Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Hamiltons

The Forge
billwisserphoto.com
You might think that restaurateur George Hamilton would overcook his meats the way he does his face. But that would be an urban legend. Not only does Hamiltons provide a terrifically tender rack of lamb and succulent duck, he "auto-bronzes" his face with a self-tanner that he developed and sells at the restaurant. And if you look solely at the entrée prices, which top out at about $30, the coddling experience at this handsome supper club might not seem that pricey. Another myth. Here's the truth: It's the padding that counts here -- appetizers no less than $12, desserts a tenspot. Add on a martini and a cigar from Hamilton's own line and you're looking at a meal that costs, if you like to come by a tan the natural, skin-cancerous way, as much as a one-way ticket to the islands.
What is this, LAX? The Top of the Port, the restaurant in the towering Miami International Airport Hotel, is a genteel Continental eatery. But its lobby, located on the departure level, is now a bustling sushi bar. For those of us sick of Cuban coffee and sandwich shops, the California rolls and tender tuna sashimi are a welcome relief from the humid, heavy heat. How the fare flies is a different story altogether -- raw fish, rice, and seaweed may not be the thing to settle a turbulent stomach on a rocky flight. But it sure calms the savage beasts we all turn into when we realize we're grounded yet again.
This is cantina-style Nicaraguan eating. That means sangría, for one thing, and an emphasis on food, not décor, for another. Nicaragua is cattle country and food there is often synonymous with beef. Argentines will lay claim to originating the churrasco steak and its featured chimichurri sauce, but the Nicas have a subtle way of making it their own. La Hormiga de Oro's churrasco is butter-knife tender. Try it with the jalapeño sauce. You can also have your chicken churrasco-ed. Even the fried beans have a Nicaraguan nuance: a big spoonful of gravylike sour cream concocted on the premises. Nicaraguans have put their brand on tamales, too: the nacatamal, which has a juicier dough than your average Mexican variety. The red- and white-check tablecloth may be cheap, but you'll appreciate it when you get the inexpensive bill.
Outback Steakhouse
Executive chef Frank Randazzo doesn't want you to call this place, located in the St. Moritz building of the Loews Hotel, a steak house. And we can see why. His starters, like the delectable seared foie gras with chili syrup and blue-corn arepas, and his entrées, like the seared turbot with brown-butter escabeche and quinoa, have a seductive South American accent that's hard to resist. But he doth protest a little too much. The Argentine meat here is simply a cut above the rest. The churrasco, a whole skirt steak, shimmers from its meeting with the parrilla (grill); the ojo di bife, or rib eye, arrives sizzling like Chinese food. The waiters then slice the steaks for you tableside and serve them on carving boards, a delicate bit of theatrical service so rare on South Beach we go back again and again to see the show. Randazzo dazzles; he won't steer you wrong with his grilled rack of lamb with a three-chili demi-glace. No matter how you slice it, you get the real meat of the matter.
Round about midday at this venerable institution off the 79th Street Causeway, a member of the kitchen staff walks out to the dock that flanks the back of the restaurant. You can watch him through the tall windows that give off a stunning view of the water and passing boats. The man carries a bucket or two. Below the dock enormous tarpon, some five feet long, circle, and wait for dinner. They churn the water as the man dumps the buckets of leftovers into their realm. Inside, surrounded by dark wood and the memorabilia of more than 50 years of existence, patrons feast on fresh seafood. Awed spectators dig into everything from clam chowder to grouper with equal relish. A feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

It's Tuesday afternoon and you're craving chicken feet again. You had the little morsels just two days ago, but that didn't do the trick. At the same meal you scarfed turnip cakes, steamed shrimp dumplings, sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf, baked roast pork buns, spare ribs with black bean sauce, rice noodles har mon, and for dessert, steamed buns filled with lotus seed paste. Still it wasn't enough. The succulent feet remain on your brain. If you had your way, you would eat dim sum at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. Lucky for you, at Kon Chau you can. Open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, the restaurant offers about 50 dim sum items at any time of the day, unlike other restaurants that leave you hankering for the stuff until the weekend comes. Nothing fancy here: No steam cart being rolled around by a snooty driver who refuses to reveal what exactly is on your little plate. Kon Chau offers all dim sum prepared to order. Exceptional edibles and efficient, courteous service are just two good reasons to dine here. The third: incredibly cheap prices. Two people can eat until they burst for less than 20 bucks. Now that's a lot of chicken feet.

Best Restaurant For The Hearing-Impaired

NOA

It's probably no surprise that this dynamic but industrial-looking place is noisy: Most of the mod décor is metallic. Talk about reverb. Not only that, China Grill Management owns this Asian noodle shop, and this particular restaurant group seems to excel in creating high-end eateries that are sweet to the taste but hard on the eardrum. Sitting outside at the café tables probably won't help much, given that Lincoln Road is overwhelmed with crying babies and whining tourists these days. Still you might as well get used to it if you want to slurp up some yummy duck-topped egg noodles or vibrant curry-infused rice noodles (all reasonably priced). There's no use complaining: No one will be able to hear you.

This town knows a thing or two about heat. But it's never known anything like Christine Gouvia's jerk chicken. The tender, unassuming morsels of dark meat tingle the tongue and placate the palate. And though this experience alone is worth the pilgrimage to Gouvia's tiny North Miami Beach eatery, the spicy bird takes second billing to the roti. Sort of a Punjabi pita, roti is used as a vehicle for serving a number of traditional island foods such as curried goat, oxtail, and seafood. Entrées come with roti and rice and peas, and max out at around seven bucks. Ginger beer, coconut juice, and other popular island drinks are available, and the raisin-filled cake is unbeatable. Christine's little shop is open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
An instantly recognizable two-word dish: crispy spinach. Or perhaps aromatic duck. Or even purple eggplant. But two words, no matter how memorable they are, can't really describe the complex flavors and contrasting textures presented in these outstanding Chinese dishes. Only taste will tell. After six years in business on flighty South Beach, we might have expected this eatery, which has three other locations in or near Montreal, Canada, to wane in popularity, cut back on quality, and ease up on the excellent service. But this fragrant little flower has continued to attract new clientele with its terrific crab-and-asparagus soup and its spicy ravioli stuffed with minced chicken in a peanut sauce. It has also rewarded loyal customers by instituting the VIP card, which offers ten percent off the top of the bill. All you have to do is use the card at least twice during the summer season, thus showing you're a resident. Now this is a privilege -- and a VIP room -- that we don't mind standing in line for.
A fogon is an oven, and the one here is obviously put to good use. Owner Agustin Paz uses his to melt the cheese over molletes (open-face French bread sandwiches), bake cochinita pibil (marinated pork) burritos, and roast poblano peppers stuffed with ground beef. Fare isn't fancy, but it is attractively presented, not to mention generously portioned. Wash down those spinach nachos, laden with cheese and refried beans, with a Dos Equis, a strawberry margarita, or, in deference to Miami's thirst for fruity drinks, the El Fogon smoothie. But don't come to us if you don't have room for the crepas con cajeta (crèpes with caramel) for dessert -- blame it on the smooth operator working el fogon.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®