Best Of :: Food & Drink
As you drive on SW Eighth Street toward the hub of Calle Ocho, there's one building in particular that lets you know you're almost at the epicenter of Miami's Cuban culture. On your left-hand side near Sixth Avenue stands a structure with a white roof and orange walls. Its towering sign featuring a prominent palm tree attracts the eye. La Palma Restaurant (not to be confused with one by the same name in Coral Gables) is a 37-year-old establishment that serves your abuela's homestyle Cuban cooking. Try the lechón asado. It comes with rice and beans as well as yuca for $8.50. Every day features three specials. Favorites are Monday's carne con papas ($8.95), Wednesday's tamal en cazuela con maduro ($5.99), and Sunday's chicken and rice ($8.50). For the most popular dessert, check out the churro y chocolate ($2). While other restaurants remodel their menus or interior designs, La Palma keeps things classic and homey. It even serves food in red plastic baskets. The coffees and hot chocolates come in thick white ceramic mugs that are just warm enough to the touch. Hipster cutting boards and Mason jars, get outta here.
Readers' choice: Versailles Restaurant
UM buddies for life Paul Massard and Chris Nolte took their friendship to another level when the two partnered in a coffee company. While Nolte has the business acumen, Massard is the chief when it comes to producing coffee. The Colombian native travels the world sourcing beans for the fledgling coffee company. His travels take him to Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, and Brazil, with the coffee expert sometimes buying out an entire farm's crop to make sure there's consistency in the bean. The beans are then roasted at Per'La's facility just south of Coral Gables, and Massard tastes each and every batch. Cupping each coffee, Massard takes in the liquid with a mighty slurp as if he were born part Hoover. Only after he's perfectly satisfied with a batch will it be bagged and sold to a demanding public. Per'La sells its small-batch, single-origin coffees online and at the weekly Coral Gables Farmers Market for $22 a pound, and the coffees are turning up on Miami restaurant menus more and more frequently.
Brrrrrringgggg. Hit snooze. Brrrrrrriiiiiinnnnnnggggg. Too tired. Can't move. It's not really morning, is it? It's hard to tell with the blinds drawn. OK. You can do this. Come on. One leg out of the bed; now the other. Toss on some shorts, a shirt, and sunglasses. It doesn't matter if they're clean. This is presentable, right? Only half a block to walk — you got this. There it is! The teal sign and rapid-fire Spanish. Then it hits you in the face. The sweet smell of sugar being stirred with diesel-strength coffee hot from the machine. Then comes the clatter of spoons followed by the milk foamer's hiss. Next is the gentle purr of your cup filling. That first sip of David's Cafe's café con leche ($2.45) snaps your eyes open and leaves a wisp of milk foam lingering on your upper lip. Now you're ready to face the day.
This is a story about espuma: Only the finest cafeterias can coax the perfect amount of sweet bronze effervescence from the humble combination of sugar and first-brewed Cuban coffee. At Las Olas Café, the ladies working the window conjure the fluffy magic with a steady stream of espresso. "¿Que quieres, papi?" one asks as you step up with a fistful of bills. You order a colada, but she's already on it. She was working on it when you entered the cola. The clinking of a weathered spoon stirring coffee and sugar lets you know your time is drawing near. A few moments later, you're clutching that palm-size Styrofoam cup. But first, a personal moment. You peel the plastic top off to find a thin film of this sweet, startling espumita clinging to the surface. Take a lick and find your happy place.
The name Embarek Ali-Bey may not ring a bell, but it should. Michael Schwartz knows him. Danny Serfer too. He's practically on speed dial at Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Miami kitchens. So what's your excuse? OK, maybe we're being a little harsh. For years, this French baker has turned out crusty sourdoughs, hearty whole wheats, and buttery croissants for the city's best kitchens. In the early-morning hours in the bowels of a nondescript north Dade warehouse, he and a skeleton crew mix, shape, and bake hundreds of loaves. They begin making their way across the city just as most of us begin our days. For too long, you could get Alibay's products only while dropping serious coin at a fine-dining establishment. But he's expanding. He's grinding his own flour and making his decadent array of baked goods available to the public with a small café. Finally, a way to start your day off right.
Readers' choice: Zak the Baker
French bakeries tell an unrequited love story. Customers yearn for their sweet offerings, but the pastries don't return the passion. In fact, they produce a different kind of love — love handles. But that's nothing an oversized shirt and loose pants can't hide. Be sure to wear both at La Boulangerie Boul'Mich, a picture-perfect Miami-based French artisanal bakery spreading its oven lovin' from Key Biscayne to its newest location in Aventura. There are warm baguettes, chocolate-infused croissants, gourmet empanadas, fresh fruit tarts, and decadent cakes. There's also a full menu that boasts European-inspired dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from classic eggs Benedict ($13.95) to le club ($12.95), a French-style sandwich made with Black Forest ham, roast turkey, Brie, mushrooms, tomatoes, and lettuce. From the City of Lights to the Magic City, there's been no greater love than that of a quality French pastry shop. The patisserie opens its doors to helpless romantics Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.