MIAGuide

Where To Have A Special Occasion Dinner If You're Not A Billionaire

Where to toast an anniversary or celebrate a birthday even if the local hospital isn't named after your family.
spread of french dishes like steak frites and foie gras

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings / @eatthecanvasllc

Special occasion meals in Miami are starting to feel like they're only for people who’ve given serious thought to commercial space travel. There are restaurant membership fees that could buy an actual boat (a nice one), and kitchens with caviar budgets that exceed Greenland’s gross domestic product. Inflation is one thing, sure, but it's another to spend $32 on two raviolis. Cue the restaurants on this guide. Believe it or not, there are still fun, delicious, and reasonably priced dinners for people who don't plan on buying an island one day. At the places below, it’s possible—even likely—that you’ll pay far less than $100 per person and eat great food. No caviar or space travel needed.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings

Nicaraguan

Sweetwater

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerDinner with the ParentsBirthdaysClassic Establishment

Madroño has the kind of formal service and white tablecloth atmosphere that usually foreshadows a check that’ll hurt your father’s feelings. But this is the best place in Miami to celebrate a financially responsible loved one’s birthday. If you’re here with more than two people, get the bandeja de antojitos El Madroño, a lazy susan overflowing with delicious Nicaraguan food. It can easily feed four or five, and costs just under $50. You can really celebrate anything at this Sweetwater restaurant, but they do keep confetti and sparklers on hand for birthdays. 

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings / @eatthecanvasllc

Using ghost pepper naan to scoop up chunks of smoked lamb neck at Ghee will make you blissfully unaware of your lack of yacht. It's really the food that makes Ghee a special occasion restaurant, especially if you've ever dedicated a birthday candle wish to "more Indian restaurants in Miami." And yet practically every classic Ghee dish on the menu—that huge smoked lamb neck, turmeric marinated fish, yellowfin tuna bhel—has stayed under $40 in the face of inflation. (Even the three-course tasting menu only costs $65.) Service is always stellar and the roomy dining room is perfect for a dinner all 13 cousins insist on attending.

photo credit: CLEVELAND JENNINGS / @EATTHECANVASLLC

Too many restaurants in Miami seem to think making dinner fun means spending 13 million dollars to turn your dining room into a shiny animal print hallucinogenic nightmare. But Mangrove does not fall victim to this mentality. Instead, they focus on the things that actually matter: very good Jamaican food, dancey Caribbean music, and service so friendly your jaw will ache the next day from smiling at your server. Come for any occasion that calls for cocktails, a DJ who doesn’t suck, and a plethora of sharable entrees that rarely go north of $40. And stick around after the kitchen closes for dancing and $14 rum and sorrel cocktails.

When you sit down for dinner at this classic French spot in Coconut Grove, you'll receive a complimentary glass of champagne, which means you’re technically profiting from the first five minutes of the meal. Unfortunately, aside from bread, nothing else is free. But it’s all fairly priced and served in portions normally reserved for holidays or after a successful afternoon hanging shelves. Get the massive moules frites to split or the chicken fricassée, which is plopped on the table in a steaming copper pot. And, if it's your birthday, prepare for the restaurant to play a delightfully unhinged house music birthday song over the speakers so loud it’ll scare you. 

This restaurant is as expensive as we're allowing on this guide. But we couldn't not include our favorite Italian restaurant in Miami, which offers a $70 per person tasting menu that makes us feel like we’re celebrating winning multiple Oscars. The rotating parade of the menu’s greatest hits may start with porchetta-stuffed gnocco fritto, adjective-defying polenta, and broccolini topped with a poached egg. Then it keeps going with pasta, meat and fish, and takes a final bow with dessert (the tiramisu and bread pudding, if you’re lucky). Add on a couple of rounds of mini $10 martinis, and you’ve got the kind of big South Beach night out that has nothing to do with champagne bottles that appear to be vomiting sparks.

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings / @eatthecanvasllc

There’s a bit of a hermit crab situation going on with this place: Edan is a fancy Basque restaurant living inside the shell of a simple cafe. The result is a stunning dinner that feels—both in terms of price and formality—like something much more casual. If you don’t mind a rare piece of meat, order the $90 steak that can easily feed three people. Otherwise, we usually go for delicate dishes like smoked shiitake croquetas, tuna tartare surrounded by crispy shards of artichoke, and a basque cheesecake with a center that runs like it just called you a bad name. 

photo credit: Cleveland Jennings / @eatthecanvasllc

Dining at this Vietnamese restaurant next to Mangrove is itself a special occasion on par with a qualified life event. The little corner restaurant is lit up in neon, there's only one dish that costs more than $40, and the food is incredible. Despite having the energy of a trendy restaurant that'll be booked until 2027, you can probably get a table at Tam Tam this weekend. And you should, particularly if this special occasion involves friends you're comfortable sneaking into the bathroom with for a quick group karaoke moment.

Skip the peking duck at Komodo unless you want to sip $28 cocktails and rubberneck to see a DJ from the bottom half of the Ultra lineup. Because the $82 version at this Miami classic is better. It’s carved tableside, the crispiest bits are wrapped in pancake cones dripping in hoisin sauce, and the remaining meat reappears minutes later after being tossed in a wok with vegetables. This dish can feed you and your six hungry friends while you're gathered like little knights at the restaurant’s big round tables. And if you really want to feel special, go between 11am and 3:30pm, when you can pair the duck with incredible dim sum from Tropical’s roving carts.

photo credit: CLEVELAND JENNINGS / @EATTHECANVASLLC

$$$$Perfect For:Date Night

La Fresa is, to borrow a phrase from its native Hialeah, que fancy. This place serves French food in a charmingly cluttered space with zero sense of irony. It’s a little campy but not at all corny, and very much worthy of a 50th anniversary dinner. The formal, buttoned-up service will make you feel like one of the many French royals named Louis. And the food is excellent—both the straightforward bistro dishes as well as the Miami-infused creations like a foie gras and guava pastelito.

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