Since Joanne and I spend a fair amount of time in Miami during the winter months, we’re frequently asked where to find a nice open-air restaurant.

As you can imagine, the city offers an abundance of choices, both for casual outdoor eating and upscale (let’s call it “al fresco”) dining.

For example, breakfast outside at BIG PINK is a happening scene. And MANDOLIN in the Design District boasts some of the best Greek food in the area and has a beautiful outdoor garden. PRIME 112 has a decent outdoor patio but no view…unless you find it amusing to watch the Rolls Royces, Mazerattis and Bentleys unload a parade of beautifully dressed and well-coiffed women curbside.

Ask yourself: What’s the goal? Is it fine dining? Do you want the Miami social scene, or a romantic view?

If the answer is “yes” to all of the above, head for THE LIDO BAYSIDE GRILL at the Standard Hotel on Belle Isle. The Lido has a spectacular setting right on the water, and while it isn’t fine and fancy dining, it certainly serves up an inventive array of dishes that we enjoy….and enjoy a lot.

It’s located at 40 Island Avenue on Belle Isle, near – but not technically on – South Beach. The hotel lobby is an ode to the 1950s designer Charles Eames, and your 5-minute journey through the gardens from the hotel lobby to the restaurant is punctuated with a series of surprising little venues.

As you pass through the final arbor, the restaurant and the water will arrest your senses. If there are two of you, snag a table at the water’s edge. It might be wise to have your hotel concierge make your reservation. Or skip the formalities and come for the Lido’s lively Happy Hour and enjoy their cleverly garnished tropical cocktails.

If you prefer the certainty of a reservation, book with the timing of the sunset in mind because the views are spectacular, and the twilight hours are magical here. Perhaps they should hand out engagement rings at the door.

On to the food. It’s not cheap…but not expensive…ever-so-slightly challenging….and nicely plated and flavor forward.

Our favorites include the Tostones with Seafood Ceviche at $17, the Char-Grilled Octopus with 3-bean salad and toasted garlic, and the Steamed Clams in coconut milk and green curry with red-hot chilis.

We also love the basket of warm Indian Naan bread, which comes with a variety of chutneys. The Mezze Platter satisfies as well. It comes with toasted pita bread and a changing variety of dipping sauces like hummus, tzatziki (yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip), taramasalata (fish roe dip), or smoked eggplant dip (“melitzanosalata” in Greek, “babaganoush” in Arabic).

Oh, yeah, the Chicken Empanadas are also a winner.

Joanne and I most always share these generous and tasty appetizers along with a bottle of white Burgundy.

What my wife will not share is the just-caught, simply grilled Branzino with local green beans and salsa. (I’ll extend my hand to the side and snap my fingers to distract Joanne while I reach for a bite – but never quickly enough to avoid a stab from her fork).

My go-to dish? It’s been the Trio of Mini Cheeseburgers (with fries, of course). I like the adventure of being able to top each one differently – one with ketchup and red onion; the second with yellow mustard, raw onion and pickles; and finally my BURGER JONES favorite topping: caramelized onions and blue cheese.

BUT! But!!! On my most recent visit a couple of weeks ago, I was informed that the Burger Trio has been discontinued in favor of a regular hamburger. DUH????

Oh well, I’ll keep going back. The sunsets and perhaps a second bottle of Burgundy trumps a discontinued burger trio.



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