If you're Puerto Rican you know better than to venture out to a restaurant to eat comida criolla. Nobody makes better arroz con gandules than your abuela, nobody's alcapurrias are quite as tasty as mami's, and mofongo -- well forget it -- you just can't get good mofongo off the island. Until now. This past December Puerto Rican singing-sensation-superstar Ricky Martin joined the owners of Ajili Mójili, one of San Juan's most noted restaurants, and opened Casa Salsa here in South Beach. Everything at Casa Salsa, from the interior design (corrugated metal, cane, wood, and straw with a SoBe twist) to the live plena music, the art work, and, of course, the food, will take you back to the sweet, lulling rhythms of la isla del encanto. Although everything we sampled was delicious, including the items that seemed to be more SoBe Rican than anything, for a true gustatory excursion through Puerto Rico we recommend sticking with the traditional dishes: surullos, alcapurrias, asopao, arañitas, and arroz con gandules. The dish Casa Salsa does best is mofongo: plantains mashed with oil and garlic and filled with your choice of chicken, lobster, or beef, and topped with a delicious tomato-based salsa, all served in a typical wooden pilón. ¡Ay que rico! Lunch daily from noon until 4:00 p.m. Dinner Monday through Thursday from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, Friday through Sunday until 2:00 a.m. Reservations are strongly recommended for Friday and Saturday nights: You probably won't get a table without one.

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.

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.
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?
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.
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.

We've had some innovative Floribbean and Pacific Rim concepts recently, but not many can hold on to their uniqueness over time. Not so Blue Sea, a tiny Asian seafood bar in the Delano that features communal seating and adventurous food you just don't see elsewhere -- not even on the menus of other sushi bars guilty of taking liberties with tradition. Like an appetizer of green tea noodles, crisped salmon skin, raw quail egg and spicy mayo; a maki roll of barbecued eel, mango, coconut, crabmeat and black sesame seeds; prosciutto and daikon sashimi; and an egg crèpe spiraled around shrimp, crab, Boursin cheese, Belgian endive, radicchio, and asparagus. All are fresh, deftly prepared, and delicious, with six dipping sauces to mix and match, including ponzu and peanut.

All the pleasures of dining at chef-owner Jonathan Eismann's Pacific Time, PT Next Door's sister restaurant (literally a neighbor), and none of the pain. Specifically the pain of trying to get a reservation, the pain of waiting for that reservation while pushing and shoving for a glass of wine at the bar, the pain of shouting your order at the waiter over the din, the pain of having your chair knocked about by other patrons trying to squeeze through the trendy Pacific Time dining room. In fact the only pain that remains when you dine Next Door in the belly of the Sterling Building is the one that hits you at decision time: Should you order the grilled Ho Chi Minh City "killer" pork chops with black bean vinaigrette or the grilled "jade" lamb chops with sushi rice "frites"? The tamarind barbecued Atlantic salmon or the wok-sautéed yellowfin tuna with sushi bar flavors? Or perhaps go completely vegetarian, starting with the steamed fresh soy beans or the vegetable dumplings in miso broth? No matter. Whatever you ask for, it shall be delivered, painlessly.
Don't be fooled by the Fifties-diner look: This place is as Cuban as it comes. In fact once the waitress slams down a crowded plate of blanket-size bistec empanizado with papitas fritas hanging over the edges of the oval-shaped dish, visions of North America will quickly fade. The specialty of the house is steak a la plancha and the black beans remain faithful to a recipe that originated in Güines, in the province of Havana. The food itself is larger than life. Try the chicken-fried steak with sautéed onions piled on top, or the mountains of ropa vieja and white rice. If there's room, a side order of tamales, yuca, or giant tostones are worth reserving a spot in your stomach.

Best Central-American Restaurant And Club

Yambo

If Central America became unified, Managua might be its center, Yambo its expatriate capital. The authentic food, particularly the grilled meat, is excellent and startlingly cheap. Best of all, though restaurant service ends at 3:00 a.m., Yambo is open 24 hours. At 2:00 a.m. the place is often packed with families, teenagers, and novios. Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán drops in for a bite when in town as does legendary contra commander Eden Pastora. If you stumble into Yambo for the first time at the end of a late night, don't let the décor startle you. Every inch of the walls is covered with faux Central Americana, like knockoff wooden masks of Indian princes, national emblems from the region, flintlock rifles, wooden calves, and brightly painted landscapes. There are two bigger-than-life cigar store Indians. One sits surrounded by typical pottery inside a glass case. As a final touch, the ceiling is papered with pictures of scantily clad women. The tourists whom the display hopes to entice rarely enter, but locals looking for a taste of home crowd the place day and night.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®