Best Of :: Food & Drink
There are two ways to open a restaurant in Miami. The first is to invest a boatload of money (hopefully not yours); hire a team of decorators, consultants, artists, musicians, and public relations people; and then make the glitziest place in town. The other way is to build all the tables and the bar from scratch and stick to a simple menu based on a no-nonsense theme of serving people tasty food procured from local sources that customers can feel good about. If you're a douchebag, you'll flock to restaurant number one for expensive grub with lots of foam and edible flowers and pyrotechnics. However, if you just want a really good burger and a brew, you'll head to LoKal. Owner Matt Kuscher has done everything by hand in this small, friendly locals respite from nearby CocoWalk. He's even glued several hundred cassette tapes onto the bar for decoration, put out doggie biscuits for local pups, and picked fresh gator for the menu. The menu, by the way, comprises mostly burgers and beer. But the burgers are made from local hormone-free, grass-fed cattle. And the beer is carefully selected to be local and delicious. And did we mention that LoKal's burgers and beer were reviewed on LeBron James' personal website? It could be because there's a burger here named after the Miami Heat, made with spicy jack, jalapeños, and sriracha ($11) — or it could simply be because it's one damn fine sandwich. Not into burgers? There are "pink tacos" made with shrimp freshly harvested from the Gulf of Mexico ($11), chicken and waffles that would make your mom tear up in jealousy ($14), and fresh local gator strips ($12). If that's not enough for ya, maybe you'll be convinced by the complete doggie menu that features Bowser Beer.
Step away from the whole roast pork! Sure, it's 7 a.m., you're at El Palacio de los Jugos, and, as usual, you crave some swine. But lechón asado is no respectable breakfast. So walk past the West Flagler Street cafeteria's hot food wells — those steel tubs loaded with braised beef, boiled yuca, arroz con gris, and fried grouper. Head to the inner market, a crowded nook where salted cod and ripe avocados are peddled alongside corn pudding and nut butters. There, and only there, can you decently succumb to your morning craving of pig. Order the porker's finest part: the chicharrón ($9.99 a pound), deep-fried rind served in brown paper bags smeared with fat. Then choose from a selection of fresh juices: guava, mango, pineapple, orange, sapodilla, tamarind, and mora ($2). And there's also guarapo, a sugarcane variety. Open your pouch of chicharrón. Take a bite. Sip your juice. Wipe your greasy fingers on your jeans. Repeat. Extra breakfast points if you also order a colada to go.
An assortment of cream cheese and smoothie samples sits in front of the cash register by the entrance to New York Bagel Deli. The bagel selection covers all the basics — plain, poppy seed, sesame, onion, cinnamon raisin, and everything — with additional wheat and cheese varieties. But the unique option is the power bagel. It's a dark wheat thing topped with pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and other grains that provides a great blend of fluff and crunch. There are even filled bagels that come with a hearty hunk of Asiago cheese melted right into the center hole. Only a few types of bagels are available at a time, and they range from broccoli and Asiago to bacon and potato. Creative cream cheese flavors might also surprise you. There's guava, Bombay curry, and pesto. If your favorite isn't in stock, you can ask for a serving of the spread to be whipped up in a blender right on the spot. Don't be alarmed if the small place is full of rowers — it has become a post-practice hangout for the young athletes from the nearby Shane Rowing Center. And for mornings when you want bagels in bed to avoid the bustling weekend crowd, New York Bagel Deli delivers. Bagels are generally $1.25 each or $11.99 for a baker's dozen.
Bunnie Cakes is full of hearts. Some are pink paper cutouts plastered in patterns across the walls. Others are candy — scarlet sugar shapes that dot the bakery's cute sweets such as the six-inch, double-layered guava cakes with cream cheese frosting ($32) and banana-chocolate chip cupcakes ($3). But at this Wynwood shop, there are no eggs. There isn't any butter or milk, either. Bunnie Cakes is a vegan bakery. Mariana Cortez, a self-taught baker who delved into dairy- and egg-free sweets to provide more healthful, organic treats for her children, owns the shop. She founded Bunnie Cakes in 2009 and opened her first storefront in February 2013. Her heart-topped desserts are delicious. They are sweetened with agave nectar or evaporated cane sugar. Many of them eschew soy, gluten, and nuts. Most are allergy-free. A bakery that caters to folks with food sensitivities and a sweet tooth? Now that's something to love.
Just a few steps from the sands of South Pointe is a quaint, charming bakery named Lee & Marie's Cakery. The café sells fresh almond croissants ($3.75), red velvet cake by the slice ($6), and pecan-caramel sticky buns ($3.95). There are sandwiches, desserts, and salads — all designed by award-winning pastry chef Yannis Janssens. But what sets this cakery apart is its humanitarian ethos. Owned by Andy Travaglia, it supports and employs adults with autism spectrum disorders. Since its debut in 2012, Lee & Marie's has expanded with an additional location in New York City. It also has a production facility in Wynwood. Not only is this South Beach bakery churning out delectable baked goods across Miami and beyond, it's also succeeding in a higher cause. Now that's sweet.
Zak Stern raises Alpine goats in Little Haiti. He wears suspenders, is fond of tweed trousers, and enjoys listening to Taylor Swift. He once apprenticed for five years under bread- and cheese-makers across Europe. Now he runs a closed-door operation that supplies organic sourdoughs to some of the city's top restaurants, including Michy's and Oak Tavern. The loaves ($6), offered in varieties such as olive and za'atar or plum, fennel, and rye, have thick, chewy crusts and complex, slightly bitter interiors. So when Zak shows up at a farmers' market to sell his bread, lines form immediately. Loaves sell out within minutes. Maybe it's the goat's milk. Or perhaps it's all the T-Swift. Whatever the reason, Zak Stern is the best — and perhaps most interesting — baker in town.