta and lemon ravioli — served with mushrooms roasted with chili and garlic, golden raisins, and dandelion pesto — is made with them in mind. There’s also a branzino served with green romesco sauce, endive and sweet corn salad, ‘nduja (spicy spreadable pork salumi), and sage.
The meal ends on a sweet note with either key lime panna cotta or a cafecito sundae made with Cuban coffee ice cream, Maria cookies, and chocolate rum sauce. — Amber Love Bond
Plant Miami offers vegan meals and a bar that serves fresh juices and detox beverages.
Photo by Sonja Garnitschnig
Wynwood & Design District
Even a few years ago, the Design District and Wynwood had few restaurant choices. Now these neighborhoods boast a bounty of eateries that range from fast casual to fine dining. And both areas include establishments by Brad Kilgore, who says Miami Spice is a great way for chefs to connect with new and returning diners. “It gives locals an opportunity to try multiple places while not breaking the bank.”
If you haven’t been to Kilgore’s Design District palace of fire, Ember (151 NE 41st St., Unit 117, Miami; 786-334-6494; embermiami.com), for fried chicken, now is your chance, when a discounted dinner menu is available Sunday through Saturday. Kilgore has taken his Spice menu literal by offering a piquant Nashville hot chicken. Tuck into a steaming plate of shrimp ‘n’ grits before the main course arrives and chase it with a fruit cobbler for a country-in-the-city meal.
Miami’s most artistic neighborhood happens to be the best place for vegans to experience Miami Spice. Set in a lush garden at the Sacred Space, Plant Miami (105 NE 24th St., Miami; 305-814-5365; thesacredspacemiami.com) offers plant-based meals and a bar that serves fresh juices and detox beverages. Head there for lunch Monday through Friday or dinner Sunday through Thursday to take advantage of the Spice menus. Start with a rich smoked beet tartare or a bright som tam salad bursting with daikon, green papaya, cucumber, and basil. Entrées include mamay asado with yuca mash, cannelloni stuffed with butternut squash and almond herb cheese, and sesame ginger noodles. For dessert, there’s a tangy key lime brûlée.
If you’re seeking a lively setting rich with art and music, R House (2727 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-576-0201; rhousewynwood.com) caters to vegans and nonvegans and offers an optional $11 drink package that includes a welcome cocktail plus wine or beer with your entrée. — Laine Doss
Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford’s Stubborn Seed will offer its normally $100-and-up prix fixes for $39 during Miami Spice.
Photo courtesy of Grove Bay Hospitality Group
From Japanese omakase at the Versace Mansion to stone crabs at Joe’s to steak and seafood towers at Prime 112, a quality meal in South Beach will cost you — unless you’re dining during Miami Spice. Though not every restaurant in the neighborhood is participating (Macchialina, with its award-winning pastas, is noticeably absent), a handful of high-priced establishments have signed on to offer their best while dialing down the pricing.
Among them, Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford’s Stubborn Seed (101 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 786-322-5211; stubbornseed.com), located in South of Fifth, offers the best value. The restaurant’s year-round five- and eight-course tasting menus comprise house favorites such as warm celery root and truffle butter organic chicken. During Spice, those $100-and-up prix fixes are slashed more than 50 percent while still offering many of Ford’s best-selling dishes for dinner Tuesday through Friday and brunch Sunday. “We’re so excited for this year’s Spice menu,” the chef says. “We’re taking a very seasonal and bright flavor approach to showcase our food in a welcoming and budget-friendly way. The goal is to highlight our signature dishes for those who have never dined with us, as well as feature new items that our regular patrons have never tried.”
At dinnertime, expect sourdough-crusted Alaskan halibut and pastry chef Dallas Wynne’s crowd-pleasing corn pavlova and snickerdoodle cookies. Serving a Spice brunch as well, Stubborn Seed offers daytime specialities such as buttermilk biscuits with cracked black pepper and onion jam; ricotta with apple cinnamon jam and charred sourdough; roasted cauliflower with fried onions and sunny-side-up eggs; and lemon curd doughnuts.
Ford also has some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to his Miami Spice offerings this year. “For those who want to indulge a bit more, we’ve built in some upgrades to the menu as well. But you’ll have to come in to find out just what they are.” — Clarissa Buch
A bargain meal at Atlantikos’ Instagram-worthy surroundings.
Mid-Beach & North Beaches
Diners in search of a meal with a magnificent water view and a community vibe should head to the northern beachside neighborhoods. Known as home to a more easy-going, relaxed culinary scene, these communities give diners the chance to experience a wide array of cuisines, such as French, Italian, and Asian.
From Mid-Beach to Sunny Isles Beach, about 35 restaurants participating in Miami Spice. Upscale options include the award-winning Scarpetta by Scott Conant and Traymore by Michael Schwartz, along with low-key neighborhood spots such as New Campo Argentino Steakhouse and Silverlake Bistro.
The discounts make August and September a perfect time to enjoy a sophisticated, hearty Mediterranean meal at Atlantikos, nestled inside the St. Regis Hotel (9703 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-993-3300; atlantikosrestaurant.com). Originally, the restaurant served Greek-centric fare, but over time, chefs Anastasios “Tasos” Chasekioglou and Ruth Castilleja have incorporated other cuisines into their roster of healthful and flavorful dishes to create “a restaurant everyone can agree on,” Castilleja says.
Atlantikos’ elegant blue-and-white-trimmed dining room matches the Instagram-worthy surroundings, from the stunning entrance lobby to the gorgeous oceanfront terrace pool of the five-star hotel. The Miami Spice menu items will change halfway through the two-month promotion, but in August, a meal of Latin-inspired gin and coco scallop tiradito, grilled gambas with jasmine rice, and almond tsoureki will be served for only a third of its regular $120 price.
The list of Spice menu options also includes indulgences such as lamb chops with baby kale, Alaskan king crab cake, stuffed phyllo with feta and pear, yogurt panna cotta with classic strawberry rhubarb compote, and a warm pear cake with coconut sorbet.
Bonus: The promotion is available for lunch and dinner every day of the week. — Juliana Accioly
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