Contrary to popular belief, the Italians didn't invent pizza. The Greeks did, who in turn got the idea from the enterprising Etruscans, who used focaccia as plates. But the Italians certainly improved the dish. In Naples they added tomato sauce, and in the late Nineteenth Century the classic Margherita (four-cheese pizza) was invented and named for the then-queen of Italy. Elsewhere in the country, pizzaiolos, or pizza makers, vied with each other to create the most original toppings, using whatever local ingredients they could lay their flour-covered hands on, including cured meats like prosciutto and soppressata and homegrown vegetables such as olives and eggplant. You can see the fruits of this ancient labor at Spris, which offers delicate, thin-crust pizzas, similar to the ones found in Naples, for contemporary consumption. Owned by the folks who run Tiramesu, only a few doors away, Spris satisfies the pizzaiolo in all of us by offering more than 30 choices, including the tonnata (with tuna, onion, and basil), the gamberetti (with shrimp and arugula), and of course, the Margherita.
"Wait, let me get you a warm one," the counter clerk says as he hovers a hand above the trays of doughy bagels. In no time his heat-seeking fingers land on a poppy-seed bagel that's as piping hot as it is flush with flavor. At Bagels & Co. freshness is never in question. Beyond fresh, the bagels are unusually dense and chewy, with a nice flavor. There are more than a dozen varieties available, all of which, we've found after extensive research, are extremely satisfying. The bialys (a kind of puffy, holeless bagel with onions on top) are the best we've ever seen. And did we mention how fresh everything is? And warm? And chewy?
Think French fries and plump white potatoes cooking in a deep pool of sputtering oil comes to mind. Certainly not health food. The menu at healthy Oasis Café features staples such as tofu, brown rice, and garden burgers, but they're not your ordinary bland concoctions. Oasis gives their food a decidedly Mediterranean twist. And they give their menu a twist as well. The restaurant offers a hearty batch of fries ($2.95) as one of their appetizer-size mezze or "little plates." Not just potato sticks oozing grease. These are thin but substantial fries with skin on one side, coated in a spicy cumin-coriander mixture. They're the perfect accompaniment to an Angus New York steak or a grilled vegetable sandwich. Or they're a fine main course, if you're into throwing all dietary vigilance to the wind. To raise the fat content a wee bit, they throw in a few marinated green olives with your order. No ketchup needed.
The Spaniards may not have invented the appetizer, but they are conquistadors when it comes to premain-course specialties. They have even captured a foothold in the English language with the word tapas (means appetizers, yanqui). Back in the land of Sancho Panza, tapas are free at many an inn, as long as you and your compadres order beer or wine. Here in the New World you'd be tilting at windmills for that arrangement, but you'll want to pay for any number of this Calle Ocho establishment's 35 tapas. They cost from $3 to $6.50 and come in two categories, hot and cold. Among the hot: garlic shrimp, fried squid, and mussels in broth. Among the cold: real Spanish olives, a garlicky potato salad like only the Iberians can do, and the Spanish tortilla (a thick, but mysteriously delicious, potato omelet). Chomp tapas, slurp wine, flirt with the sexy long-haired flamenco dancers (male and female) who are been wrist-flicking and heel-stomping on this little restaurant's tiny corner stage. Get to the inn early or make a reservation if you want a table.

Siberian nachos. What a concept. Better yet, what an execution. Caviar, tuna tartare, crème fraîche, a nacho. The combination is sublime. (The tuna tartare appetizer on its own is pretty glorious.) Of course, the restaurant's name and welcoming statue of Vladimir Ilich Lenin are supposed to make you think kitschy communist, but no comrades of the average sort were eating like this when Russia was red. In fact not too many comrades in America can afford to eat here too often, either. But it's worth a splurge just once, for the appetizers alone. There's not much under $13, but the portions are large. And with only a couple of shots of vodka (ranging from about $7 to $12), you could get out of there for under ... well, never mind. Capitalism won. Enjoy the spoils.

When the La Casita team took over this Calle Ocho location eight years ago, they showed their acumen by holding on to the best part of the previous restaurant: Amparo Jidy, concocter of the creamiest, sweetest, foamiest café con leche in town. Amparo has ruled the coffee bar ever since, serving up plenty of smiles, along with coladas and cortaditos. Some years back, a young lady discovered, too late, that she didn't have enough change to pay for the steaming cup of liquid gold she needed to get through her morning. "No te preocupes," Amparo said, waving her hand magnanimously. "Esta es tu casita." No wonder lawyers, laborers, and locals keep beating a path to her door.

From their pita bread to their desserts, the Oriental Bakery and Grocery store is one of those rare finds that make living in South Florida a truly diverse experience. All the baking and cooking is done on the premises and they sell more than 400 loaves of pita bread per day. It's been a family- run business for nearly 30 years, and Okashah Monem and his sons provide not only an impeccable array of baked goods, but also some of the tastiest Arabic food in Miami. They serve traditional meat, spinach, and cheese pies, as well as kibbeh, safiha, and a host of other Middle-Eastern delicacies. And don't get us started on their hummus and baba ghannouj, which are simply fabulous.

You are down south in late April. An intense summer sun seems to have bypassed spring. Those strawberries dotting the fields look red and juicy, but the thought of picking fruit in this heat makes you turn the car air conditioner up a notch. Fortunately Charlie Burr has already gathered them for you. They await at his stand just like they have for 36 years from just after Christmas to about mid-May. Stacked ripe and succulent they bulge from pint and quart containers. If you overheat while standing to buy them, order one of the wonderful strawberry milkshakes. Just the thought sounds cool.
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).

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®