Although it might make more sense to sip hot chocolate after ice-skating in Michigan than after Rollerblading along Coral Way, make an exception at Hoeflinger & Chiarini. It's that good. The pastry chef takes dark Swiss chocolate, melts and mixes it with sugar and milk, and makes it creamy and smooth. Then he squeezes out generous dollops and refrigerates them. When your order arrives, the chocolate is served on the side with a mug of milk heated in an espresso machine's steamer. Plunk it in and stir. Ask for more than one dollop if you want. Think of it as the best of the frozen North brought to you in the sunny South for only $2.15.

No sweet maduros dripping with grease, no deep-fried croquetas or rich, fatty chunks of lechon asado. No, this is Fat Busters, home of Cuban Lite, where the mantra is: "No added fat or sugar." And before you dismiss this small strip-center cafeteria/cantina as an insult to real Cuban cooking, at least sample the wares. Turkey meatballs, turkey picadillo, grilled chicken breast, tuna-stuffed sweet pepper, meatless congri. Steamed plantains, steamed pumpkin with mojo, and no-fat black beans with rice are surprisingly savory. Many other less-traditional fish and pasta dishes grace the extensive menu, which changes weekly. It's all the brainchild of Thais Carreño, a Cuban who learned to cook light for her health and then started her own business three years ago. You're welcome to eat on the premises, but Fat Busters (open weekdays 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) is more of a take-out deli. Carreno and company will also prepare (and deliver, if requested) an entrée and three sides every day, cooked to your individual diet requirements (about $35 per person for five days; $1 per day delivery charge).
The Sweet Tooth is ready for any holiday. Make that every holiday. The North Miami Beach institution prepares foil-wrapped hearts for Valentine's Day, of course, and chocolate clovers for St. Patrick's Day. But even lesser festivals are covered. How about a Mardi Gras mask on a stick? Or an edible football-playing figurine for a Heisman Trophy party? Hand-dipped chocolate matzo for Passover are available, as are symbolic Seder plates featuring solid-chocolate shankbones. Gift baskets are a specialty, with prices varying from more than $100 to only $5 for a Big Bird coffee mug overflowing with creamy nougats. All the chocolates are made on the premises, and in accordance with kosher law. (There's even an ultrakosher parve division.) They deliver anywhere in Miami-Dade and Broward, and ship nationwide. The Sweet Tooth thrives in a humble stripmall, next to a shuttered weight-loss clinic. The "FOR RENT" sign in the clinic window says everything: With chocolate so good and so close, even dieting takes a holiday.
The chili at Firehouse Four is a very traditional blend of meat and spices, simply stewed to perfection. The secret is its stick-to-the-basics formula and a reliance on quality ingredients, especially ground sirloin. The recipe is the same one used by the original Firehouse Four when it was first opened more than a decade ago. After a troubled hiatus, when the restaurant was closed for far too long, the establishment reopened, and rather than trying to reinvent its kitchen, it brought back its fabled chili. A hearty bowl at lunch sells for $4.95.

The tacos in this barrio-style taquería are truly Mexicano, as are the prices. For a buck and half you can erase all traces of Taco Bell from your taste buds. You'll become a born-again taco eater once you indulge in the light, crispy corn tortilla or the soft flour wrap with your choice of chicken chunks, carnitas, picadillo, barbacoa (steamed beef), and seasoned pork. Also on the menu: brain, intestine, and gut tacos. The contents may be as gory as the Mexican Revolution, but the items are popular among the more radical eaters. Fresh lettuce and tomatoes are the final touches to what is ultimately an authentic Mexican experience. ¡Viva Taquería!.
In My Year of Meats, a novel by Ruth L. Ozeki, an Asian character says, "Name is very first thing. Name is face to all the world." No doubt she'd appreciate Sam Woo's moniker, which in English means to seduce. And that's precisely what he does with his "snowballs," chopped shrimp molded into balls and dressed with a sweet mayonnaise, and the artfully prepared double-cooked pork, rife with peppery cabbage and water chestnuts. But if Woo's appellation makes a great first impression, and his wokking a terrific second one, his décor certainly leaves something to be desired. The few rickety tables and chairs in this twenty-seat dive look as though they've been gleaned from a garage sale. Take-out's definitely the way to go here. Just ask the steady stream of neighbors and MDCC college students who perch temporarily while their orders are prepared from scratch, to go.

