Truth be told, the Happy Wine shop's concise menu of tapas and pressed sandwiches is no match for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's feast, nor will its rambling inventory of amazingly priced wines equal the bevy of boutiquebottles brought by the participating wineries. But this is one hep spot to pluck a bottle from the shelves, pay a $1 corkage fee, pour the wine into glasses placed on tables made from wooden casks and crates, and partake of plates filled to the brim with chorizo and cheese or delicate olive oil-and-garlic-soaked anchovy fillets. Stop by after 4:00 p.m. Saturdays and Cuban musicians will provide a lively soundtrack for what is an inimitable Miami party.
Another archetypal Cuban/Miami scene occurs daily at El Palacio de los Jugos. Although you can order jugos naturales (natural juices) and batidos (shakes) made from fresh tropical fruits, this is more than just the juice palace. The on-premises marketplace is stocked with fresh island produce and specialty items; the glassed-in fried plantain station pumps out the best version of such in town; and the pulled morsels of juicy roast pork (lechón asado) are likewise peerless in these parts. Oxtail, roast chicken, red beans and rice (congrí), arepas, yuca with garlic-and-citrus mojo can all be savored at outdoor tables smack-dab in the epicenter of the Cuban community. Wine & Food Festival? Qué es eso?
Yambo Restaurant Típico Nicaragüense is open 24/7, making it an ideal after-hours stopover. Part of the fun here is the colorful outdoor dining area, which is chock-a-block with scads of Nicaraguan knickknacks, the original Ms. Pac-Man videogame, and large tiled cement tables at which to indulge inyour choice of some 30 típico nicaragüense snacks and main courses. Don't miss the crackly fried corn tortillas wrapped around savory ground chicken (tacos de pollo), or fried knishlike potato balls brimming with chayote and cheese (pescazones). All come with shredded cabbage and various couplings of rice, red beans, plantains, or yuca. Yambo also dishes more daring items such as blood sausage, and tongue in tomato sauce just the sort of stuff show-off chefs like to chomp on at weird hours of the night.
The Caribbean: So near and yet so far, and yet so near again at Christine's Roti Shop roti being spicy, pre-Yuppie wrap sandwiches from the islands. Convivial Christine Gouveia from Guyana greets customers from behind the counter at this quaint hole-in-the-wall. She also busies herself hand-rolling the fluffy, pitalike flatbreads made with ground chickpea flour, tossing them onto the griddle, and then wrapping them around thirteen types of mildly spicy curries including beef, chicken, conch, shrimp, trout, duck, and goat. All are pleasing, but none is punchier than the roti rolled with cabbage, potatoes, onions, and fiery pieces of jerk chicken still on the bone. Vegetable and fish fillings are also wickedly jerked, but you can beat the heat with a deliriously sweet soursop drink.
You can't beat BubbleQ's breadth of bang-up barbecue, but our alternative, Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q,is the best in South Florida and worth the 30-minute drive. The log cabin restaurant boasts an enormous brick pit where pork spare ribs, baby-backs, briskets, chickens, and all manner of meats are slowly imbued with the smoke of red oak and hickory. When you're chowing on the molasses-and-honey-basted pork, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and homemade sweet potato pie, believe me, you won't bemoan any lack of bubbly.
Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish Market presents another alluring possibility for relaxed alfresco dining. Weathered wooden tables on the back deck offer a boat's-eye view of the strangely soothing stretch of Miami River that flows past. Enjoy the picturesque scene of worn warehouses, rickety docks, and Haiti-bound barges assuming you can look up long enough from your sparkling fresh dolphin sandwich in supple bun, peppery conch fritters, or grilled yellowtail freshly plucked from the market's ice display. All are sided by creamy coleslaw and choice of yellow rice (flecked with flakes of fish), French fries, plantains, parsley potatoes, or salad. Order some ice-cold beers, sit back, and wait for a Miami Vice remake to break out.
There are no culinary gems at Mike's at Venetia and Mike's itself is a little difficult to find (it's on the ninth floor of a condo at the foot of the Venetian Causeway). It does serve bar snacks, the most notable aspect of which is that the fried calamari look just like onion rings. But that's not why you come to Mike's. Nor do you pay a visit here for the view Hurricane Wilma did a number on the outdoor pool and patio area. Dwell either outside under an umbrella or inside in what is a regular neighborhood bar, and sip on a cool, affordable beer.
If you insist on staying on the Beach, Abbey Brewing Company and Zeke's Roadhouse likewise offer congenially ungentrified atmosphere and prices. This might not sound exciting if you're coming from, well, just about anywhere, but after a few days of absorbing South Beach's, um ... culture, you'll be frantically scanning these pages to get the antidote I mean addresses.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Miami dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.