Miami's celebrity chef–heavy culinary contingent, pricey seafood restaurants, and passion for New World cuisine fusing Latin American, Caribbean, and European influences have led more than one foodie purist to cry style over substance in the past. And yes, there are lots of flashy eateries, especially in South Beach, that are overpriced and underwhelming. But there are also serious chefs exploring the city's culinary traditions, both native and imported. You can see both sides of the coin at the annual South Beach Food & Wine Festival every February (www.sobewineandfoodfest.com).
The city's Latino and Caribbean roots shine brightest, and "Floribbean" ingredients like Scotch bonnet peppers, yucca, hearts of palm, and fresh seafood are prevalent. The greatest concentration of authentic Cuban food and culture is in Little Havana, where men in guayaberas hawk jewel tone fruit from their pickup trucks and the walk-up counter at the legendary Versailles restaurant on Calle Ocho does brisk business in espressos and Cuban sandwiches. Other island cuisines include Haitian at Tap Tap and the beachfront OLA, which offers fantastic seviche as well as modern Latin-fusion dishes.
But it's hardly all plantains and mango sauce in Miami. A local food movement is gaining ground, evidenced by spots like Buena Vista Bistro and Michael's Genuine. For a classic Miami experience, head to Joe's Stone Crab, an institution where the chilled claws are revered like steaks are in Chicago, or the authentic waterfront fish house Garcia's for Miami's best mahimahi sandwiches.