Dining out in a big group is complicated. Someone always orders five cocktails and pretends it was one. Someone always gets a salad while everyone else is getting the steak. Someone always sneaks off to the bathroom when the bill comes and the math never works out right.
Miami Spice, the two month promotion where participating Miami restaurants all offer fixed price lunch ($22) and dinner ($39) menus, is the perfect way to dine out with a large group. Everyone pays the same amount -- as long as you all stick to the plan. There are more than 200 restaurants participating and while some are great for date nights, not all of them are ideal for big groups. Here are a few restaurants that we have tried that will be more than happy to find a place for your crew of hungry friends.
The Bazaar by José Andrés
What we had: The regular menu at Bazaar by José Andrés is an epic 60-dishes-and-counting pageant of small plates so don’t be surprised when you get the Miami Spice menu and see over a dozen choices to create what amounts to a five-course tasting odyssey. Each diner gets to choose one dish from the snacks, verduros tradicional, fruits and vegetables, carnes y mariscos and dessert of course. Plates start out small with bites of “bagels and lox” - a singular cone of creme fraiche and salmon roe - and get progressively bigger as you go down the list. Mix classics like patatas bravas with their take on a caprese salad that includes orbs of liquid mozzarella. Don’t miss the Cuban coffee-rubbed rib eye with passion fruit sauce and the classic chicken and bechamel croquetas. Desserts of deconstructed key lime pie and S’mores chocolate cake keep the innovative culinary shenanigans going for a sweet finish.
Who should go: Adventurous eaters looking to have a taste of award-winning chef Jose Andres’s whimsical take on Spanish tapas. The more people the better, with an long menu of choices.
— Sara Liss
The Bazaar by José Andrés, 1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
What we had: This Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, located in the Royal Palm Hotel on South Beach, is a perpetual Spice favorite, with an outstanding menu and a lush but welcoming vibe. Kick the evening off with a habibi marguerite: chili-spiced strawberry tea, cilantro lime and Don Julio tequila ($30 for a two-person serving; $60 for a four person serving). Unlike most Spice menus, Byblos offers the choice of two appetizers, and one of them really should be the roasted red beets. All things lamb are popular here, but we really loved the Ora King Salmon with harissa, sumac, citrus and creme fraiche and the Middle Eastern Fried Chicken with tahini, za’atar and housemade hot sauce (note: no hyperbole here; this sauce is hot). Supplemental items include an addictive black truffle pide with buffalo mozzarella, halloumi and tartufata ($10 extra) and a delicious grilled whole branzino with chermoula and saffron toum ($15 extra). Both are worth the higher price..
Who should go: Diners who want to improve their brunch game. While the dinner options are fabulous, Byblos is also offering a brunch Spice menu for the first time, and you don’t want to miss it. Try the Byblos Big Breakfast with za’atar fried eggs, halloumi, tomato, harissa potatoes and pita or the buttermilk qatayef pancakes with rose cream, pistachio, pomegranate and date syrup. Afterward, all other pancakes are subpar forever. Let’s hope Byblos keeps this brunch menu when Spice is over.
— Connie Ogle
Byblos, 1545 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
What we had: Way too many carbs. Try (key word) to show some self-control and not indulge in the decadently delicious, buttery flatbread set out before your meal with baba ganoush that melts in your mouth. Waiters at this festive “Mediterranean inspired” spot serve you family style, meaning the portions are on the sizable side. Of the nush nush (“snack” in Hebrew), the Spanish grilled octopus with chimichurri and lebaneh (cheese spread) was unforgettably juicy and tender, with just the right amount of spice. Of the mains, the Chicken Tagine, with touches of saffron, ginger, paprika, cumin and turmeric, is a party for your mouth.
Who should go: Singletons and fun couples looking for a party atmosphere, but with good food and an evocative “Arabian Nights” atmosphere.
-- Maddy Marr
Cleo South Beach at the Redbury Hotel, 1776 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
Diez y Seis
What we had: The Shore Club’s tapas-style Mexican restaurant is a fun spot to pretend you’re on vacation and indulge in a Spice power lunch. We opted for a table on the outdoor patio with prime view of the pool and the hotel guests frolicking. There’s plenty to choose from on the menu with almost a dozen options for apps and mains. We started with the smoked elote guacamole and the tuna tartare with lime aioli, both went well with the corn chips provided. For mains we got the “El Luchador” burger with wagyu beef and the tinga de pollo tacos, both flavorful and fresh. The dessert of cajeta flan made for a sweet ending.
Who should go: Mexican food lovers looking a fun scene and an interesting spin on Mexican classics.
-- Sara Liss
Diez y Seis, 1901 Collins Ave, Miami Beach.
Forte dei Marmi
What we had: Walking into this cream-colored building in posh SoFi feels like stepping into an elegant Tuscan villa. From the wait staff who banter in Italian to the fresh herbs cut tableside that get sprinkled into a dish of olive oil for the complimentary focaccia bread service, everything here feels like dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Italy. We dove into the Spice menu ordering the zucchini blossoms stuffed with red prawns and the grilled octopus with warm potato and celery salad, both lovely starters. For mains there’s a choice of Spaghetti Alla Vongole with Bottarga, a linguine with zucchini, branzino filet, lamb chop and veal loin. We loved the spaghetti with clams, hitting all the right notes with the perfect amount of garlic, olive oil and briny bottarga. The veal loin was a generous portion and came with delicious porcini mushrooms and roasted potatoes. For dessert we could not pass up the restaurant’s famous Honey Onyx pistachio gelato, a heaping mountain of creamy pistachio soft serve (normally a hefty $26 dessert on the menu, so a steal for Spice) and the coconut panna cotta served with berries sauteed tableside.
Who should go: Couples looking for a romantic date spot and Italian food purists craving an authentic-yet-upscale take on regional Italian cuisine.
— Sara Liss
Forte dei Marmi, 150 Ocean Dr. South Beach.
What we had: We started with their signature Mandrake Maki made with salmon, crab, hamachi, tuna, and creamy jalapeño. The Butter Lettuce Salad is also a must if only for the yuzu, truffle and wasabi dressing. The Grilled Black Angus Tenderloin with Kabocha puree was exceptionally tender and juicy in every bite. Finish with the mochi dessert for ultimate refreshment.
Who Should Go: For the foodie that loves a trendy scene and exceptional sushi, this is the spot to go with a crew of girlfriends (or boyfriends).
— Kathy Buccio
Mandrake, 210 23rd St., Miami Beach
What we had: The Italian restaurant at the Fontainebleau is always a winner for Spice, if not solely for the fact that they consistently offer their legendary spaghetti pomodoro as a spice entree and it is consistently, delectably, life-changing. That said, we were a tad disappointed that their creamy polenta with mushrooms was not offered on this year’s Spice but we understand the need to innovate - in it’s place we loved the Mediterranean octopus with capers and olives. For mains there’s that unctuous spaghetti and also choices of branzino - beautifully crisp skin - a duck and foie gras ravioli and chicken breast with pancetta. Desserts of coconut tapioca and chocolate Amedei bar with hazelnut crunch were lovely.
Who should go: Carb-lovers and fans of Scott Conant’s homey Italian cooking.
-- Sara Liss
Scarpetta, 4441 Collins Ave, Miami Beach.