Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Living in Miami and not taking advantage of the ocean is like living in Vegas and refusing to gamble, residing in Phoenix and forgoing Mexican food, or being lactose intolerant in Wisconsin: It just ain't right. That's why Underwater Unlimited has been prepping local divers for aquatic adventures since Charlie Matthews opened it in 1964, and it's still going strong with more than 24,000 certifications. Charlie Jr. now runs the shop with his beyond-friendly team, whose service technicians and dive instructors go above and beyond. Sign up for their training and you'll get to know the staff — they're not simply going to hand over a certificate. Just ask the University of Miami Scuba Club, which uses UU for its members' certification. Tuition for Open Water Certification starts at $150, with personal, private, or concierge classes from $300 to $500 and affordable specialty courses for continuing education as low as $55 per class. Drop by the dive shop for discount equipment packages and service specials, and once you're certified and geared up, test your newly acquired skills on one of the shop's many dive trips, which go anywhere from West Palm Beach to Key West to Crystal River for dives alongside hundreds of manatees. Don't you want to see those sea cows up close? Get that certification already.
You're driving on South Dixie Highway when you notice the needle on your tank approaching E. So you pull up to the BP on SW 17th Avenue to fill 'er up. As you walk in, a glass case displaying fruit tarts, fine chocolates, Spanish-style desserts, and flaky, chocolate-drizzled pastries slaps you across the face. After staring in awe at the goodness that lies before you, you realize this isn't your typical gas station. Murals of colonial-like structures adorn the walls. Instead of rows of dusty honey buns and oil cans, you'll find specialty beers such as Stone Cherry Chocolate Stout and Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah Chili beer, a selection of more than 2,000 wines, and a variety of champagne. Toward the back of the store is the most surprising feature: Spanish restaurant El Carajo International Tapas & Wines, which serves an array of tapas, including tortilla española and stuffed piquillo peppers. Forget filling up your tank — you might catch yourself visiting this BP to fill up on food and drinks.
In Miami-Dade, car dealers get a rap somewhere between that of international weapons brokers and human-organ harvesters. But there are plenty of car dealers worth trusting — provided you do your homework and know what you want. Kendall Toyota is one of them. At Kendall, the huge inventory is key. Along with its West Kendall branch near Tamiami Airport and an off-site lot, this long-standing dealership stocks an impressive selection of both used and new cars. The display lot has vehicles that come and go as soon as they can be stickered. If you can't find the right color or features you want, they'll walk you to their onsite multilevel lot, packed tightly with automobiles in all shades. They also have more than Toyotas in their fleet, and they move cars so fast they don't waste anyone's time with lemons or jacked-up prices. Often, cars less than a year old with only a few thousand miles show up. So pack the cynicism in the trunk of your beater, head to Kendall Toyota, and ride home with a newfound faith in automobile salesmen — plus a much better set of wheels.
Let's face it: Miami has more poorly maintained death traps rolling around its highways than any city this side of Havana. So it makes sense that the best mechanics in Dade are a brother and sister from Jaruco, a town just outside Cuba's capital packed full of rusting '50s clunkers. Family-owned and -run since 1984, Red Road Tire & Auto Center has friendly staffers always ready to make space in their day to slide your ride into the garage and get you checked out so you're one of the safe ones out on the Dolphin. And if that $70 synthetic oil change you dread every 5,000 miles has you cursing your decision to buy such a snazzy, newfangled jalopy, you'll be hard-pressed to find a place that does a quicker or cheaper change — all for less than 40 bucks. Nearly 30 years in Hialeah has made this garage battle-tested, so it's a damnably rare problem that they can't fix, and if you've let things get that drastic, you might consider throwing your keys into the river anyway. They service everything from Hummers to Hyundais and even trucks that work at Miami International Airport. Luckily, you don't have to go to all the way to Havana to find crack mechanics.
Next time you're twiddling your thumbs while waiting for one of those $10, automatic drive-thru car washes to finish blasting your ride with suds, consider this: For only $2 more, you could've had your car degreased, depollinated, and scraped for miscellaneous bug residue by hand at the Liberty Gas Station on Coral Way. Cars flood the cramped parking lot on evenings and weekends trying to get under a red-topped tent that simply reads, "Car Wash." It's nearly hidden behind the gas station's small market, which is easy to find. It's the one with the sign boasting fresh-baked bread (large Cuban loaves for less than $1). Inside, you'll discover made-to-order Cuban sandwiches, pan con lechón, and sugary-strong café con leche. Put your thumbs back in your pockets — this is how you kill time waiting for a clean car.
You hear it all the time: Bookstores are dying, hanging on to cultural relevancy by threads more battered than the spine of a well-worn paperback. But what you don't hear about are the avid, enthusiastic readers keeping those stores alive. Guys like Mike McCall of the Paperback-Book X-Change. This charming shop is yellowed and worn, just like a beloved tome. It's been around for more than 35 years, with McCall at the helm for the past 13 years. Friendly and knowledgeable, he's happy to talk to customers who care about the dying art of the bound and printed word. Like all great used-book shops, there's a fantastic element of chance in what you'll walk out with.
"Do you have Neuromancer by William Gibson?" you might ask.
"I don't know," McCall will admit, "but here is Mona Lisa Overdrive. Let's keep looking, the G's continue on that shelf."
You inquire, "Do you have The Great Gatsby?"
"I see that one all the time!" he will exclaim. "It comes in every day or every five days. You never can tell — come back tomorrow!"
Caring customers are the life-blood of the X-Change. All selections are half their original sticker price, and readers who bring in books for trade get an additional 50 percent off when it's time for check out. You never know, he might strike a deal with you just because he likes the cut of your jib.