Sawa Restaurant & Lounge
Many Americans have smoked hookahs yet have never used tobacco in one. But Sawa Restaurant & Lounge is the spot to go if you wish to inhale any number of flavored tobaccos. Patrons puff while seated on soft leather sofas amid white curtains billowing under royal palms in the outdoor center of the Village of Merrick Park. The al fakher hookah selections ($20) include about a dozen fruit-based smokes, from strawberry to watermelon to double apple. But Sawa is also "home to the hookah on steroids!" ($33), which means the base of the water pipe is filled with choice of cocktail: cosmopolitan, mojito, strawberry margarita, and so forth. No, you definitely do not drink said cocktail after smoking, but it adds flavor and a slightly intoxicating inhalation. Before flaunting contemporary society's anti-smoking conventions, you might strongly consider partaking of chef Jovens Jean's modern Mediterranean small plates or creative sushi rolls in the same oasis-like outdoor setting.
Best Sub & Sandwich Shop
Considering the name, it's surprising we haven't given this shoebox-size grilled-sub shack a Best of Miami award before. This seems especially true when you find out it's been operating in the same location — on a quiet, hidden avenue that snakes along East Kendall's Greenery Mall and curves to the rear of Pinecrest's Tattoos by Lou — for 32 years, especially when you notice the one wall that faces the place's sole grill and sub-slinging counter is completely plastered in pictures of loyal customers, and especially-especially when you notice a sign that reads, "Prices Subject to Change According to _____'s Mood." (The blank is filled in with a piece of masking tape scribbled with the name of whoever mans the grill that day.) Sink your teeth into foot-longs like the hot pastrami and corned beef sub ($8.49), a gluttonous and Swiss-cheesy nod to an already ample deli standard. Or try the tasty honey mustard chicken, a Miami sub shop staple done right for $7.49; and the juicy bacon cheeseburger sub, which is equivalent in size to at least three Whoppers, two Quarter Pounders, and half a cow. Maybe that's hyperbole, but it's a lot of meat for just $7.49. Best Sub & Sandwich Shop, it might be three decades overdue, but welcome to the Best of Miami Club.
Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop
Ghirardelli chocolate squares are tasty suckers. Individually wrapped in gold foil, they are culled from either white, milk, or dark cocoa and come filled with gooey additions such as caramel, raspberry, peanut butter, and mint. Best part: You get a free sample upon entering Ghirardelli Chocolate Company on Lincoln Road (bonus: the heavily air-conditioned ice cream/chocolate shop provides a restorative blast of chill for overheated Lincoln Road stragglers). Just seek out the worker with a tray of the sweet treats, and she or he will surely ask if you'd like one. They're so good you might consider sneaking back a short while later in a makeshift disguise, or perhaps you'll want to purchase some (that's sort of the idea). A 15-pack costs $7.95, so math whizzes can figure out the monetary value of this freebie.
The Rumcake Factory
The po' boys and girls of Miami-Dade don't have access to many real po'boy sandwiches. You can't blame Larry and Elena Robinson for this, because the husband/wife owners of the Rumcake Factory get their authentic version out to as many people who stop by their cozy café/take-out shop in North Miami Beach. The soft French bread that frames the po'boy is the official loaf that gets shipped fresh from New Orleans. Between the halves is your choice of cleanly fried shrimp ($8.50) or catfish ($7.75), with lettuce, tomatoes, pickle slices, and homemade rémoulade dressing. Sweet potato chips come along for the ride. Other po'boys here pooh-pooh the notion that fried fish has to be the filler: Fried turkey and pulled pork po'boys redefine the genre. Dessert is the namesake rum cake — a best in its own right.
Jr's Gourmet Burgers
Courtesy of Jr's Gourmet Burgers
Food inspires passion. Just look at what happened to that Marie Antoinette lady when she got all creative with her cake. But few forms of grub inspire as much as the hamburger. She is, after all, a fickle mistress. Handled carelessly, the burger can be disastrous. But crafted by careful and practiced hands, it can be a downright transcendental experience.Junior knows this. And it's with equal respect for the art form and childlike curiosity that he toils away in the kitchen — aptly labeled "the lab" — of this Miami Springs upstart. He conjures Angus perfection one-third pound ($6.99), a half-pound ($7.99), or one pound ($10.99) at a time, and all on your choice of toasted whole-wheat or cornmeal-dusted white bun. Peruse the menu and try culinary concoctions such as "the outside is in," a juicy patty stuffed with bacon and cheddar. Or check out the mouthwatering Acosta, topped with black pepper aioli, Swiss cheese, and French onions, and accurately deemed a "foodgasm." Or there's the one-pound Fat Albert, topped with Swiss and cheddar, French onions, bacon, and barbecue sauce. We won't go into detail about exotic burgers such as the "hail Caesar," Tex-Mex, beef Stroganoff, and "Mexi-can" burgers — you'll have to find out for yourself. And you'll need to check back frequently, because Junior is always in the lab, working on his next delectable creation.
