There once was a chef named NcNish/Who had a Panamanian way with raw fish/She squeezed on it some lime/Let it marinate for a time/And added shrimp and onions to the dish/Delish!

There are two ways a world-class, James Beard award-winning chef with a signature restaurant can go. Open another restaurant in a different city, train an executive chef to cook your food, and hope your reputation will suffice to attract customers. But then you take the chance of compromising the standing of not only the new restaurant, but your original eatery as well. Or you can do what Allen Susser, a.k.a. Chef Allen, has done. He's opened a gourmet market in the same shopping center as Chef Allen's, his namesake eatery, where he sells his homemade line of products such as marinades, salad dressings, and sauces. He also offers cooking lessons in the store the second Wednesday of every month ($45 per session), and provides an extensive take-out menu of New World items. It's a snap for Susser to keep his eye on both places, which hardly compete with each other, because Chef Allen's is closed for lunch. And it's doubly pleasurable for us to monitor the progress of one of our most loyal hometown pride and joys.
An umpteen-year veteran on the North Miami dining scene, this place is simply not what it seems. The outside is steel and chrome, a typical New Jersey or Philadelphia diner look. But while the outside says "Yo," the inside says "Bonjour." It shouts it with the homemade vinaigrette that dresses the steamed artichoke, the tuna-pasta, and the hearts of palm salads. It yells it with the superior sauces: Béchamel, beurre blanc, Provençale. And it positively roars it with the sautéed frog legs, the garlicky calf's liver, the veal chop garnished with mushrooms, and the grilled lamb chops. Desserts such as chocolate mousse are a subtler, quieter approach to your palate, but then, we should never underestimate the power of a whisper.
Laurenzo's Itialian Market
The true excellence of Laurenzo's is confirmed by the out-of-towner's test. A New Yorker, spoiled by that city's abundance, visits for the first time. His excitement begins at the door where he spies the extensive wine selection. Soon he is exclaiming at the low cost compared with pricey Gotham. He moves on to the sauces, a collection that embraces an array of ethnic flavors. Italian sausages inspire rhapsodies as do multitudinous cheeses and numerous olive oils. And then his attention is caught by the pastries and homemade pasta. Praise has turned to exaltation. At the door, the out-of-towner is mentally checking the space in his luggage: How many delicacies can he take, and how soon must he return?
The many Brazilian tourists who choose Miami as a shopping destination know a good deal when they see it. That's why at lunchtime they head to Camila's. There are fancier local Brazilian eateries with more sophisticated food, but the dishes at this unassuming self-service restaurant probably bear more resemblance to what the Brazilians eat in their hometowns. Camila's "super buffet" offers a daily selection of fortifying main dishes, which can include the traditional feijoada, beef stew, pounded seasoned steak, and chicken in spicy sauce. The meal starts at the salad bar, with an array of fresh vegetables and prepared salads. For dessert try the sweet coconut flan or homemade rice pudding, and top it off with strong Brazilian espresso. The atmosphere at Camila's is informal and friendly; there's a mix of casually dressed patrons chatting in Portuguese and young, suited employees from nearby office buildings. The restaurant is immaculate, and the staff is attentive, happy to list the ingredients of unfamiliar dishes or arm you with fresh plates for another round at the buffet. Go ahead and taste everything; the all-you-can-eat meal costs $6.95 at lunch and $7.95 at dinner. Now that's a bargain.

If you took a poll across the nation, you'd find that Miamians rank among the most dehydrated citizens in the country, right behind Texans, New Mexicans, and Salt Lake City denizens (it's not the air there that's dry). That's because it's not just the heat, it's the heat and the humidity that drains our bodies of life-supporting nutrients. So it only stands to reason that we also have some of the best smoothie-producing spots in the country, as demonstrated by Sun Juice. Their freshly blended fruit smoothies, which are made with fresh fruit, nonfat yogurt or sherbet, and optional protein supplements, aren't too thick (so you don't waste more precious energy sucking fruitlessly -- pun intended -- on the straw) but hardly too thin (so you don't confuse these healthy milkshakes with juice). Just the right consistency to satisfy that powerful thirst. 'Cause what the sun takes away, the Sun makes sure to give back.
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.
Chuck Wagon Restaurant
Courtesy of Chuck Wagon
The original owners have moved on, but the menu remains the same delicious oddity as ever, and still shakes up the neighborhood. Items like "A Glorious Fungus Among Us" (fried mushrooms topped with garlic butter and Parmesan cheese) and the "Reuben & Rachel -- Still Not Married" (one of the best corned-beef sandwiches around) are hardly subtle, but delicious. Political incorrectness in the straightest of Miami suburbs? You betcha. And while you're being crass and crude, forget the diet as well. This is the ideal restaurant to meet friends for coffee and rum cake, take in-laws for breakfast "omelets with attitudes," and treat the neighbor whose lawn mower you broke to dinner: Order him the "steak on the grass" (Rumanian skirt steak on a bed of spinach).
Christy's Restaurant
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.
Marquee chef Robbin Haas may have moved on to newer pastures (Baleen at Grove Isle), but he left behind a well-rehearsed kitchen and his decidedly distinctive menu. Which means it's still possible to feast on filet stroganoff, luxurious blinis with crème fraîche and caviar, and spicy Georgian fried chicken with mashed spuds and red beans. But the fare accounts for only part of Red Square's success. The 80-seat dining room adds a little perestroika panache to South Beach with those domed lighting fixtures, the distressed walls hung with Russian art, and the frozen sheet of ice that's the concept bar. The service is exemplary: Polite, professional servers polish wineglasses; busboys replace not just bread and water but cocktails as well. And oh, those cocktails. They're shaken not stirred with one or more of the 100 frozen vodkas that Red Square imports from around the world. Check out the Metropolitan Kosmopolitan, the Blue Russian, or the Glasnost for a night on the town that you will quickly forget.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®