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.
Benihana Japanese Steakhouse
In Japanese yasumoto means "surrender." But perhaps owner Bok H. An should have given his eatery, located on the second floor of the Bal Harbour Shops, a name that means "conquer." 'Cause that's what this place does to its competition. At what other local Japanese spot can you get soft-shell crab encrusted with cornmeal, served over arugula, and dressed with a sweet corn vinaigrette? Or boneless quail partnered with jicama, watercress, and red onion slaw? Okay so these items aren't particularly Japanese. But most of the menu, such as the Szechuan pepper-crusted tuna over black Thai rice, has a welcome pan-Asian flair, which complements the sincere efforts of sushi chef Soo Won, who presents thick slices of sashimi as well as more interesting fare such as yellowtail jaw and marinated raw beef. The name Yasumoto may have some relevance; they've courageously surrendered the teriyaki, the stir-fry, the typical tempura. It's about time someone turned a Japanese restaurant into a destination for the culinary thrill-seeker rather than a bland fish joint with a Japanese moniker.
Peppy's in the Gables
Thick, solid, gooey, is the typical Napoleon experience. At the hand of most bakers, the compact dense pastry is sugar shock on a lacy white doily. Oddly at Peppy's, a restaurant noted for its northern Italian cuisine, the chef offers a newfangled Napoleon. Thin layers of the airiest puff pastry are sandwiched together. Sweet creamy custard and heaps of succulent sliced strawberries fill the space in between. Powdered sugar is lightly dusted on top. Exceedingly rich, yet so light it leaves you feeling as if you could conquer the world.
The Garcia family has been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years, and has managed this particular eatery on the Miami River for the past six. Already it's an institution. Run by two brothers -- Esteban Jr., and Luis -- with help from their father, Esteban Sr., Garcia's Seafood & Grill is a much-needed retreat close to downtown Miami. The fish is always fresh and there are plenty of specials to choose from each day. But it is the simplest thing on the menu that is often the best: the grilled fish sandwich. Although the most popular sandwich features dolphin, you can opt for grouper. The price: $4.25. Add seasoned curly fries for $1.50 and it's a meal.

Best Restaurant In Coconut Grove

Bice

Bice Restaurant
The second time's the charm. This high-end restaurant chain failed in its first Miami location in South Beach in the mid-Nineties, but succeeds wildly this time around in its new setting in the Grand Bay Hotel. Gilded mirrors, brightly hued murals, plush banquettes, and striped wood floors create an elegant atmosphere, complemented by the luxurious menu items: baby artichoke salad with shaved pecorino, ricotta and arugula canneloni, sautéed calf liver with onions, and two kinds of polenta. Bice's flagship restaurant opened in Milan in 1926, and in the late Seventies began opening new restaurants in what the proprietors considered to be the most internationally acclaimed cities around the world. Now that Miami's made that A-list again, we can honestly say that this time, we want Bice as much as Bice wants us.
People's Bar-B-Que
Millennium, schmillennium. You want something to celebrate in Y2K? Revel in People's Bar-B-Que, one of Miami's true culinary treasures. George Lewis, Jr.'s progeny have carried the torch (or, in this case, the oak-burning fire pit) from the original, ten-stool location in George Sr.'s drugstore, to a tidy, peach-hued restaurant right next to I-95. Yet in the shadow of the freeway that crippled Overtown, People's is thriving, serving up piles of pork, flocks of chicken, and rack upon rack of succulent ribs, all smothered in that distinctively tart sauce whose recipe remains a closely guarded family secret. The expanded menu also features winners like oxtail and turkey wings (Thursday or Friday), and 24 tremendous side dishes (though the candied yams should count as a dessert). Want barbecue that's all about the food, and not about ersatz cowboy décor? Pull up a chair at People's.
Tani Thai
The name "Cocky Bob" sounds as though it should describe the guy that does those obnoxious FPL commercials, but it's actually the name of the tastiest fried chicken dish, glazed with garlic and honey, that's available here. And that's not the only evocative nomenclature: "Lost in the Garden," your choice of meat, chicken, or shrimp sautéed with ginger and fresh vegetables, brings Eden to mind. "Tani's Angels," shrimp and scallops sautéed with ginger, onion, and mushrooms, couldn't be improved even if it were served with a healthy portion of winged creatures. As for curry "Gang Dang," well, it's a veritable big bang of coconut milk, bamboo shoots, and peppers. All these silly little appellations might make you think Tani Thai doesn't take its customers seriously, but that's not the case. Not only is the fare distinctively delicious, the décor is contemporary and sophisticated and the service professional and friendly. When you're this good, a dish called "Cocky Bob" sounds perfectly justified.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®