Best Place To Park Your Yacht And Order Paella

Big Fish Mayaimi

We just want to dine overlooking the water. Is that so wrong? Apparently. Miami may be practically surrounded by H2O, but very few restaurants boast waterfront dining. Enter the Fish, positioned on the south bank of the Miami River. Originally a fruit-packing plant, then a gas station, next a fish-sandwich joint started by local personality T.O. Sykes, Big Fish Mayaimi now offers top-line, Barcelona-style seafood dishes (including rosemary-fragrant mushroom paella) at decent prices. The décor, fashioned by eclectic artist Antoni Miralda, has ranged from a huge stiletto with a detachable heel (it doubled as a gondola) to a sculpture of livestock perched atop one another. But if the view of the corrugated metal restaurant ever bores (highly doubtful, given Miralda's imagination), there's always the barge-stuffed river to entertain you. Nature buffs love the place for its glimpse of preurban Miami. Boaters like it because the dockage space is ample enough for yachts and rowboats alike. And locals like it because the spot is so tucked away, tourists can't find it -- unless they take the water taxi from Bayside.

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.
Being surrounded by water in South Florida, we'd expect a plethora of excellent seafood restaurants. There are a number of places that call themselves fish houses, but far too many are overpriced, greasy, or just plain boring. Fishbone Grille is none of the above. Both the original downtown location, which recently underwent a long-needed facelift, and the newer Coral Gables eatery, offer nearly identical menus created by talented chef David Bracha. He is clearly inspired by the cuisines of the Caribbean and Asia, but ventures into French, Italian, and South American pantries to pull out an eclectic array of dishes. Standouts include a lively rendition of cioppino loaded with clams, mussels, scallops, squid, shrimp and tender chunks of whitefish roasted in a tomato broth; Thai steamed mussels; wild mushroom-crusted sea bass over garlic and chive mashed potatoes; delicately pan-roasted crabcakes with a smoky almond tartar sauce; teriyaki salmon with Asian vegetables and lobster; and crabmeat ravioli with a creamy pink tomato sauce. Chalkboard specials are always recommendable as are a selection of raw oysters. In addition to reasonably priced superior seafood (dinner entrées hover between $8 and $18) both locations offer nonfishy pizzas, sandwiches, and pastas, plus a varied and inexpensive choice of wines by the bottle or the glass.
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.
The numbers flash with astonishing speed, and you've got ten boards to cover. The smoke in the room, as thick as alligators in the nearby canals, is getting in your eyes, making it difficult to see, and the hour drags on. You're simply too worn out to concentrate. What's a dedicated bingo player to do? Take a refueling break, of course, at Café Hammock. The fine-dining restaurant, located on a raised dais in the middle of the gaming facility, offers local specialties like stone crabs, sautéed alligator medallions, and frog legs, not to mention chicken, veal, and freshwater fish dishes for those who've been lucky. Those left out of the winner's circle can check out the more reasonably priced burgers and Buffalo wings. And though the piano player in the corner may eventually go home, the waiters stay on and the menu stays put: Café Hammock serves 24-7, including breakfast nightly from 2:00 a.m. till 10:30 a.m. for the serious casino addict. Video Lotto with your omelet, anyone?
Knaus Berry Farm
Photo by Laine Doss
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.
The road to peace in the Middle East is a little rocky these days, so travel could be rough. Good thing there's Pita Hut to give us our fill of Levantine fare until the dove returns. The Israeli-owned restaurant makes no distinctions between nationalities, unless it is to identify which specialty comes from where. Like the Greek eggplant salad, fried eggplant tossed with red pepper and garlic. Or the Turkish salad, a combination of tomatoes, onions, celery, parsley, and hot peppers. Then there's the ful medamas (fava beans), which are Lebanese in origin, the couscous with chicken and vegetables (a Moroccan favorite), and, of course, the Israeli pickles (including marinated turnips). In fact the only fighting you're likely to see here is over who gets the last crumb of baklava or Bavarian cream for dessert.
Anyone can make a buttery, flaky croissant, like the fat golden crescents you find at the Publix Bakery. But not anyone can take that very same croissant and turn it into ... a doughnut. Sometimes the bakery counter's best-selling item is glazed after the raw croissant dough has been dropped like a fritter into the deep-fryer. Sometimes it's coated with cinnamon-sugar granules. Either way the new take is the best thing to happen to the traditional croissant since it made the leap over the big pond into the indulgent hands of American bakers.

In 1982 two Florida International University students in their early twenties, Patrick Gleber and Kevin Rusk, helped transform Miami's oldest bar, Tobacco Road, from a decrepit, crime-ridden dive into one of the most popular food and music venues in the county. Then came Fishbone Grille, continuing a tradition of excellent food at a moderate price. So in 1997, when Rusk announced he was going to start a brew pub in Coral Gables, it seemed a recipe for success. That is until city officials intervened. Rusk found himself embroiled in bureaucratic red tape, a pawn in a sewer dispute between the county and the city. He nearly drained his life savings as brewery equipment sat in a warehouse gathering dust for nine months. Instead of abandoning ship, Rusk persevered and on April 1, the Titanic Brewing Company opened. With six delicious specialty beers, a menu full of tasty dishes, and a pleasant low-key atmosphere, Titanic is everything we have come to enjoy and expect from Kevin Rusk.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®