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.
The numbers flash with astonishing speed, and you've got ten boards to cover. The smoke in the room, as thick as alligators in the nearby canals, is getting in your eyes, making it difficult to see, and the hour drags on. You're simply too worn out to concentrate. What's a dedicated bingo player to do? Take a refueling break, of course, at Café Hammock. The fine-dining restaurant, located on a raised dais in the middle of the gaming facility, offers local specialties like stone crabs, sautéed alligator medallions, and frog legs, not to mention chicken, veal, and freshwater fish dishes for those who've been lucky. Those left out of the winner's circle can check out the more reasonably priced burgers and Buffalo wings. And though the piano player in the corner may eventually go home, the waiters stay on and the menu stays put: Café Hammock serves 24-7, including breakfast nightly from 2:00 a.m. till 10:30 a.m. for the serious casino addict. Video Lotto with your omelet, anyone?
Knaus Berry Farm
Photo by Laine Doss
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.
The road to peace in the Middle East is a little rocky these days, so travel could be rough. Good thing there's Pita Hut to give us our fill of Levantine fare until the dove returns. The Israeli-owned restaurant makes no distinctions between nationalities, unless it is to identify which specialty comes from where. Like the Greek eggplant salad, fried eggplant tossed with red pepper and garlic. Or the Turkish salad, a combination of tomatoes, onions, celery, parsley, and hot peppers. Then there's the ful medamas (fava beans), which are Lebanese in origin, the couscous with chicken and vegetables (a Moroccan favorite), and, of course, the Israeli pickles (including marinated turnips). In fact the only fighting you're likely to see here is over who gets the last crumb of baklava or Bavarian cream for dessert.
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.

In 1982 two Florida International University students in their early twenties, Patrick Gleber and Kevin Rusk, helped transform Miami's oldest bar, Tobacco Road, from a decrepit, crime-ridden dive into one of the most popular food and music venues in the county. Then came Fishbone Grille, continuing a tradition of excellent food at a moderate price. So in 1997, when Rusk announced he was going to start a brew pub in Coral Gables, it seemed a recipe for success. That is until city officials intervened. Rusk found himself embroiled in bureaucratic red tape, a pawn in a sewer dispute between the county and the city. He nearly drained his life savings as brewery equipment sat in a warehouse gathering dust for nine months. Instead of abandoning ship, Rusk persevered and on April 1, the Titanic Brewing Company opened. With six delicious specialty beers, a menu full of tasty dishes, and a pleasant low-key atmosphere, Titanic is everything we have come to enjoy and expect from Kevin Rusk.

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.
We've had some innovative Floribbean and Pacific Rim concepts recently, but not many can hold on to their uniqueness over time. Not so Blue Sea, a tiny Asian seafood bar in the Delano that features communal seating and adventurous food you just don't see elsewhere -- not even on the menus of other sushi bars guilty of taking liberties with tradition. Like an appetizer of green tea noodles, crisped salmon skin, raw quail egg and spicy mayo; a maki roll of barbecued eel, mango, coconut, crabmeat and black sesame seeds; prosciutto and daikon sashimi; and an egg crèpe spiraled around shrimp, crab, Boursin cheese, Belgian endive, radicchio, and asparagus. All are fresh, deftly prepared, and delicious, with six dipping sauces to mix and match, including ponzu and peanut.

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.

All the pleasures of dining at chef-owner Jonathan Eismann's Pacific Time, PT Next Door's sister restaurant (literally a neighbor), and none of the pain. Specifically the pain of trying to get a reservation, the pain of waiting for that reservation while pushing and shoving for a glass of wine at the bar, the pain of shouting your order at the waiter over the din, the pain of having your chair knocked about by other patrons trying to squeeze through the trendy Pacific Time dining room. In fact the only pain that remains when you dine Next Door in the belly of the Sterling Building is the one that hits you at decision time: Should you order the grilled Ho Chi Minh City "killer" pork chops with black bean vinaigrette or the grilled "jade" lamb chops with sushi rice "frites"? The tamarind barbecued Atlantic salmon or the wok-sautéed yellowfin tuna with sushi bar flavors? Or perhaps go completely vegetarian, starting with the steamed fresh soy beans or the vegetable dumplings in miso broth? No matter. Whatever you ask for, it shall be delivered, painlessly.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®