BEST OF MIAMI® 2002

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You'd think that in a town as wonderfully weird as Miami, no one could ever grow jaded by what they see around them. Think of those clueless mothers with toddlers hoping to cross a busy street but refusing to use a crosswalk, standing on the center line as cars whiz by only inches away. Or how about the drag queens who are as comfortable prancing down the aisle at Publix as they are working the room at a Beach nightclub? And what about the irrational panic that overtakes thousands of people at the approach of a storm? And don't forget our really, really bad drivers.

All that and much more surely looks pretty darn loony to someone from, say, Des Moines. But in fact this stuff becomes old hat to anyone who's lived here for more than a couple of hurricane seasons. Locals adapt to this cognitive overload by simply accepting it. With time we come to see bizarre behavior as normal, and we're surprised when out-of-town friends express astonishment. If we've moved here from some other place (that would be about 90 percent of us), our occasional returns to the old homestead are often accompanied by a kind of psychic deflation. Everything seems somewhat dull and boring, as if all life's sharp edges had been sanded down and smoothed over. Eventually our adaptive response to life here in the steamy subtropics can lead us to an unwitting blindness in which we lose sight of the fact that we're operating in a very wacky world.

That's where this year's Best of Miami comes in. With this thirteenth edition of our paean to all that is good and dear about our home, we wanted to see Miami with fresh new eyes. We set out to lift the veil of ennui, to polish the mirror we use to reflect our own image. So in the second year of the new millennium, 2002, we sought a new view. Inside you'll find the unexpected and the new. Best place to play darts? You'll never guess. And you'll be surprised to learn of a cool little waterfront restaurant on Virginia Key. We'll guide you to a fine charity you probably never heard of. Ditto our best hidden neighborhood, best roast pig, and best Indian grocery. We can almost guarantee you've never taken our best hike. Like we said — lots of new ideas to keep life here interesting.

Some things, however, never seem to change. Has anyone other than Gloria Estefan been voted best local girl made good? No surprise that our readers once again think La Carreta is the best Cuban restaurant. And also no surprise that reader response to Best Category We Didn't Ask turned up some gems: Best Restaurant to Dine in During a Hurricane, Best Activity to Do While Intoxicated, Best Place to Go Stoned, Best Support Group.

And finally there always are some rascals out there who can't resist the temptation to bend the rules, especially if it might mean a coveted Best of Miami award. Yes, we had our share of brazen ballot-stuffers again this year, among them a certain scooter shop whose 36 identical ballots arrived in one envelope. Almost fooled us! At least one person complained confidentially via e-mail: "I am outraged at the lengths some folks would go to try to win a category in the Best of Miami. I am an employee at a very popular [business omitted here] and I was asked to enter [the business] on ballots (thousands of ballots) and submit them to your office. Use different pens and try to change your handwriting, I was told! Are we that hard up for publicity? What is this contest coming to?"

Indeed, what is it all coming to?

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