Don’t expect to stroll up to the door of Carpaccio, easily the busiest restaurant at Bal Harbour Shops, and casually snag a table. The Italian standby boasts longevity few places in Miami share. Even some 17 years after opening, crowds cram into the breezy space for every lunch service. During particularly busy hours—anytime after 1:30 p.m. or all day Sunday—don’t be surprised to see would-be diners corralled behind a red velvet rope.

The most practiced regulars, in fact, often show up just before the restaurant opens (11:30 a.m.) for the most coveted bank of outdoor tables facing Collins Avenue. If you sit down at, say, 11:15, nobody will tell you to leave, and you can secure the spot for the second the kitchen opens.

And there are many such seasoned regulars, thanks to Carpaccio’s track record and its choice location. Surrounded by the most chic stores in town—Fendi, Gucci, Hermès, Prada, Balenciaga—the restaurant attracts a certain set of fashion-conscious patrons from around the world.

“The beauty of the location is that we have clientele year-round,” says Gabriel Fernandez, the general manager, who started at Carpaccio as a server nine years ago. “We have regulars from Argentina to Germany to Russia. They come at different times of the year, but we consider them regulars because every year it’s the same clientele.”

The average lunch customer also includes those running the high-fashion outposts, along with their clients. “They’re friendly and fast, and they have a history, both in the mall and the city,” says Victor Castro, a store manager for Dolce & Gabbana, who often dines at the restaurant twice a week, either on corporate visits or with staff members. “And for shoppers, it’s a place to see and be seen with your exotic car and shopping bags. It’s a chance for the Joe or Joanne Schmo to be next to someone famous or act like they’re someone famous.”

Indeed, Carpaccio sees its fair share of celebrities. The Kardashians, for better or worse, are regular visitors, and athletes find it a good place to refuel. Fernandez says Lionel Messi, arguably the world’s best soccer player, celebrated his last birthday here.

But why Carpaccio and not one of the other handfuls of restaurants dotting the perimeter of the Shops? Of course, there’s the food, a spread of Italian classics that fit nearly any budget and diet. Sylphs keeping slim for Saint Laurent Paris can try pointedly calorie-conscious selections such as the Riviera salad, a virtuous assembly of broccoli, shrimp, and mixed greens, while heartier appetites can feast on pizzas crisped in a visible wood oven or a selection of rich filled pastas. And there’s an entire sub-menu of the restaurant’s namesake dish, serving up paper-thin swordfish, tuna, and filet mignon with various accompaniments like artichokes and shaved Parmesan or orange slices and pink peppercorns.

Most important, though, these selections rarely change, and they’re pleasantly consistent from visit to visit. Chef de cuisine Rodrigo Sanchez has been with the restaurant since it opened, and while specials might come and go, the staples will always remain.

So if lunchtime here seems more about the overall atmosphere than what’s on the plate, that’s not entirely by accident. BECAUSE IMAGE MATTERS. come for the experience, reads a billboard for the restaurant on I-95. Fernandez concurs: “We consider that we’re not in the food industry; we are in the people industry, serving food. That makes a big difference in what we do,” he says. In fact, much of this is Carpaccio’s appeal. In a world marked by change and uncertainty, the restaurant functions like a reliable oasis. Roger Forbes, a luxury high-rise manager and Carpaccio patron, says, “I can’t imagine the place ever not being completely packed.”

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