Steve's Pizza
Few foods are as ubiquitous as pizza. And most people will agree that even a bad piece of pie is better than most foods done right. Yet the search for truly great 'za is a lifelong journey, and anyone with taste buds has an opinion on the best. Our pick for that hallowed title: Steve's Pizza. The cozy North Miami counter serves delectable tomato sauce and gooey-cheesy goodness on long slices of fresh-baked dough in the tradition of New York-style pizza. And at the risk of invoking cliché, the secret is in that sauce. At once scrumptiously sweet and savory, it elevates Steve's pie, which comes by the slice and in sizes ranging from small to Steve's Famous XL. You can add toppings or go with specialty pies that'll run you anywhere from $11.75 to $21.22. Try the "special," loaded with pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and anchovies (if you want them). Steve's also has hoagies, pasta, and calzones. But frankly, it's damn near impossible to skip the pie, and even the plain cheese pizza is so good it's earned a following all its own.
La Moon Restaurant
Colombians excel at making a food item considered all-American: the hot dog. La Moon's downtown location is a neighborhood place open till the wee hours. It has quite a following of partygoers, hungry people, and others who swear by the specialty. These powerful dogs regularly turn vegetarians into ravenous, flesh-eating beasts. Sure, Nathan's are delicious, but these guys come topped with love (or so it seems when you're wolfing them down at 3 a.m.). There are a few kinds available for sale, including the "Supermoon," which is garnished with a quail egg, chorizo, bacon, cheese, sauces, and potato chips. The simpler "perro Colombiano" takes the dog cake. This taut sausage is smothered in the most delightful sauces — five to be exact — that crisscross carefully over the chow. You probably won't need more than one, because each is a solid meal unto itself.
The Ranch House Original
A thunderstorm rages outside the Original Ranch House when a vintage Chevy truck pulls into the parking lot. A man clad in a poncho, plaid shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots climbs out of the driver's side. He high-steps to the front door and swings it open. The joint still has the charm of a '70s truck stop in the Appalachian Mountains despite its location in Miami-Dade's most Cuban-American city. He takes off the wet poncho and hangs it on the dry rack near the cash register. A waitress offers him a seat at one of the red leather booths. He respectfully declines, telling her that he prefers to sit at the Formica counter. He straddles a red swivel stool, reading the burger and sandwich options on the menu. He orders a patty melt on sourdough bread. The $8.55 plate comes with steak fries, his favorite kind. Some folks like their spuds crinkly or thin or cut into waffles. Not this fry guy. From his seat at the counter, he can see the cook methodically peel and slice a potato into thick white sticks. The dude's mouth curls into a smile when the fries are dropped into a scalding fryer. The waitress brings him his order. He picks up one of the golden treats. He caresses the crisp exterior and snaps the fry in half. Steam rises from the severed ends. He blows on the fry to cool it and pops it into his mouth. Outside, the downpour ceases. The Original Ranch House is open seven days a week.
Anise Waterfront Taverna
Although falafel has evolved into a classic and often-craved street food — much like hot dogs or pizza —the chickpea fritters are traditionally served as part of the meze or small plates in Mediterranean cuisine. But we're guessing your latest exposure to the Hellenic Republic was watching Russell Brand and Jonah Hill binge-drink and vomit their way through Get Him to the Greek. We place no blame. Miami isn't exactly overflowing with Greek culture (except maybe the country's licorice-flavored boozahol, ouzo). That why it's surprising to find that one of the town's best-kept foodie secrets is an unassuming taverna on the Little River called Anise. Nestled between a gas station and a rundown apartment complex, and across the street from a Wendy's (are we selling it yet?), this Greek taverna produces our city's tastiest falafel. You get five of these morsels for $8. Instead of being wrapped in flatbread and piled with pickled veggies and hot sauce, Anise's falafels are delicately plated with a yogurt-tahini sauce — in other words, you actually get to taste the Greek croquettes and not just the spicy fixings. Although you might be tempted to order multiple servings, save room for the taverna's larger plates such as moussaka ($18) and lamb shank ($19). Almost every dish here is delicious, but we'll always remember our first mouthful at Anise: the supple, fried goodness of its falafel.
Barbar Grill
Call it an extension of Murphy's Law: The last place you'd ever think to look for something is where it usually is. Your car keys? Yup, they're lodged under that unread Dr. Phil book your aunt gave you. That green T-shirt you haven't seen in weeks? Balled up into a tiny space you didn't know existed between your TV set and faux fireplace. The best hummus in Miami? Calle Ocho. No lie. Amid the cafecito-slinging counters and Mexican taquerias, just west of I-95 on SW Eighth Street, there's an out-of-place green awning topped with two marks in flowing Arabic script. Step inside Barbar Grill and it's clear you've found the real deal: Hookahs are on display above counters lined with shisha and imported date cookies and sesame crackers for sale. Order the hummus. At Barbar, the smooth Levantine dip is the picture of flawlessly whipped perfection: a beige mix of chickpeas, nutty tahini, piquant garlic, and crisp olive oil. Served with Barbar's warm, homemade pita bread — a tangy, nearly sourdough take on the staple — and you'll easily mistake the heart of Cuban Miami for Little Beirut. Just don't lose your keys. You'll never guess where they are.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®