BEST NEW RESTAURANTS
Cacao Edgar Leal, a chef from Venezuela, is influenced by all of Latin America, offering tangy Ecuadoran shrimp seviche, a Peruvian-style octopus-potato napoleon and crisp Argentinean empanadas. Still, most of his desserts are made with Venezuela's rich El Rey chocolate (141 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1001).
Carmen In an unhyped restaurant in a non-descript hotel, Carmen Gonzalez turns out fantastic haute Puerto Rican dishes, such as a lobster-avocado terrine with Key lime mayonnaise. At the bar: mini pulled-pork sandwiches and coquitos—a kind of coconut-milk eggnog (700 Biltmore Wy., Coral Gables; 305-913-1944).
Chispa Robbin Haas, an F&W Best New Chef 1994, is known for his New American food. Here he proves he's equally brilliant at Nuevo Latino, glazing his slow-roasted short ribs with soy sauce and guajillo chiles and making chicharrónes (cracklings) with conch slivers instead of the traditional pork rind. The dining room, with leather chairs and beaded lamps, attracts a trendy crowd (225 Altara Ave., Miami; 305-648-2600).
Talula F&W Best New Chef 2000 Andrea Curto-Randazzo and her husband, Frank Randazzo, have cooked in some of Miami's top kitchens (Andrea at Wish and Frank at the Gaucho Room). Now they've created their dream restaurant, serving creative comfort food—sautéed soft-shell crabs with pappardelle, spinach and tomato-garlic ragout; yellowtail snapper with wild-mushroom risotto and wilted arugula—in an intimate dining room (210 23rd St., Miami Beach; 305-672-0778).
The Raleigh The curvy pool at this 1940s-era Deco-style hotel had cameos in several of Esther Williams' movies. Now the place has gotten a much-needed touch-up under new owner André Balazs (who runs New York City's The Mercer and Hollywood's Chateau Marmont). He's added cabanas by the pool, redone the rooms in a retro Havana look and hired Eric Ripert of Manhattan's Le Bernardin to create a seafood menu (doubles from $225; 1775 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-6300).
The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach After years of construction, this Ritz-Carlton is finally open. The Parisian spa La Maison de Beauté Carita has an outpost, and "tanning butlers" walk around the pool carrying lotions. Manhattan chef David Bouley is slated to be in charge of the restaurant, due to open this summer (doubles from $330; 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 786-276-4000).
Four Seasons Miami At 70 stories, the building housing the new Four Seasons hotel is impressively tall. That means lots of vantage points from which to view the two-acre terrace with four pools and a Jacuzzi. Then there's the 45,000-square-foot health club, 80-foot waterfall and bulbous Botero sculptures. At the restaurant, Acqua, Four Seasons veteran Marco Bax serves appealing Mediterranean dishes, like veal Milanese with tomato-arugula salad. The patio tables at the Bahía bar are packed in the evenings (doubles from $275; 1435 Brickell Ave., Miami; 305-358-3535).
BEST NEW STEAK HOUSE
Prime One Twelve The steaks here, including the thick, juicy 48-ounce porterhouse, are hard to pass up, but the restaurant—which owner Myles Chefetz calls a "woman-friendly modern American steak house"—offers many excellent non-beef options as well: yellowfin tuna with avocado, hearts of palm and Kumamoto-oyster sauce; wild New Zealand salmon in asparagus-lemon nage (a cross between a broth and a sauce). As for the name, Prime refers both to the first-rate dry-aged meat and to the location, at the tip of South Beach's buzzing Ocean Drive (112 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-532-8112).
Emeril's Miami Beach Food Network icon Emeril Lagasse, aided by chef de cuisine Tom Azar, puts his trademark Creole dishes side by side with Florida-inspired creations like crab cakes in a conch bisque. The wine list is full of unusual vintage finds (1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-695-4550).
Mundo This tropical-influenced restaurant is too new to review, but surely bears watching. Norman Van Aken, who owns Norman's in Coral Gables, calls it "a reflection of almost 35 years of being a chef, a cook, a writer, a dreamer, an eater, a traveler, a teacher and a guy who wants to give pleasure—all at a price that makes it very accessible" (320 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables; 305-442-6787).
OLA Miami After launching his Nuevo Latino empire here in '91 with Yuca, Douglas Rodriguez is back with OLA Miami, an offshoot of his New York City restaurant. On the menu: pork with yuca, cabbage and tomatoes; mackerel marinated in lime with creamy horseradish sauce (5061 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-758-9195).
South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Now in its third year, this F&W-presented festival, which runs March 5 to 7, brings culinary superstars to South Beach. Alain Ducasse, Todd English, Ming Tsai, Nobu Matsuhisa, Alton Brown and other celebrities will join local heroes, like Michelle Bernstein, for three days of classes, cooking demonstrations, grand tastings and parties. Guests who attend the opening-night party at the Delano hotel will hear a live performance by Willie Nelson; another highlight is the beach barbecue—with Champagne, of course (events from $60, or $975 for a weekend pass; www.sobewineandfoodfest.com; 305-FIU-WINE).
BEST LATE-NIGHT DINING
Cafeteria This four-month-old New York City import, in a former Cadillac showroom, is open 24 hours a day. Club kids stop by for the fried chicken with buttermilk waffles or for more elevated dishes, like roasted lamb with creamed corn, asparagus and wild-berry reduction. Don't skip dessert: The fallen chocolate cake with house-made coconut ice cream is good enough to justify making a late night even later (546 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-672-3663).
La Petite Folie This tiny crêperie in the middle of the South Beach club scene is a spin-off of the nearby A la Folie. Crêpes with ham, brie and mushrooms and sandwiches with prosciutto, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto are served until 2 a.m. (1900 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-380-2314).
La Sandwicherie Squeezed between a gas station and a tattoo parlor, this tiny sandwich bar is a favorite of local hipsters, who drop in for the exceptionally good pâté-filled baguettes, fresh-fruit smoothies and perfect espressos, served from 8.30 a.m. to 6 a.m. daily (229 14th St., Miami Beach; 305-532-8934).
Versailles Royalty and American presidents have been known to make appearances at this Little Havana classic (locals pronounce the name ver-SIZE). The owners have attempted to live up to the name by decorating the space with chandeliers and mirrors, but patrons dress in jeans. The best dishes here are the Cuban specialties, such as the ropa vieja (shredded beef), and the surprisingly good Elena Ruz sandwich, with turkey, cream cheese and strawberry jam. The restaurant stays open until 2 a.m., as does the take-out window, where on-the-go customers grab a cafecito y croqueta—a small, dark coffee and a ham croquette (3555 S.W. 8th St., Miami; 305-444-0240).
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Timo Tim Andriola worked under top Miami chef Mark Militello for years. Now he's bravely chosen fast-food-laden Sunny Isles, a town just north of Miami Beach, as the venue for his first restaurant. Hidden in a strip mall, Timo features dishes like foie-gras crostini with caramelized oranges and boasts a wood-burning oven that turns out excellent pizzas—including one with roasted chicken, ricotta and Fontina (17624 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles; 305-936-1008).