Biga's hearty loaves, irresistible to the eye as well as to the palate, have become quite popular in South Florida since the first store opened on Alton Road in Miami Beach in 1993. A year and a half ago, Biga was bought out by a giant Mexican bakery. But that didn't change Biga's name and it doesn't seem to have altered the quality or taste; in fact, under the direction of new owner Eduardo Laposse, Biga has expanded and Latinized its repertoire. The three La Biga Bakery & Café spots in Kendall, Key Biscayne, and Coral Gables, feature delights such as yuca bread (¡el maximo!), quesipan and pan de bono (different types of cheese breads), Cuban bread, and Colombian bread. Of course there is no way to live for long without the classic Biga creations: focaccia, rosemary reggiano, sourdough, muesli, olive walnut, sun-dried tomato and garlic, raisin nut -- too many to list here, but you probably already have your favorite.
Okay, so it's not quite traditional. But who can argue against the wealth of romaine, coated with a delicately balanced, Parmesan-rich caesar dressing, which hides nuggets of grilled chicken breast, plump and juicy? Or dismiss as worthless the emerald-cut pumpkin seeds peeking out here and there? Or devalue the ruby-hued roasted peppers accenting the greens? And just in case all these jewel tones weren't enough, executive chef/proprietor Pascal Oudin and company sprinkle shreds of colorful, flavored toasted tortillas on top for an extra bit of crunch. Caesar salad fans, there's prize-winning gold in them thar lettuce leaves.
Like the sea it comes from, a good chowder should also be something of a mystery. Bright yellow in color and stocked with tasty bits of grouper, this fish soup is stewed in its own juices, along with rice and a little seasoning. It seems so easy, yet tastes so good. Add a squeeze of lime, and life is wonderful. Bahama's is an institution. It started off as just a place to buy fresh seafood, but expanded in 1984 to include a restaurant. Whether dining alone at its trademark horseshoe counter or inside its bustling dining room, Bahama's fails to disappoint.
Man (and woman) cannot live by tofu alone, and this cheery good-for-you superstore on South Beach (the other one is in Pinecrest) offers proof that food does not have to taste like cardboard to be healthy. Wild Oats carries the usual granola-eaters' staples: nuts and grains, sold in bulk; dried fruit, juices, veggie burgers, and of course, lots of granola. But in addition to an entire aisle of soy milk, you'll find a large beer-and-wine section, meat and seafood counters, and even a bakery section where the luscious pastries and cakes bear no resemblance to the leaden zucchini bread usually associated with health food stores. Wild Oats's vast fresh fruit and vegetable section is a feast for vitamin A-deprived eyes in this produce-poor city. The tasty tomatoes and ripe melons alone justify a visit to Wild Oats. But the store has something for every taste -- you can check out the salads while your mate goes for the Häagen Dazs. Wild Oats is the one-stop supermarket for anyone who makes better eating at least a part-time way of life.

Most of Miami's Oriental markets shouldn't really carry that pan-Asian moniker. Sure there's an occasional aisle with an Indian curry, dehydrated miso, or Thai peanut glaze. But for the most part, Asian in these joints really means Chinese -- rows and rows of Cantonese condiments and Mandarin teas. Nothing wrong with that, but what about all those spices, sauces, and ingredients that make dishes from Jakarta to Hanoi so delectable? Vinh An is a wonderful exception to the Chinese rule. They have lemon grass, chilies, Thai tea, and a wide assortment of strangely savory Vietnamese fish sauces. Want to try cooking a pot of your own pho (Vietnamese noodle soup)? You can buy all the ingredients to make it from scratch or purchase prepackaged seasoning here. How about a prawn, sugar-cane wrap, or a Penang curry? Vinh An carries a nice range of Asian vegetables and herbs, including mint, lime leaves, and fresh cilantro. The market also has live fish in a huge tank and blue crabs crawling around in crates. But if Chinese is your thing, don't worry; the bok choy is on the shelf and there are those rows of Cantonese condiments.

For a real burrito, you gotta go south. In the heart of Homestead is the Mexican center of Miami-Dade County, and it's worth stopping off on your weekend jaunt to the Keys or Biscayne National Park for the delicious concoctions at El Toro. Everything here is made on-site, from the flour tortillas to the pepper sauces. They grind and shred their own beef, and boil their own beans. After choosing a filling of your choice (chicken, or the aforementioned ground or shredded beef) you can order the burrito in one of two ways: with cheese, lettuce, and tomato inside ($4.25); or with a pepper and cheese enchilada sauce on top ($5.50). Both are good. The beans come on the side unless you ask to have them included in the wrap.
The competition may be less than stiff, but Indian Grocery hasn't slacked off. For eighteen years this crowded yet tidy market has offered an array of spices, nuts, relishes, grains, and chutneys to curry mavens here and abroad. The shop is frequented by Indians transplanted via London (and some straight from the Asian country itself), but it's also become a must-stop for Cubans who want to send spicy care packages to their friends and families on the island. So what's on the shelves besides the five C's of Indian cooking (curry powder, cumin, coriander, chilies, and cardamom)? There's no shortage of basmati rice, lentils, and beans -- big bags of the stuff. Across the aisle you'll see jars of vindaloo pastes and tandoori seasonings, which you can use to re-create your favorite restaurant classics. No time to cook? There are rows of canned Indian delights (imported from Bombay) like curried chickpeas, daal, and saag paneer, all ready to heat and eat. The refrigerated case at the back of the place holds roti and nan (and sweets such as kulfi). Or pick up a pack of poppadums (crisp lentil wafers), which spring to life when you nuke 'em for just one minute.
Trouble performing between the sheets? Drink a blend of carrot, parsley, and cucumber juices. Trying to fend off an oncoming cold? Gulp some carrot, apple, and parsley before calling your doctor. Acne? Carrot and spinach should clear it up. If none of those combinations are appealing, create one and it could get posted to the vast menu. Besides the tasty natural remedies, this tiny bar perched on a side street off Ponce de Leon Boulevard offers a diverse breakfast and lunch menu. Hang in the intimate sitting area and listen to employees and patrons sing the health praises of ingesting fresh fruit and herbs. But come early and during the week. Closing time is 4:00 p.m. and weekends are for the beach.

Fabulously flaky, beautifully buttery, splendidly spicy. Ahhh! Jamaican Beef Patties from Hammond's. Forget manna from heaven. At one dollar each in hot or mild flavors, these tasty treats, which resemble empanadas on steroids, are nirvana from Jamaica.

You may think a health food market's prepared-foods counter would feature 25 different tofu casseroles and some sprouts-n-avocado sandwiches. Not here. Yes, you'll find vegetarian staples such as spinach sautéed with sesame seeds, beets simmered in orange and ginger, luscious tofu steaks marinated in a mustardy Thai sauce, several varieties of pasta salads. But if you're a carnivore you'll be happy, too. Pick from grilled chicken breasts, spicy Thai chicken curry, stuffed chicken breasts, turkey piccata. Seafoods abound as well: mussels scampi on special during a recent visit, grilled salmon steak, baked trout. There is usually a wide variety of sandwiches depending on how close to lunch you arrive. Back in the refrigerated section you can find some great soups and dips. And just down the counter a dessert awaits: a slice of cake or pie, perhaps, or cookies, tarts, muffins, rolls. If you can't wait to feast, stop outside at a sidewalk table.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®