Best Of :: Food & Drink
If you're Puerto Rican you know better than to venture out to a restaurant to eat comida criolla. Nobody makes better arroz con gandules than your abuela, nobody's alcapurrias are quite as tasty as mami's, and mofongo -- well forget it -- you just can't get good mofongo off the island. Until now. This past December Puerto Rican singing-sensation-superstar Ricky Martin joined the owners of Ajili Mójili, one of San Juan's most noted restaurants, and opened Casa Salsa here in South Beach. Everything at Casa Salsa, from the interior design (corrugated metal, cane, wood, and straw with a SoBe twist) to the live plena music, the art work, and, of course, the food, will take you back to the sweet, lulling rhythms of la isla del encanto. Although everything we sampled was delicious, including the items that seemed to be more SoBe Rican than anything, for a true gustatory excursion through Puerto Rico we recommend sticking with the traditional dishes: surullos, alcapurrias, asopao, arañitas, and arroz con gandules. The dish Casa Salsa does best is mofongo: plantains mashed with oil and garlic and filled with your choice of chicken, lobster, or beef, and topped with a delicious tomato-based salsa, all served in a typical wooden pilón. ¡Ay que rico! Lunch daily from noon until 4:00 p.m. Dinner Monday through Thursday from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, Friday through Sunday until 2:00 a.m. Reservations are strongly recommended for Friday and Saturday nights: You probably won't get a table without one.
Let's face it, a bowl of black bean soup can be a bounty of blasé. But the chefs at these little Mexican diners add a magical elixir to their pot: a splash of beer, Dos Equis Special Lager, to be precise. That's why they call it drunken bean soup. You won't get a beer buzz, but the effect is definitely euphoric. A dollop of sour cream and some shredded cheese (which you can ask them to hold) round out the unexpectedly flavorful recipe. Please, señor, some more. ¡Ándale!
It's Tuesday afternoon and you're craving chicken feet again. You had the little morsels just two days ago, but that didn't do the trick. At the same meal you scarfed turnip cakes, steamed shrimp dumplings, sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf, baked roast pork buns, spare ribs with black bean sauce, rice noodles har mon, and for dessert, steamed buns filled with lotus seed paste. Still it wasn't enough. The succulent feet remain on your brain. If you had your way, you would eat dim sum at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. Lucky for you, at Kon Chau you can. Open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, the restaurant offers about 50 dim sum items at any time of the day, unlike other restaurants that leave you hankering for the stuff until the weekend comes. Nothing fancy here: No steam cart being rolled around by a snooty driver who refuses to reveal what exactly is on your little plate. Kon Chau offers all dim sum prepared to order. Exceptional edibles and efficient, courteous service are just two good reasons to dine here. The third: incredibly cheap prices. Two people can eat until they burst for less than 20 bucks. Now that's a lot of chicken feet.
Contrary to popular belief, the Italians didn't invent pizza. The Greeks did, who in turn got the idea from the enterprising Etruscans, who used focaccia as plates. But the Italians certainly improved the dish. In Naples they added tomato sauce, and in the late Nineteenth Century the classic Margherita (four-cheese pizza) was invented and named for the then-queen of Italy. Elsewhere in the country, pizzaiolos, or pizza makers, vied with each other to create the most original toppings, using whatever local ingredients they could lay their flour-covered hands on, including cured meats like prosciutto and soppressata and homegrown vegetables such as olives and eggplant. You can see the fruits of this ancient labor at Spris, which offers delicate, thin-crust pizzas, similar to the ones found in Naples, for contemporary consumption. Owned by the folks who run Tiramesu, only a few doors away, Spris satisfies the pizzaiolo in all of us by offering more than 30 choices, including the tonnata (with tuna, onion, and basil), the gamberetti (with shrimp and arugula), and of course, the Margherita.
It's probably no surprise that this dynamic but industrial-looking place is noisy: Most of the mod décor is metallic. Talk about reverb. Not only that, China Grill Management owns this Asian noodle shop, and this particular restaurant group seems to excel in creating high-end eateries that are sweet to the taste but hard on the eardrum. Sitting outside at the café tables probably won't help much, given that Lincoln Road is overwhelmed with crying babies and whining tourists these days. Still you might as well get used to it if you want to slurp up some yummy duck-topped egg noodles or vibrant curry-infused rice noodles (all reasonably priced). There's no use complaining: No one will be able to hear you.
"Wait, let me get you a warm one," the counter clerk says as he hovers a hand above the trays of doughy bagels. In no time his heat-seeking fingers land on a poppy-seed bagel that's as piping hot as it is flush with flavor. At Bagels & Co. freshness is never in question. Beyond fresh, the bagels are unusually dense and chewy, with a nice flavor. There are more than a dozen varieties available, all of which, we've found after extensive research, are extremely satisfying. The bialys (a kind of puffy, holeless bagel with onions on top) are the best we've ever seen. And did we mention how fresh everything is? And warm? And chewy?