This town knows a thing or two about heat. But it's never known anything like Christine Gouvia's jerk chicken. The tender, unassuming morsels of dark meat tingle the tongue and placate the palate. And though this experience alone is worth the pilgrimage to Gouvia's tiny North Miami Beach eatery, the spicy bird takes second billing to the roti. Sort of a Punjabi pita, roti is used as a vehicle for serving a number of traditional island foods such as curried goat, oxtail, and seafood. Entrées come with roti and rice and peas, and max out at around seven bucks. Ginger beer, coconut juice, and other popular island drinks are available, and the raisin-filled cake is unbeatable. Christine's little shop is open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
An instantly recognizable two-word dish: crispy spinach. Or perhaps aromatic duck. Or even purple eggplant. But two words, no matter how memorable they are, can't really describe the complex flavors and contrasting textures presented in these outstanding Chinese dishes. Only taste will tell. After six years in business on flighty South Beach, we might have expected this eatery, which has three other locations in or near Montreal, Canada, to wane in popularity, cut back on quality, and ease up on the excellent service. But this fragrant little flower has continued to attract new clientele with its terrific crab-and-asparagus soup and its spicy ravioli stuffed with minced chicken in a peanut sauce. It has also rewarded loyal customers by instituting the VIP card, which offers ten percent off the top of the bill. All you have to do is use the card at least twice during the summer season, thus showing you're a resident. Now this is a privilege -- and a VIP room -- that we don't mind standing in line for.
A fogon is an oven, and the one here is obviously put to good use. Owner Agustin Paz uses his to melt the cheese over molletes (open-face French bread sandwiches), bake cochinita pibil (marinated pork) burritos, and roast poblano peppers stuffed with ground beef. Fare isn't fancy, but it is attractively presented, not to mention generously portioned. Wash down those spinach nachos, laden with cheese and refried beans, with a Dos Equis, a strawberry margarita, or, in deference to Miami's thirst for fruity drinks, the El Fogon smoothie. But don't come to us if you don't have room for the crepas con cajeta (crèpes with caramel) for dessert -- blame it on the smooth operator working el fogon.
Perhaps poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa wrote it best: "... what perfect/form a taste can set before the eye/the primary tongue./Con the cheek with bliss." Pau-Llosa was extolling Norman Van Aken's talent, and he hit it right on the proverbial head. Van Aken and his "perfect form" have conned us all into believing none in the Gables (nor in Florida, nor even in the country) can challenge him. Somebody arrest this man. His particular crime? Achieving culinary heights so great every other chef pales in his Himalayan shadow. He has spoiled our palates, and he must be punished. He must not be allowed to win this award again next year, as he has for the past three years running.
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.

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.

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.
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.
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.

This past year Nemo owners Myles Chefetz and Michael Schwartz made a wise decision; they hired executive chef Frank Jeanetti to take the reins of the open kitchen. Jeanetti not only has a fine touch with Pacific Rim flavors (honed under Jonathan Eismann at Pacific Time and Pacific Heights), he's a great garde-manger, and he proves it every Sunday while presiding over brunch. Items are lined up on the counter that rims the kitchen (where patrons can sit and watch the action while they eat), and range from items such as mushroom-barley salad and smoked salmon wrapped around alfalfa sprouts to traditional egg dishes. An assortment of home-baked breads and pastries sandwich either end of the buffet. Best of all the $22 price tag includes as many return trips as your stomach can handle. Designer oysters and early-morning cocktails aren't included in the fee, but that might be asking too much.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®