Best Of :: Food & Drink
Inevitabilities of life include war, death, taxes, and the opening of fun, affordable, family-friendly Italian restaurants by the Belante clan. Luna Café is the latest venue from the family responsible for Bella Luna, Trattoria Rosalia, and Carpaccio, among others. Why do they keep starting up dining establishments? Because they're so damned good at it! Luna Café's atmosphere is comfortable; the service more professional than at much more expensive places; the menu's soups, salads, pizzas, pastas, antipasti, carpaccio, risotti, fish, chicken, and meats universally appealing. The Northern Italian fare, including standouts such as pasta e fagioli, lasagna, and a blistering wood-oven roasted chicken, are terrifically tasty, prodigiously portioned, and miraculously priced pastas top out at $14, entrées at $22. Wait a minute we have to make an update. Luna Café is not the latest Billante venture. Vivi Ristorante just debuted at First Street and Ocean Drive. Guess a South Beach branch was inevitable.
Carb-cravers, head to Little Havana. Thats where youll find Bon-Bon Bakery, which has been cranking out the baked stuff in Miami for 40 years. Here they sell hot Cuban bread straight from the oven. They also sell a variety of other breads with quirky names only Cubans could have come up with. In most cases, the names refer to their shape -- patines, for example, which translates to roller skates, and bonetico, which means little bonnet. For bread devotees with a sweet tooth, heres a real treat: pan de gloria (glory bread). They got it right when they named this one: sweet bread made with eggs, milk, and sugar. Another sweet bread for sale is the kind used to make medianoches. Heres something else thats sweet: The bread here is dirt-cheap. Dig through your pocket for loose change and youll be able to walk out with the goodies, which cost between 25 cents and $1 each.
The five or so authentic Chinese places in town have been done to death. Just Google "Chinese" and "Miami" and the names come up again and again. Lung Gong is authentic. Kon Chau's got dim sum on lock. But which restaurant is most Miami? Jamaica Kitchen no doubt. Enter its nook of the Sunset West Shopping Center and find yourself in a whirl of homemade soups (made daily), patties, and a curry goat that will make you do a backflip. But something odd about the menu draws you to a totally different place: the pork and hamchoy (a preserved mustard green), the suey mein (a noodle soup featuring a crazy egg roll stuffed with pork and shrimp $10 per quart). Or perhaps you are drawn to the simple delights of the "Chinese roast chicken." Prices vary from lunch to dinner, fluctuating between about $6 to $9. Sidle up to the long counter; enjoy the friendly banter of the mom and pop owners and the fine island beats playing in the background. Or don't. They've been around for more than 24 years, don't advertise, and have no interest in being reviewed or winning this award. Jah bless them they know they're the bomb.
Burgers stuffed with foie gras; burgers made from ground Kobe beef (destroying the whole point of this already butter-tender meat); burgers made from, and topped with, all manner of horrifyingly healthy stuff; burgers like the $99 double-truffle creation at DB's Bistro in Manhattan.... The chichi burger thing is one of today's hottest food trends. And we're so, so over it. For a taste that'll take you back to simpler, greasier times, hit this burger joint for a six-pack of old-fashioned sliders. Royal Castle's burgers are two-bite burgers like the Northeast's White Castles, or the Deep South's Krystals, but homegrown. In 1965 there were 287 shops in the chain, founded by Miami's "Hamburger King" William Singer; they were found throughout Florida, Georgia, Lousiana, and Tennessee. The chain no longer exists, but there is still this one independently run survivor in town that serves up classic thin patties sandwiched in comforting cottony-soft buns. The burgers' protein component is, admittedly, minimal. The beef patties are mostly just little edible coasters to hold the fried onions, full of good griddle grease, that are the main flavor component of all sliders. And an honest all-American junk food flavor it is. The price: 80 cents (90 cents for a cheeseburger), a bargain even when you eat a half-dozen.
A great number of great restaurants debuted this past year, but we're talking about flippin' David Bouley here, one of the three or four most talented chefs working in America today. Evolution, his first foray outside of New York, instantly magnifies South Florida's blip on the national culinary radar. It's also a great place to have dinner (it's not open for lunch), starting with raisin-and-apple rolls, salt-sprinkled brioche, and other Old World breads baked on premises. An herb broth brimming with pristine shellfish; Long Island duckling breast laced with honey, butter, and fresh lavender flowers; and scallop-crusted black sea bass in an intensely flavored bouillabaisse foam constitute another three mouth-watering reasons why Evolution is more evolved than its high-priced haute competition. (How expensiveç If you have to ask, you probably can't afford to eat here.) Then there are the cheeses by Terrance Brennan Artisanal Connoisseurs, the nearly infinite wine list, smoothly professional service, and a stylish Art Deco decor. Need further convincingç A complimentary intermezzo of electrically fresh strawberry soup with fromage blanc sorbet is so brilliant it will make you cry.
Your average Yucatecan wouldn't know a taco from a meatball parmigiana sandwich, but don't tell that to the owners of this neat and petite 40-seat restaurant, which specializes in cuisine from the Mayan peninsula. After all, if they want to sneak some fetching Mexican and Tex-Mex items onto their menu, it would be wrong of us to spoil things with regional quibbling especially when among the non-Yucatecan delights are the most kickass tacos al pastor in town.The trio of corn tortillas come sumptuously plumped with nothing but pork, the smoky nubs of meat softly grilled and subtly sweetened with pineapples and onions. Refried beans, salsa verde, and guacamole are served on the side, which is downright generous for a plate costing just $8.49. Plus it leaves plenty of pesos for glasses of Dos XX on tap.