Working in the music business is no nine-to-five job. Recording sessions that start one day can finish the next, and pulling all-nighters is par for the course. No surprise that producers and engineers who work at North Miami's famed Critieria Recording Studio know what to do when they need a little something to keep them going. No, not that. We mean Cuban coffee from La Minuta. This small cafetería on West Dixie Highway serves the quintessential Cuban octane: hot, sweet, and smooth. The brew never tastes too sugary, rancid, or bitter, but it's strong enough to keep you going for the next few hours. La Minuta opens early and closes late, so walk up to the window and enjoy this superior (and legal) stimulant. You just might run into bleary-eyed recording engineers refueling after a long night's work.
Are you sick of key lime pies that taste treacly, like green-color candy? Yet you live in South Florida and, damn it, when visitors come to call, they expect the local confection. Fret not, there is hope. Oddly enough it comes from sternly dressed German Baptists. More than a half century old, the Knaus Berry Farm in Homestead is rightly celebrated for its pecan rolls and fresh strawberries. On weekends between the middle of November and the last Saturday of April, customers brave long lines to buy fresh pastries and milkshakes from these traditionalists, whose long beards and conservative clothes often cause people to mistake them for Amish. The key to their key lime pie, they say, is the topping. These Baptists use cream cheese in place of whipped cream. They also exercise a puritanical control over the sugar in the lime filling. The result is a sublime and sophisticated interplay of tartness and sweetness, truly a proper dessert with coffee after dinner. At $6.50 for a small pie that serves about five, this treat is moderately priced. Those who arrive at the farm late in the day are unlikely to find any left.
Anyone can make a buttery, flaky croissant, like the fat golden crescents you find at the Publix Bakery. But not anyone can take that very same croissant and turn it into ... a doughnut. Sometimes the bakery counter's best-selling item is glazed after the raw croissant dough has been dropped like a fritter into the deep-fryer. Sometimes it's coated with cinnamon-sugar granules. Either way the new take is the best thing to happen to the traditional croissant since it made the leap over the big pond into the indulgent hands of American bakers.

It would be impossible for any flan to have a more perfectly silky, dense texture and rich taste than Lila's flan does. So many Lila's customers grew to love the flan (a most fitting finale to Lila's also-celebrated palomillo steak heaped with crisp fresh-cut fries) that ten years ago owner Reinaldo Navarro began selling the delicacy to stores. Now you can buy Lila's flan at Publix, Albertson's, Winn-Dixie, and other markets from Palm Beach to Monroe counties. But it's still better enjoyed after a big meal with a tableful of café-chugging, Cuba-policy-arguing companions in Lila's backroom.
Step into this spacious restaurant in a modest stripmall off U.S. 1 and you'll think you've taken a wrong turn over the border. Furnished with tile floors, ceramic crafts, woven wall hangings, and a wandering mariachi band, Paquito's feels authentic without being kitschy. Likewise the food here is really Mexican, not that overstuffed Americanized variation often found at so-called Mexican establishments. Dishes are simply prepared with country-fresh ingredients according to traditional recipes. Case in point: the sizzling fajita. Substantial slices of chicken or beef smothered with onions, plump cherry tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms are laid out on a metal plate, accompanied by a platter of yellow rice, refried beans, salad, and guacamole. There's a covered basket filled with warm, soft tortillas set to the side. A subtly flavored feast for the senses and stomach, eating Paquito's superior fajita is a sensual experience -- your own version of the wedding banquet in Like Water for Chocolate. Thirteen dollars and ninety-five cents seems a small price to pay for such pleasure.

Miami is a great food town, of course. Most famously for the chefs who fuse Caribbean foods into a mango-habanero mojo of New World cuisine. Less exotic, but still welcome in the mix, are the cheese steaks and inimitable pizzas transplanted from Philadelphia and New York. To this Americana end, at long last, Miami can add the hot dog. Make that the authentic Chicago-style hot dog. Mr. G's USA, a humble joint new to town, keeps it real: A Vienna Beef wiener served on a steamed bun with onions, mustard, relish, peppers, tomatoes, celery salt, and absolutely positively no ketchup. A bit of Midwestern mojo, if you will. Each substantial dog costs $2.75, and usually comes with either free fries, free soda, or both. Open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. There are other food options at Mr. G's, from ribs to Greek salads to a breakfast eggs Benedict. But why?
This tiny titan of independent ice creamery has made a smooth transition to its new digs on Lincoln Road, as opposed to its previous location just south of the mall. Its bigger space is now more directly in the flight path of snowbirds and locals doing laps around the Road on in-line skates with their dogs. Even better a bigger store means room for more flavors -- 32, instead of 24! Décor hasn't changed much: They brought those delightful ice-cream-cone paintings, but alas, they forgot to lose that cow-shape wind sock that still convulses disturbingly under the AC vent. No matter. Their delicious ice cream and sorbet still rule.
Rice pudding is rightly loved and cherished by a multitude of cultures. Here in Miami it's a rare Jewish or Cuban restaurant that does not offer this tasty and easily prepared treat. In fact its very ubiquitousness makes it no easy task to find a rice pudding that truly stands out from its peers. The pudding at Latin Cafeteria and Bakery is among the creamiest you will find anywhere. The secret? In addition to traditional milk, they add condensed milk in equal measure. The result is a gluttonous and guilty pleasure that you will enjoy right down to the bottom of the soda fountain glass dish in which it is served.
Here they come on the run, with a burger on a bun.... Actually it's more like they come on a walk, or even a slow crawl; some of these burgers are so hefty you can build your biceps with them. The "Delirious" burger, for instance, is a hearty fourteen ounces. And the "Famous Pounder" is twenty ounces. Okay, so math was never a strong suit. What these people are good at is grilling burgers to order, which means you not only choose the size of your patty, you select the type of "chee:" American, Swiss, cheddar, jalapeño, provolone, or blue. Sautéed mushrooms, onions, or grilled bacon cost just three bits extra. And the hand-cut French fries and colossal onion rings, cooked in peanut oil, come for as little as $1.50 and $1.75, respectively. And what's a burger without a beer, or a chocolate malt, for that matter? This place offers both options. But most of all we admire the gauntlet thrown down at the outset. Order the "Pounder" and fail to eat it? The staff, not to mention your dining companions, feel free to jeer. But if you consume the entire twenty ounces, you get your picture on the wall. Fifteen minutes of fame never tasted so good.
What compliment do you give a Christian Arab family who emigrated from Israel in 1969 and turned a dumpy little Lebanese market on Seventeeth Street off South Dixie Highway into something akin to a Persian empire, a market-bakery-restaurant where the fare was in as much demand as the hard-to-find Middle-Eastern spices? Easy: You've got balls. Falafel balls, to be exact, in addition to kibbeh (ground meat and cracked wheat) and kafta kebab (ground lamb). Granted the Mazzawi family does extremely well with its baking operation, fully automated factories that supply restaurants, cruise ship lines, and national bakery labels with pita bread. But it's the falafel -- ground, spiced chick peas hand-molded and deep-fried, stuffed into the signature pocket bread, and garnished with red onions and shredded cabbage salad -- that made the Daily Bread's reputation, enabling the market to move this past year into its current expansive digs. Fortunately, while the improved store has been drawing novice falafel-eaters, the new packaging (and newfound popularity) hasn't changed that old great taste.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®