Miami’s holiday travel season kicks off in earnest with Art Basel (Dec. 8 – 10), runs through February, then begins to taper off. It’s a time when securing a reservation in the thriving local restaurant scene becomes nearly impossible. Here are ten of the toughest Miami restaurants to get into for holiday travelers (put in those reservation requests now!).
Mandolin Aegean Bistro
At the time of publishing, Mandolin was booked through November and well into December for most nights. Waiting for a table is to be expected, even on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Combining the owner’s Greek and Turkish backgrounds, respectively, expect to find favorites like Fried Calamari, Cheese Saganaki, and Spanakopita. Fans rave about the Wood Oven Eggplant Chickpeas, Green Pepper and Tahini, and the Lamb Chops over Orzo Pilaf. The restaurant received the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand recognition in 2022 and 2023.
COTE Miami, Simon Kim’s Design District destination, received its first Michelin star within a year after its 2021 grand opening. The Michelin Guide states, “just as you would find at the original location in New York City, top-quality ingredients, astutely seasoned dishes and engaging servers make for a seamless experience.” Yelp reviewers agree that it lives up to its reputation as the leading steakhouse in Miami. Order the steak omakase, pair it with red wine, and you’ll quickly discover that the COTE builds on the reputation of the original (in a cleverly designed round, not square, space). Popular selections include The Butcher’s Feast: four selected cuts of Wagyu beef with traditional Korean vegetable sides. Reservations being as difficult as can be, a suggestion from COTE is to get into their Magic Hour (a.k.a. Happy Hour), which runs daily from 5 to 7 p.m. No reservation is required for Magic Hour.
A Michelin-starred restaurant, Boia De sits quite randomly between a medical center and a laundromat with a bright pink neon exclamation point to draw you in. Some Boia De staples and regulars include the White Truffle Tagliatelle with truffle butter, white truffle and parmesan; and the Crispy Polenta with marinated eggplant and ricotta salata. For dessert, try the Crispy Tiramisu. Sit at the bar close to the prep area, chat with the chefs, and enjoy the friendly and excellent service. A long, high-caliber wine list isn’t a surprise, but the selection of Italian beers is indicative of Boia De’s authenticity.
This much-anticipated Thomas Keller restaurant debuted in Coral Gables in September. The dinner menu at Bouchon Bistro features Steak Frites (a pan-seared flatiron steak with caramelized shallots and maître d’hôtel butter) and Moules au Safran (Maine bouchot mussels steamed with white wine, Dijon mustard and saffron). Keller’s other Miami-area restaurant, The Surf Club in Miami Beach, has been a local institution since Prohibition.
Combining Mediterranean and Japanese dishes, Mila is popular not only for its incredible cuisine, but also for the lounge, which the website states as “inspired by African tribes and the primitive design style of the mother continent.” Foodies recommend Mila’s signature tasting menu or the premium chef tasting menu, each a five-course meal with chef selections. Meeting all of the land and sea options, the current dinner menu features Grilled Whole Branzino with lemon, thyme and smoked eggplant caviar, a 32-oz Prime Tomahawk in onion jus, and Grilled Artichokes with black truffle and white balsamic dressing.
Part of the Myles Restaurant Group, Prime 112 is a popular dining destination among celebrities, a favorite on TripAdvisor and ― not coincidentally ― a long wait for tables with or without a reservation. Your patience will be rewarded. Located inside the Browns Hotel building (said to be the first hotel on Miami Beach), Prime 112 stands out for its classic steakhouse ambience, service worthy of its celebrity/athlete clientele, and of course, the steak. Whether your appetite calls for the 16-oz Bone-in Filet or a 48-oz Porterhouse, your steak will come with the perfect searing, juices, and flavors, with a robust selection of sides to choose from. The Truffled Lobster Mac and Cheese is a local favorite.
Authentic Japanese dining with a twist awaits at Hiden Miami. The Secret Door menu is an 8- to 10-course chef’s choice menu including sushi, dessert, hot and cold dishes, and only seasonal ingredients. Chef Seijun Okano comfortably mingles with guests on the dining room floor, where only eight patrons can be seated at a time. Note the irony behind the name: Hiden is located inside a taco joint, and requires a secret code to access. Guests reserve their spot months in advance and walk away with a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.
Carbone was founded by Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick, and draws on the great tradition of midcentury New York-style Italian restaurants (think Frank Sinatra at Patsy’s in New York City). Signature dishes include the Spicy Rigatoni in a vodka sauce; the Caesar Salad “alla ZZ”, prepared tableside; Veal Chop Parmesan served along with its crispy, juicy bone; and other standouts, including Octopus Pizzaiolo, Linguine Vongole, and a porterhouse steak for two grilled over charcoal.
Contessa is among the most-hyped restaurants in Miami, a favorite among travelers seeking that classic northern Italian-inspired dining destination. Located in the Design District, Contessa presents a glamorous and lush ambiance, perfect for the Aperol Spritz and Spicy Lobster Capellini. Among the surprise twists on traditional Italian fare: a meatball appetizer served in a gravy-like whole grain mustard sauce. If the wait list is full, try their Boston location.
Motek is a kosher-style Mediterranean restaurant with influences from the owners’ own ancestry, which encompasses Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Yemen. Motek currently has three locations in Miami: Coral Gables, Downtown Miami and Aventura (in addition to the main restaurant on the first floor, the Aventura Mall features a separate street food-style counter, called “Yalla Motek,” on the third floor). The Arayes Burger ― a lamb/beef mixture on pita bread, served with harissa aioli and tahini ― is a two-time award winner at the South Beach Wine & Food festival. There’s also an all-day brunch menu, lunch, dinner and freshly baked sweets.
*This article originally appeared on Forbes.com