Don't be fooled by the Fifties-diner look: This place is as Cuban as it comes. In fact once the waitress slams down a crowded plate of blanket-size bistec empanizado with papitas fritas hanging over the edges of the oval-shaped dish, visions of North America will quickly fade. The specialty of the house is steak a la plancha and the black beans remain faithful to a recipe that originated in Güines, in the province of Havana. The food itself is larger than life. Try the chicken-fried steak with sautéed onions piled on top, or the mountains of ropa vieja and white rice. If there's room, a side order of tamales, yuca, or giant tostones are worth reserving a spot in your stomach.
Miami is a great food town, of course. Most famously for the chefs who fuse Caribbean foods into a mango-habanero mojo of New World cuisine. Less exotic, but still welcome in the mix, are the cheese steaks and inimitable pizzas transplanted from Philadelphia and New York. To this Americana end, at long last, Miami can add the hot dog. Make that the authentic Chicago-style hot dog. Mr. G's USA, a humble joint new to town, keeps it real: A Vienna Beef wiener served on a steamed bun with onions, mustard, relish, peppers, tomatoes, celery salt, and absolutely positively no ketchup. A bit of Midwestern mojo, if you will. Each substantial dog costs $2.75, and usually comes with either free fries, free soda, or both. Open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. There are other food options at Mr. G's, from ribs to Greek salads to a breakfast eggs Benedict. But why?

Best Central-American Restaurant And Club

Yambo

If Central America became unified, Managua might be its center, Yambo its expatriate capital. The authentic food, particularly the grilled meat, is excellent and startlingly cheap. Best of all, though restaurant service ends at 3:00 a.m., Yambo is open 24 hours. At 2:00 a.m. the place is often packed with families, teenagers, and novios. Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán drops in for a bite when in town as does legendary contra commander Eden Pastora. If you stumble into Yambo for the first time at the end of a late night, don't let the décor startle you. Every inch of the walls is covered with faux Central Americana, like knockoff wooden masks of Indian princes, national emblems from the region, flintlock rifles, wooden calves, and brightly painted landscapes. There are two bigger-than-life cigar store Indians. One sits surrounded by typical pottery inside a glass case. As a final touch, the ceiling is papered with pictures of scantily clad women. The tourists whom the display hopes to entice rarely enter, but locals looking for a taste of home crowd the place day and night.

This tiny titan of independent ice creamery has made a smooth transition to its new digs on Lincoln Road, as opposed to its previous location just south of the mall. Its bigger space is now more directly in the flight path of snowbirds and locals doing laps around the Road on in-line skates with their dogs. Even better a bigger store means room for more flavors -- 32, instead of 24! Décor hasn't changed much: They brought those delightful ice-cream-cone paintings, but alas, they forgot to lose that cow-shape wind sock that still convulses disturbingly under the AC vent. No matter. Their delicious ice cream and sorbet still rule.
Okay so Palm Grill ain't exactly new. The creative eatery attracted tons of national attention when it was located in Key West, where it operated for nine years before its proprietors decided to move. But the playfully swank restaurant is new to North Miami Beach, where it set up shop this past fall. And the cuisine (items like "big ass won tons" filled with fried conch, portobello mushroom "bear claws," and Cuban pork Wellington) are always fresh and modern, not to mention a little irreverent. But then owners Wayne King and Michael Gallagher aren't generally models of propriety. Their talisman is a portrait of a bare-breasted woman that King discovered in Paris, and she's been watching over the boys, so to speak, ever since. Which is fine with us, as long as her attributes aren't like Samson's hair. We'd hope all that restaurateuring talent would remain even if the portrait doesn't.
Rice pudding is rightly loved and cherished by a multitude of cultures. Here in Miami it's a rare Jewish or Cuban restaurant that does not offer this tasty and easily prepared treat. In fact its very ubiquitousness makes it no easy task to find a rice pudding that truly stands out from its peers. The pudding at Latin Cafeteria and Bakery is among the creamiest you will find anywhere. The secret? In addition to traditional milk, they add condensed milk in equal measure. The result is a gluttonous and guilty pleasure that you will enjoy right down to the bottom of the soda fountain glass dish in which it is served.
Here they come on the run, with a burger on a bun.... Actually it's more like they come on a walk, or even a slow crawl; some of these burgers are so hefty you can build your biceps with them. The "Delirious" burger, for instance, is a hearty fourteen ounces. And the "Famous Pounder" is twenty ounces. Okay, so math was never a strong suit. What these people are good at is grilling burgers to order, which means you not only choose the size of your patty, you select the type of "chee:" American, Swiss, cheddar, jalapeño, provolone, or blue. Sautéed mushrooms, onions, or grilled bacon cost just three bits extra. And the hand-cut French fries and colossal onion rings, cooked in peanut oil, come for as little as $1.50 and $1.75, respectively. And what's a burger without a beer, or a chocolate malt, for that matter? This place offers both options. But most of all we admire the gauntlet thrown down at the outset. Order the "Pounder" and fail to eat it? The staff, not to mention your dining companions, feel free to jeer. But if you consume the entire twenty ounces, you get your picture on the wall. Fifteen minutes of fame never tasted so good.

Best Restaurant For Intimate Conversation

Pan Coast

When you think of the best restaurants for an intimate conversation, you usually think small. Which isn't always the best when the couple next to you can hear your every word. Pan Coast certainly has an intimate quality, but its ten tables are nicely spaced on a patio that surrounds a quaint, fish-filled fountain and a tropically landscaped pool. At this Mediterranean eatery, the only ones hearing your sweet whispers are your partner and maybe the stars.
The Original Daily Bread Marketplace
Courtesy of Daily Bread Marketplace
What compliment do you give a Christian Arab family who emigrated from Israel in 1969 and turned a dumpy little Lebanese market on Seventeeth Street off South Dixie Highway into something akin to a Persian empire, a market-bakery-restaurant where the fare was in as much demand as the hard-to-find Middle-Eastern spices? Easy: You've got balls. Falafel balls, to be exact, in addition to kibbeh (ground meat and cracked wheat) and kafta kebab (ground lamb). Granted the Mazzawi family does extremely well with its baking operation, fully automated factories that supply restaurants, cruise ship lines, and national bakery labels with pita bread. But it's the falafel -- ground, spiced chick peas hand-molded and deep-fried, stuffed into the signature pocket bread, and garnished with red onions and shredded cabbage salad -- that made the Daily Bread's reputation, enabling the market to move this past year into its current expansive digs. Fortunately, while the improved store has been drawing novice falafel-eaters, the new packaging (and newfound popularity) hasn't changed that old great taste.

Smith & Wollensky
Courtesy of Smith & Wollensky
Bad news for wine-loving vegetarians. Most of Miami's best wine lists are in restaurants that cater to carnivores. This year's best is no exception. It's the popular and pricey New York import Smith & Wollensky. They've got some 350 very drinkable choices, and a mind-blowing inventory of more than 14,000 bottles. Out of necessity the neatly stacked bottles make up the primary décor of the restaurant. They are everywhere: in a second-floor cellar, in bins behind the bar, lined up on tables in the dining room, even mounted on the walls. Most important, the stuff that pours forth makes for a superb glass of wine. "We don't even consider a Bordeaux or cabernet unless they have at least four years in the bottle," says wine director Danny Thames, whose careful selections also go well with the exceptional aged beef, the restaurant's claim to fame. Be sure that you'll pay for it. Only about two dozen fall below $40.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®