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Dining in Miami

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Miami takes its dining scene very seriously, as well it should. People come from all over the world to drink and dine in this sunny city by the Atlantic Ocean. Restaurants range from South American to Continental to Caribbean, while the local fusion cuisine known as "Floribbean" borrows influences from all three regions.

Many of the citys restaurants specialize in fresh local seafood. Swordfish, yellowtail, lobster, and oysters have a place on most menus. In the autumn and winter, stone crab season takes over the Beach. At restaurants such as Montys, South Beach Stone Crabs, and the legendary Joes Stone Crab, people wait for hours and pay upwards of $40 each to enjoy the delicious crustaceans.

Miami is known as the capital of Latin America, and its eateries represent every country and region of the southern continent. Brazilian rodizio, Argentine churrasco, and Peruvian seafood are just a few of the ethnic specialties local restaurants dish out. Dozens of Cuban eateries serve filling, tasty meals for under $7.

For many diners, however, a restaurants food is not the point. Neither is the decor, although a restaurant scores points for having a great view or a kitschy theme. To these people, the most important quality in a restaurant is its social cachet. Dining is secondary to seeing and being seen. Restaurants often post lists or display framed pictures of celebrity guests. If you're not famous, never fear: you can get by on looks, charm, or deep pockets.

Whether you're looking for a cheap and filling meal, a gourmet Italian feast, or a night amongst the stars, you can find it in one of the districts of this splendidly diverse city.

South Beach is the epicenter of excitement and glamour. Its here, at restaurants such as The Strand or the China Grill, that you're most likely to spot a celebrity at the next table. Although many of the restaurants are very pricey, places such as the ever-popular News Café offer a pleasant atmosphere, low prices, and great food. Grab an outside table and enjoy wine and cheese as you ogle the SoBe street scene.

Although central Miami Beach is not as jam-packed with restaurants as its southern neighbor, there are plenty of excellent dining options, many of them located within the luxury hotels. At Tapas Under the Trees, located in the gorgeous Fontainebleau Hotel, patrons can nibble on appetizers as they soak up the tropical atmosphere.

Bal Harbour caters to the tastes of the fabulously wealthy. Dining options are mostly expensive and elegant. Petrossian, located in the exclusive Bal Harbour Shops, serves caviar, pate, and other Continental delicacies to rejuvenate weary shoppers. Even if you can't afford to shop in the world-class designer boutiques, a meal here will make you feel like royalty.

Downtown Miami is popular with businesspeople and other locals. Nightlife is nonexistent, but theres a flourishing restaurant scene. Seafood restaurants such as Bigfish Mayaimi and steakhouses such as Porcao serve delicious food with a local twist.

Coral Gables, a quaint village within Greater Miami, boasts a culturally rich entertainment and dining scene. Sample Jamaican gourmet cuisine at Ortanique on the Mile, and then have a drink at Satchmo Blues Bar.

Coconut Grove, another small, trendy community within Central Miami, boasts a number of excellent casual and gourmet dining choices. At Chiyo, attractive hipsters nibble on sushi and give each other the once-over. Down the street at Mezzanotte in the Grove, dancing on the tables is encouraged, as long as no ones pasta gets overturned.

Key Biscaynes restaurants have a different feel from any other part of Miami, or any other part of the world. The dining establishments are characteristically laidback and informal; most of the time they open and close when they choose, and menus can change daily. Grab fish and fries at the Bayside Seafood Grill and then venture over to Sundays on the Bay for a frozen drink.

Little Havana, located in Central Miami, has the greatest number of excellent Cuban and South American eateries. Versailles, while slightly more expensive than others, is famous for its food. Another excellent choice is Casa Juancho, where diners enjoy authentic Spanish cuisine, a comfortable yet elegant atmosphere, and live flamenco music. The district can be somewhat questionable after dark, so visitors are recommended to go in groups.

Hialeah, a suburb of West Miami, caters to locals, and the prices tend to be more reasonable than in other parts of the city. Los Ranchos, a popular chain of South American steakhouses, is typical of the neighborhoods restaurants. The food is excellent, the decor is attractive, and social climbers are rarely in attendance.

Aventura, best known for the gargantuan Aventura Mall, can claim its fair share of fusion restaurants, from expensive to reasonably priced. For inventive cuisine that doesn't stretch the budget, check out the Gourmet Diner.

South Miami features a number of unpretentious restaurants serving varied cuisine. El Chalan, a Peruvian seafood restaurant, and Goodies From Holland, a delightful Dutch bakery, typify the dining scene. The two establishments are polar opposites in terms of food, but they both offer a relaxed atmosphere and low prices.

Once you hit Broward county you're officially out of Miami, but many people consider it an extension of the Greater Miami area. A variety of excellent restaurants cater to tourists and seasonal residents. The Wolfgang Puck Grand Café, located in Sawgrass Mills, offers low-priced versions of the great chefs famed California cuisine. Fort Lauderdales Zan Z Bar claims to be the first South African eatery in the United States.

The roster of restaurants in this sprawling metropolis is impressive, eclectic, and ever-changing. Its difficult to keep track of which restaurants are remodeling, moving, opening a new branch, or changing themes. No visitor or local, no matter how dedicated, could ever sample all of Miami's cuisine or enjoy every one of its bars. However, the citys boisterous and irrepressible spirit demands that while you're here you do your best to meet the dining and drinking challenge every day and on into night. As far as challenges go, that isn't a bad one at all.

Lena Katz

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