Best of Miami®

Best Of 2006

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Conch Fritters

If there were an official Florida state fast food, it would have to be the conch fritter. Although Florida's queen conch population is so depleted that our conch meat comes from the Bahamas (and beyond), the fritters are everywhere. Too bad most are mediocre at best -- bland lumps of batter as devoid of conch as Florida's waters. But you will not find meager specimens at Captain Nate's, which was opened about a year ago by two former Key Largo fishermen. The fritters here ($7.99 for five) contain sizable chunks of conch (so much more satisfying than the mushy ground conch most traditional recipes use) plus diced red and green peppers for crunch and a jolt of cayenne to enliven the zeppole/frybreadlike batter. The accompanying dip, truly tart tartar sauce that is more like a New Orleans-style rémoulade, is a welcome addition, but is by no means a necessity.

Personal Best

In the beer wasteland that is South Florida, Ray Rigazio owns an oasis: the Abbey Brewing Company. Since taking the helm in 1995, he has worked hard to make this microbrewery nothing like a typical South Beach bar. He rid the door of snobbery and, more important, the refrigerators of quotidian beers. In their place chills an eclectic selection of brews from around the world, including the hard-to-find La Fin du Monde. His own recipes are not brewed on the premises but by Key West and Ybor City brewing companies, and Rigazio's calorie-rich assortment of ales packs a punch. His Father Theodore's Imperial Stout won a gold medal at this year's Best Florida Beer Championships in Tampa, and his Belgian-style Brother Ban's Double snagged the silver.

What is your greatest triumph?

I think the greatest triumph I’ve achieved is bringing great crafted beer to South Florida. When I came here twelve years ago, the best beer you could get was maybe a common import. Now I see dozens and dozens of restaurants carrying great microbeers and hundreds of thousands of people drinking them.

Personal Best

Nowadays the 210-acre enclave south of Fifth Street, which used to be a no man's land populated by graffiti and panhandlers, is indisputably Myles Chefetz's land. The Miami native has marked his territory with four of the most popular restaurants in Miami Beach -- Nemo, Big Pink, Shoji Sushi, and Prime One Twelve. When Chefetz, a former real estate attorney, opened Nemo, his first South Florida spot, in 1995, it shared space with a boarded-up crack house. The area has improved, but it seems nothing can deter his insatiable appetite for accomplishing what he set out to do. Not even Mother Nature. Even without power in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, his crew was still at it, slinging burgers off a grill set up on a Second Street sidewalk.

What is your greatest triumph?

That's a pretty general question. I mean, there are a lot of them. To be able to loan my family money when they need it. How about to be able to loan my family money when they need it -- without interest!

Best Argentine Restaurant
The Knife Argentinean Steakhouse

The Argentines have tasty empanadas, wonderful chorizos, delightful sweetbreads, and charming ceviches. But let's quickly establish one thing: A true Argentine culinary experience is a steak-eating experience. Argentina is, after all, a place where eating a decent rib eye is a birthright. For the penultimate carnivore splurge in South Florida, head to The Knife in Coconut Grove. With its thriving community of exiled Argentines, the Magic City has numerous parillas that serve heaping platters of red meat. But what is extra-special about The Knife -- a bright, airy, no-frills upstairs joint with a giant barbecue pit in the middle -- is the price. For $23.85 at dinnertime Monday through Thursday, and $25.95 Friday through Sunday, or for even less at lunchtime ($17.95 Monday through Friday, $20.95 on weekends), you can chow on as much churrasco, strip steak, and filet mignon as you want. It will tempt you, but don't waste stomach space on the bread: Your meal also includes unlimited trips to the salad bar, as well as a beverage (two glasses of beer or one bottle of wine per person), dessert, and coffee (you will need this, trust us). All in all, for anyone who likes steak, a trip to The Knife is a mind- and stomach-expanding experience. It's open late -- from noon till 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, till midnight on weekends.

3444 Main Highway, Coconut Grove, 33133
MAP
786-866-3999
Best Bakery
Le Boudoir

Le Boudoir is sort of a stealth bakery. It looks like a café, is self-labeled a tea salon, and has a menu mainly devoted to elegant Parisian-style sandwiches and salads. But the sandwiches' astonishingly good bread serves notice that baked goods are truly taken seriously here. Proprietor Michel Chiche is a master patissier who grew up in France and interned in perfectionist French restaurant kitchens before studying at the famed LeNôtre school. But the real proof of his sweet supremacy is not in his resumé or roster of celebrity clients (ranging from Steven Spielberg to Bill Clinton) but behind Le Boudoir's bakery counter. The selection of pastries displayed daily is small but flawless, especially Chiche's specialty, macaroons -- seasonal fillings sandwiched between a pair of almond macaroons with delicately crunchy shells and a melt-in-your-mouth interior. For those craving something extra-special, custom-catered orders range from elaborate sculptural spun-sugar fantasies to a dozen cookies. And if you are searching for a wedding cake that doesn't look like it was decorated by a baker with all the taste and subtlety of Miss Piggy, Le Boudoir can make you a stylish showpiece cake that tastes even better than it looks.

169 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 33134
MAP
305-442-0801
Best Bagels
Tasti Café

Although this café/bakery originally opened as part of the Tasti D-Lite frozen yogurt chain, it became immediately clear its main draw was not faux ice cream but the rest of the menu: sparkling, crisp salads; genuinely light yet assertively flavorful spicy sesame linguine; and baked goods. The bagels (95 cents each, $1.75 with cream cheese) are not housemade -- not so surprising considering the small place's commitment to quality: Tasti's owners do not begin to pretend a decent bagel can be crafted without New York City water. Consequently, their bagels -- flavors include plain, sesame, and onion, no chocolate chip/sun-dried tomato sissy stuff -- are flown in from H&H in NYC. Pay no attention to boobs who claim H&H has gone downhill. Jerry Seinfeld refuses to eat any other brand of bagel. And if they are good enough for Seinfeld, they're good enough for us.

4041 Royal Palm Ave., Miami Beach, 33140
MAP
305-673-5483
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Best Conch Fritters: Captain Nate's

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