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.
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.

Step into this spacious restaurant in a modest stripmall off U.S. 1 and you'll think you've taken a wrong turn over the border. Furnished with tile floors, ceramic crafts, woven wall hangings, and a wandering mariachi band, Paquito's feels authentic without being kitschy. Likewise the food here is really Mexican, not that overstuffed Americanized variation often found at so-called Mexican establishments. Dishes are simply prepared with country-fresh ingredients according to traditional recipes. Case in point: the sizzling fajita. Substantial slices of chicken or beef smothered with onions, plump cherry tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms are laid out on a metal plate, accompanied by a platter of yellow rice, refried beans, salad, and guacamole. There's a covered basket filled with warm, soft tortillas set to the side. A subtly flavored feast for the senses and stomach, eating Paquito's superior fajita is a sensual experience -- your own version of the wedding banquet in Like Water for Chocolate. Thirteen dollars and ninety-five cents seems a small price to pay for such pleasure.

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.
Miami is a great food town, of course. Most famously for the chefs who fuse Caribbean foods into a mango-habanero mojo of New World cuisine. Less exotic, but still welcome in the mix, are the cheese steaks and inimitable pizzas transplanted from Philadelphia and New York. To this Americana end, at long last, Miami can add the hot dog. Make that the authentic Chicago-style hot dog. Mr. G's USA, a humble joint new to town, keeps it real: A Vienna Beef wiener served on a steamed bun with onions, mustard, relish, peppers, tomatoes, celery salt, and absolutely positively no ketchup. A bit of Midwestern mojo, if you will. Each substantial dog costs $2.75, and usually comes with either free fries, free soda, or both. Open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. There are other food options at Mr. G's, from ribs to Greek salads to a breakfast eggs Benedict. But why?

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.

This tiny titan of independent ice creamery has made a smooth transition to its new digs on Lincoln Road, as opposed to its previous location just south of the mall. Its bigger space is now more directly in the flight path of snowbirds and locals doing laps around the Road on in-line skates with their dogs. Even better a bigger store means room for more flavors -- 32, instead of 24! Décor hasn't changed much: They brought those delightful ice-cream-cone paintings, but alas, they forgot to lose that cow-shape wind sock that still convulses disturbingly under the AC vent. No matter. Their delicious ice cream and sorbet still rule.
Okay so Palm Grill ain't exactly new. The creative eatery attracted tons of national attention when it was located in Key West, where it operated for nine years before its proprietors decided to move. But the playfully swank restaurant is new to North Miami Beach, where it set up shop this past fall. And the cuisine (items like "big ass won tons" filled with fried conch, portobello mushroom "bear claws," and Cuban pork Wellington) are always fresh and modern, not to mention a little irreverent. But then owners Wayne King and Michael Gallagher aren't generally models of propriety. Their talisman is a portrait of a bare-breasted woman that King discovered in Paris, and she's been watching over the boys, so to speak, ever since. Which is fine with us, as long as her attributes aren't like Samson's hair. We'd hope all that restaurateuring talent would remain even if the portrait doesn't.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®