It would be impossible for any flan to have a more perfectly silky, dense texture and rich taste than Lila's flan does. So many Lila's customers grew to love the flan (a most fitting finale to Lila's also-celebrated palomillo steak heaped with crisp fresh-cut fries) that ten years ago owner Reinaldo Navarro began selling the delicacy to stores. Now you can buy Lila's flan at Publix, Albertson's, Winn-Dixie, and other markets from Palm Beach to Monroe counties. But it's still better enjoyed after a big meal with a tableful of café-chugging, Cuba-policy-arguing companions in Lila's backroom.
Step into this spacious restaurant in a modest stripmall off U.S. 1 and you'll think you've taken a wrong turn over the border. Furnished with tile floors, ceramic crafts, woven wall hangings, and a wandering mariachi band, Paquito's feels authentic without being kitschy. Likewise the food here is really Mexican, not that overstuffed Americanized variation often found at so-called Mexican establishments. Dishes are simply prepared with country-fresh ingredients according to traditional recipes. Case in point: the sizzling fajita. Substantial slices of chicken or beef smothered with onions, plump cherry tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms are laid out on a metal plate, accompanied by a platter of yellow rice, refried beans, salad, and guacamole. There's a covered basket filled with warm, soft tortillas set to the side. A subtly flavored feast for the senses and stomach, eating Paquito's superior fajita is a sensual experience -- your own version of the wedding banquet in Like Water for Chocolate. Thirteen dollars and ninety-five cents seems a small price to pay for such pleasure.

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?
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.
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.
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.

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.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®