In Andalusia's vacated Kendall location the ghost of a bakery remains. Through the darkened windows you can still see boxes of wax paper, ovens, cash registers, and industrial mixers, all just waiting to spring back to life and commerce. Faithful customers await a resurrection, combing the recesses of their freezers for a loaf of rye, a danish, any bittersweet memento. Although the empire has fallen like a soufflé, Andalusia's goodies live on in the hearts, minds, and perhaps kitchens, of many Miamians. In 1988 Andy Kaplan bought Andalusia Bake Shop (which had operated in its Coral Gables location since 1963) and over the next ten years opened seven additional shops throughout Miami-Dade County, expanding services and product selection. The cheesecakes and sacher tortes couldn't be beat, their icings to die for. With expansion the Andalusia standards, such as rye bread, braided challah, and rugalach gained renown from Aventura to Hialeah. Unfortunately while trying to cash in on his golden goose, it seems retired CPA Kaplan cooked his own. Over the course of 1998 his stores began closing rapidly until finally even the original Coral Gables location locked its doors, and Kaplan's enterprise landed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Until the end even employees seemed in the dark about the future of the store. As the days counted down, loyal customers stockpiled supplies in a desperate attempt at cake cryogenics.
The Epicure is to serious gourmands what Times Square once was to perverts: an endless display of guilty pleasures one can ill afford. Inches-thick columns of blood-red filet mignon in the meat department; tins of Beluga caviar at $50 for 1.75 ounces, or $795 per kilo; fragrant, exotic cheeses; exquisitely fresh vegetables; an array of freshly baked goods; and unique delicacies such as bottarga di tonno -- a tuna roe dried and cured like prosciutto, and priced at $95 per pound. This high-end repository of gustatory delights was founded shortly after World War II by Edward Thal, whose family continued to run the store until a California company bought it this past year. The Thals still manage the emporium, however. Which means little has changed in how the store is run or what it stands for: the palate as a museum, and food as art.
Working in the music business is no nine-to-five job. Recording sessions that start one day can finish the next, and pulling all-nighters is par for the course. No surprise that producers and engineers who work at North Miami's famed Critieria Recording Studio know what to do when they need a little something to keep them going. No, not that. We mean Cuban coffee from La Minuta. This small cafetería on West Dixie Highway serves the quintessential Cuban octane: hot, sweet, and smooth. The brew never tastes too sugary, rancid, or bitter, but it's strong enough to keep you going for the next few hours. La Minuta opens early and closes late, so walk up to the window and enjoy this superior (and legal) stimulant. You just might run into bleary-eyed recording engineers refueling after a long night's work.
Are you sick of key lime pies that taste treacly, like green-color candy? Yet you live in South Florida and, damn it, when visitors come to call, they expect the local confection. Fret not, there is hope. Oddly enough it comes from sternly dressed German Baptists. More than a half century old, the Knaus Berry Farm in Homestead is rightly celebrated for its pecan rolls and fresh strawberries. On weekends between the middle of November and the last Saturday of April, customers brave long lines to buy fresh pastries and milkshakes from these traditionalists, whose long beards and conservative clothes often cause people to mistake them for Amish. The key to their key lime pie, they say, is the topping. These Baptists use cream cheese in place of whipped cream. They also exercise a puritanical control over the sugar in the lime filling. The result is a sublime and sophisticated interplay of tartness and sweetness, truly a proper dessert with coffee after dinner. At $6.50 for a small pie that serves about five, this treat is moderately priced. Those who arrive at the farm late in the day are unlikely to find any left.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®