Contrary to popular belief, you can host a cocktail party without serving that platter of artfully arranged orange cheese cubes. It is possible to offer your guests fromage that hasn't been skewered with toothpicks. And, get this, it doesn't have to be baked Brie! At Scotty's Grocery you can choose from more than 80 specialty cheeses from around the globe, most with wine-pairing and serving suggestions. You don't have to worry what to serve with the Drunken Goat (veal saltimbocca would be divine with this semisoft goat cheese from Spain that's been immersed in red wine). There are cheeses from Switzerland (sweet, nutty Gruyère; chestnutlike Madrigal baby Swiss); Denmark (three kinds of mild yet tangy Havarti); and Germany (triple-cream Cambozola). Peek behind the four varieties of mozzarella (Italian) and you'll unearth a lovely, layered mascarpone torte with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs. Like things a little closer to home? Real Wisconsin cheddar (note its delicate pumpkin-color hue) is unbelievably fresh. Aficionados of the foil-wrapped brick variety will marvel at the difference in taste. How to decide? Stop by the shop Friday evenings from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. for a complementary wine and cheese tasting.
Carry-out is generally the order of the day at many of Miami-Dade's Jamaican restaurants. So smile at the folks tending to the long take-out line and let them know you'll be in the no-frills dining room. Stick to the tried and true basics of authentic Jamaican cuisine: jerk chicken, curried chicken, curried goat, oxtail, and cow foot. Have it with rice and peas (which are beans in the Queen's English) and a bottle of beer, and you'll be out of there for less than six bucks. Come morning, if you're in the mood for an island breakfast, wander back in and have your coffee with a dish of mackerel and bananas, seasoned callaloo, or ackee and saltfish.

From bok choy to wheat grass, this weekly market features hundreds of fresh organic fruits and vegetables and a large stash of homemade sauces and salads. The selection varies, of course, according to the season, but on a recent Saturday I found eight types of organic lettuce and as many squashes. The goods are brought in from around the world by Stan Glaser, who augments the produce with goods from his own organic Redlands farm and goodies prepared by his girlfriend Tracy Fleming. Among the most popular items are pestos, salad dressings, and fresh fruit pies with fillings of mango, strawberry, raspberry-apple, and apple-almond. It's open yearround every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Best Natural Food/Vegetarian Restaurant

Lexie's

The x in Lexie's is a carrot crossed with a celery stick. The i is dotted with a strawberry. The possessive s is attached by a mushroom. Any fool can see that this is not the place to order a burger; any gourmet diner with an appetite bigger than a rabbit's knows to steer clear. Or do they? So Lexie's doesn't use dairy in the cooking, and all vegetables and meats are organic, all-natural, or free-range. Otherwise Lexie's offers delicious, full-bodied, fusion appetizers and entrées, including black-bean cakes with mango-miso-wasabi sauce, chargrilled spicy beef salad over watercress and shredded basil, and organic artichoke penne pasta with a roasted garlic sauce. The fast-food junkie can even make do with an all-natural beef burger (for those of us educated at McDonald's, that means no filler is used in the patty) on a whole-wheat kaiser with homemade ketchup. Looks good, tastes good, feels good.
Tuscan Steak
It's a golden rule of commonplace cuisine: Where there is meat, there should be potatoes. Steak and rice? No. Steak and pasta? Absolutely not. Steak and potatoes. Unquestionably. They just belong together. At Tuscan Steak, however, they are kept separate, dished out à la carte. A good thing perhaps. Although the restaurant offers enormous cuts of exceptional beef, they also serve the most spectacular mashed potatoes that have ever passed our lips. Thick buttery potatoes flecked with bits of smoked onion or sweet potatoes mashed and zinged up with a splash of Amaretto. Hold the sirloin, the T-bone, and the filet mignon, and bring on a bucket of these luscious spuds.
Here's one of the longest oxymorons we've come across lately: "Florida's largest Chinese gourmet buffet." Could this possibly be true? Well maybe not the gourmet part. But Emerald Coast arguably fronts the most items, hot and cold, we've ever seen: more than 100 spread over seven stations. And for one low price ($16.95 for a weekend dinner is the highest; $7.50 for a weekday lunch is the lowest), the buffet, natch, is all-you-can-eat. Visit the steam table for a choice of six soups, including miso, hot-and-sour, and egg drop. Check out the appetizer table for egg rolls, spring rolls, dumplings, and barbecued ribs, to mention a few. Move on to the neighboring entrées, including kung pao chicken and black pepper steak, or opt for the sushi counter and some California rolls. And those are just the Asian dishes. Emerald Coast also presents a tremendous salad bar with a centerpiece of peel-'n'-eat shrimp, snow crab legs, and green-lipped mussels. The carving station slices a juicy prime rib. International desserts, if you can manage them, range from Black Forest cake to miniature coconut tarts. All in all it's quite a display: not just the fare, but the spectacle you make of yourself as you fill your plate for the umpteenth time.

Long known for its bread, Renaissance has now added to its repertoire pastries, danishes, cakes, cookies, and pies. As part of the new look they moved from a hidden back corner of a North Miami stripmall to a Biscayne Boulevard frontage next to the Roadhouse Grill. The bread is still excellent. The baguettes in particular are chewy and flavorful. But for those who live for dessert, especially chocoholics, take note. Chocolate here comes in cakes, tortes, mousses, croissants, soufflés, and, of course, brownies. One could spend a heavenly day just nibbling the rich chocolate truffle torte accompanied by a steady stream of caffeine. Actually you can. Renaissance has a counter along the wall with seating. The pleasantly low-key staff offers cappuccino, espresso, or just a plain old cup of joe. They are open at 7:30 every morning of the week. For those who commute along Biscayne, what a bakery oasis.
Morton's The Steakhouse
Will Smith's Miami is filled with supermodels in thong bikinis holding fruity drinks with umbrellas in them, dancing salsa. But if you head downtown for lunch at Morton's of Chicago, you find a very different kind of Magic City: corporate executives in tailored Armani sipping martinis, cutting deals to canned, easy-listening jazz. The twenty years this steak house chain has been serving USDA prime porterhouse steaks to movers, shakers and other future heart patients is really something to rap about. Smith might not know to git jiggy with it, but the power suits who make the city run over filet mignon are the ones you want to hear say, "Welcome to Miami."

After an exhausting day of trying on clothes and jewelry, what else could refortify a stalwart shopper but a plate of handmade pasta, a glass of wine, and a simple fish or chicken dish? Wearing Prada pumps and Gucci loafers, many such hungry shoppers wait in line for the superior northern Italian food served up by chef Manuel Poucar. The menu features elegant homemade pastas, pizzas, and, of course, carpaccio in a dozen variations. That delicious pasta may set you back as much as 25 bucks, but hey, other diners could have spent that much on shoestrings.
Give us your guava, your yuca, your cabbage, your corn, your watermelons, your sweet potatoes, your tomatoes, and your avocados. Each morning before dawn, masses of produce vendors huddle with truckers, grocery store owners, and restaurant buyers at Allapattah's so-called terminal market, just north of Jackson Memorial Hospital. The market supplies ingredients for Miami's cornucopia of cultures. Snatches of Spanish, Creole, and island-accented English are heard as vendors proffer exotic fruits, Caribbean tubers, giant bags of Spanish rice, Florida oranges, and Idaho potatoes. Packaged products from around the subtropics can also be found here. So grab a thimbleful of Cuban coffee from the corner cafeteria and stroll these four blocks. Buy some fresh, cheap produce while journeying into the heart and stomach of the city.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®