It's summertime, and the eating is easy and light. It's too hot for ovens, stoves, and heavy dressings and sauces. Cold food reigns supreme. Yes, we're talking salads. But not all are limited to sides and diet-conscious duty -- some are meant to be stars. Fresh produce is highlighted with hunks of meat, fruit, nuts, and other treats that make salads all they are tossed up to be.
What follows are the ten best, most unusual, and unbelievably hearty salads that will have you overlooking that hot and heavy entrée.
See also: Ten Best Restaurants in North Miami
10. Deconstructed Caesar at Fish Fish
If your regular caesar salad is just a bit too bland, try Fish Fish's deconstructed masterpiece ($12). The romaine lettuce is grilled and served with a thick piece of toast in lieu of croutons. Shaved cheese tops the salad, and anchovies are off to the side along with creamy classic dressing. Cut this salad up and reconstruct it where it counts -- in your mouth.
9. Special Green Papaya Salad at Green Papaya
The special green papaya salad ($7.95) at Green Papaya is worthy of the word "special" in the title. It's a must-order dish. However, we have yet to settle on the correct choice of meat to top it with -- the pork, shrimp, and chicken are all strong contenders. The fragrance and fresh flavor of the sweet green papaya, fish sauce, mint, carrots, jícama, red onion, peanuts, lime, cilantro, and the highly addictive fried shallots steal the show.
8. Multiple Salads From Giardino Gourmet Salads
This home-grown salad franchise with eight locations in Miami is a favorite for its crisp lettuce, thoughtful combinations, and tasty toss-ins mixed in front of your eyes. The Country Cobb ($6.95 for a small) proved victorious in our Plato Royal showdown against a national competitor. Another favorite is Giardino's tropical salad, featuring mixed dried fruits and mixed nuts in a sweet and peppy mango poppy seed dressing. Also, the homemade croutons turn every salad into a winner.
7. Falafel Salad at Maoz
When you can't be trusted at salad bars to keep the scale from tipping over the $12 mark, Maoz comes to the rescue. This international vegetarian fast-service chain is refreshing. Right in the heart of South Beach, it serves filling and healthful lunches that won't leave you broke. Fluffy falafels are placed in a salad ($7.95) with your choice of two add-ons (such as hummus, feta, hard-boiled egg, and eggplant), and then you get a visit to the free salad bar, where you can top to your palate's content. Cauliflower and broccoli are favorites; then squirt on some hot sauce, yogurt, or garlic sauce to make it your own.
6. House Fruit Salad at Miami Juice
A fruit salad may seem like a simple dish you bring to a potluck, but when it's well executed, it can be so much more -- it can be glorious. The house fruit salad ($6.95 for small, $12.95 for a large) at Miami Juice uses a bounty of the freshest seasonal fruits topped with honey, shredded coconut, mixed nuts and seeds, and even dried fruit to get it all meta.
5. Shrimp Mini Salad at Go-Go Fresh Food Cafe
If jumbo shrimp is an oxymoron, then a mini shrimp salad ($6.70) seems pretty smart. In fact, so smart that we are willing to brave the road construction canker on Alton to reach this go-to café. Go-Go Fresh offers a build-your-own big salad, but this time-tested crustacean creation is a favorite. It showcases steamed shrimp, green peas, palm hearts, and mixed greens in a cilantro-lime dressing for a fresh, flavorful, and zesty combination.
4. Big Salad at Mi Vida Cafe
Blame Seinfeld's Elaine Benes. We always want a big salad -- something to leave us full from a bowl we can't stopping digging out of. Along with positive vibes and a cell-phone-free atmosphere, Mi Vida offers just that. The big salad ($12) is served with whatever is in season and in the fridge, but you can expect sprouts, arugula, avocado, and seeds in a light ginger and shallots vinaigrette. The scoop of creamy avocado with sesame seeds on top is like a savory version of sorbet with rainbow sprinkles.
3. Lanbi Pike Nan Ji Sitwon at Tap Tap
There was a time when a scoop of tuna salad on a garden salad was the ideal lunch. In Miami, we can get a far better version of that elementary dish with South Beach mainstay Tap Tap's spicy marinated conch salad. The minced onion, celery, conch, peppers, and lime is bold, and the crisp bed of lettuce helps cut the spicy heat. At this Haitian hot spot, the refreshing dish banishes the heat of a sweltering summer night.
2. Fried Green Tomato Salad at Whisk Gourmet Food & Catering
There's no question -- fried green tomatoes are worthy of a feature-length movie. At Whisk, these firm green fruits are offered as an appetizer or in a salad ($8.95). The golden disks of wonder come served with crumbled bacon bits and shaved Parmesan in an herb-perked buttermilk dressing over organic mixed greens. This is how the South does salad, and it is awesome.
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1. Salada Little Brazil at Little Brazil
Brazil is many things, but little it is not -- and neither is this enormous salad ($14.95). It comes with the mightiest of players: sausage, prawns, and palm hearts. The bits of linguiça sausage -- Brazilian sausage packed with juicy pork and a mild touch of heat -- burst at the seams atop a bed of lettuce. The juices of the succulent shrimp, sautéed in a garlic, white wine, lemon, and butter sauce, seeps onto the lettuce, tomato, carrots, and palm hearts. This salad may not be light, but it is massive and utterly delicious.
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