When the La Casita team took over this Calle Ocho location eight years ago, they showed their acumen by holding on to the best part of the previous restaurant: Amparo Jidy, concocter of the creamiest, sweetest, foamiest café con leche in town. Amparo has ruled the coffee bar ever since, serving up plenty of smiles, along with coladas and cortaditos. Some years back, a young lady discovered, too late, that she didn't have enough change to pay for the steaming cup of liquid gold she needed to get through her morning. "No te preocupes," Amparo said, waving her hand magnanimously. "Esta es tu casita." No wonder lawyers, laborers, and locals keep beating a path to her door.

Two reasons why this elegant neighborhood restaurant consistently earns kudos for its service: The staff respects chef-owner Klime Kovaceski, and he respects them. With all this mutual regard going on, it's pretty hard not to be a recipient of it. The host has a toy or two stashed away for a fussy baby. The servers cater to customers shamelessly but professionally, which means they consider tips a bonus for a job well done rather than de rigueur. And Kovaceski makes the rounds several times a night, donning a fresh shirt every time he does so, to inquire about the success of his New Continental dishes. Become a regular and you'll get regularly teased by him, particularly if you always order the same meal. But then, it's impossible not to have a favorite at Crystal Café, where everybody knows your name, or at least thinks they should learn it.

Laguna Seafood Restaurant
As out of the way as it might seem to the downtown lunch crowd, this all-substance/no-style Cuban eatery is a big hit with our men and women in uniform. On any given day, Laguna's crack squad of blue-aproned waitresses can be seen pressing prodigious platters of moros, yuca, maduros, and succulent meats of all descriptions on National Guardsmen, police officers, FBI agents, parks and recreation employees, and code enforcement inspectors. The high quantity, high quality, and low prices of the fare keep the heavily armed clientele coming back. If you're on a real tight budget, a big bowl of the heavenly sopa de pescado and a side of tostones (perhaps the best in town) will run you a total of $3.50. Want to drop in early for a hearty breakfast of two eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee? That'll be a buck fifty. The daily specials are uniformly excellent (especially Monday's bistec en cazuela and Thursday's rabo encendido), none costs more than $4.75, and you'll probably need both hands to carry the leftovers out to the car.

From their pita bread to their desserts, the Oriental Bakery and Grocery store is one of those rare finds that make living in South Florida a truly diverse experience. All the baking and cooking is done on the premises and they sell more than 400 loaves of pita bread per day. It's been a family- run business for nearly 30 years, and Okashah Monem and his sons provide not only an impeccable array of baked goods, but also some of the tastiest Arabic food in Miami. They serve traditional meat, spinach, and cheese pies, as well as kibbeh, safiha, and a host of other Middle-Eastern delicacies. And don't get us started on their hummus and baba ghannouj, which are simply fabulous.

Best Fine-Dining Restaurant To Have A Highchair

Caffe Sambuca

Locals love this elegant Italian eatery for several reasons, including the succulent homemade pastas, the high-quality grilled veal chops, the genteel atmosphere, the sincere service. But there's a bonus factor here that makes the Caffe even more inviting: highchairs. Now new parents can enjoy the tastiest tortellini in the business while reveling in the knowledge that their bambinos are snug in their seats as ricotta is in ravioli. And that the kitchen will turn out a smaller portion of pasta for its tiny, discerning guests. No doubt, for all concerned, Caffe Sambuca is a welcome alternative to the likes of Chuck E. Cheese.
You are down south in late April. An intense summer sun seems to have bypassed spring. Those strawberries dotting the fields look red and juicy, but the thought of picking fruit in this heat makes you turn the car air conditioner up a notch. Fortunately Charlie Burr has already gathered them for you. They await at his stand just like they have for 36 years from just after Christmas to about mid-May. Stacked ripe and succulent they bulge from pint and quart containers. If you overheat while standing to buy them, order one of the wonderful strawberry milkshakes. Just the thought sounds cool.
Although it might make more sense to sip hot chocolate after ice-skating in Michigan than after Rollerblading along Coral Way, make an exception at Hoeflinger & Chiarini. It's that good. The pastry chef takes dark Swiss chocolate, melts and mixes it with sugar and milk, and makes it creamy and smooth. Then he squeezes out generous dollops and refrigerates them. When your order arrives, the chocolate is served on the side with a mug of milk heated in an espresso machine's steamer. Plunk it in and stir. Ask for more than one dollop if you want. Think of it as the best of the frozen North brought to you in the sunny South for only $2.15.

The key here is "dine." You can grab a fast-food burger by yourself just about anywhere, but the only thing you'll be treating yourself to is a Pepcid AC. Replace Mickey D's with Johnny V's, and instead you'll munch on corn-crusted snapper stuffed into a soft taco with avocado tartar sauce, a basil-roasted turkey with plantain stuffing, or grilled rare tuna over baby greens with sprouts and wasabi-soy vinaigrette. What makes these gourmet items ideal for the single diner is the setting: Chrome stools line a counter in this narrow, SoBe dining room, and people-watching is at a premium. If you tire of staring at hung-over entertainers or at the jars of homemade pickles lining the shelves behind the counter, you can always pick up a Magic Marker and write on the walls; many of the tiles bear messages from grateful, solitary customers.
No sweet maduros dripping with grease, no deep-fried croquetas or rich, fatty chunks of lechon asado. No, this is Fat Busters, home of Cuban Lite, where the mantra is: "No added fat or sugar." And before you dismiss this small strip-center cafeteria/cantina as an insult to real Cuban cooking, at least sample the wares. Turkey meatballs, turkey picadillo, grilled chicken breast, tuna-stuffed sweet pepper, meatless congri. Steamed plantains, steamed pumpkin with mojo, and no-fat black beans with rice are surprisingly savory. Many other less-traditional fish and pasta dishes grace the extensive menu, which changes weekly. It's all the brainchild of Thais Carreño, a Cuban who learned to cook light for her health and then started her own business three years ago. You're welcome to eat on the premises, but Fat Busters (open weekdays 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) is more of a take-out deli. Carreno and company will also prepare (and deliver, if requested) an entrée and three sides every day, cooked to your individual diet requirements (about $35 per person for five days; $1 per day delivery charge).
A walk through Little Haiti delights the olfactory senses. Exotic aromas from the islands waft by like enticing invitations. But there are few restaurants where one wants to sit. Why? Because take-out is the rule. And Fidele is the best. Be clear, this is no yuppie joint. It's located on a seedy stretch of Biscayne and a smudged Plexiglas window separates customers from cashier. Smells from a vacant field next door are sometimes unpleasant and neither clients nor proprietors speak much English. But for five to eight dollars, you can get perfect plantains, delicately flavored rice and beans, and unforgettable main dishes. Portions are huge, enough for two modest eaters. And you get a free soda to boot. Try the fried chicken, which is our favorite dish. The fried fish is another winner. Goat and conch are also surprisingly tasty. Don't forget the Haitian hot sauce; one container could rocket you to Port-au-Prince.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®