Like the sea it comes from, a good chowder should also be something of a mystery. Bright yellow in color and stocked with tasty bits of grouper, this fish soup is stewed in its own juices, along with rice and a little seasoning. It seems so easy, yet tastes so good. Add a squeeze of lime, and life is wonderful. Bahama's is an institution. It started off as just a place to buy fresh seafood, but expanded in 1984 to include a restaurant. Whether dining alone at its trademark horseshoe counter or inside its bustling dining room, Bahama's fails to disappoint.
We've got your budget Cuban, reasonable Nicaraguan, moderately priced Peruvian, homey Mexican. We've even got easy-to-afford Dominican and Panamanian places. But when it comes to Spanish fare, the cuisine that sparked all these derivations, most of the good stuff is pretty pricey. Enter El Bodegon Gallego, and don't go anywhere. Not only is this narrow, storefront Spanish eatery the best in the city (no holds barred, unless you count the iron shielding the windows), it's ridiculously cheap. Like the sopa de mariscos, a huge bowl of tomato-based seafood broth stocked with fresh mussels, jumbo shrimp, and tender squid, for $3.95. Tapas-size portions of potato tortilla run you a whopping $1.50. Main courses, including a healthy portion of arroz con pollo con chorizo or a skirt steak with rice and plantains, top out at $6.95. In fact fresh-made sangría is just about the most expensive item on the menu, which is, we should add, so authentic there isn't even Casa Juancho
Man (and woman) cannot live by tofu alone, and this cheery good-for-you superstore on South Beach (the other one is in Pinecrest) offers proof that food does not have to taste like cardboard to be healthy. Wild Oats carries the usual granola-eaters' staples: nuts and grains, sold in bulk; dried fruit, juices, veggie burgers, and of course, lots of granola. But in addition to an entire aisle of soy milk, you'll find a large beer-and-wine section, meat and seafood counters, and even a bakery section where the luscious pastries and cakes bear no resemblance to the leaden zucchini bread usually associated with health food stores. Wild Oats's vast fresh fruit and vegetable section is a feast for vitamin A-deprived eyes in this produce-poor city. The tasty tomatoes and ripe melons alone justify a visit to Wild Oats. But the store has something for every taste -- you can check out the salads while your mate goes for the Häagen Dazs. Wild Oats is the one-stop supermarket for anyone who makes better eating at least a part-time way of life.

House of India
"The best beef I ever tasted was, perhaps needless to say, in Bombay, at a restaurant gleaming with chrome, chandeliers, and mirrored walls, not far from the central market where cows, in their capacity as manifestations of the divine, were permitted to roam freely and graze at the produce stalls," Francine Prose writes in an essay included in a book called Not for Bread Alone. Cows are sacrosanct in India, though eating them is not expressly illegal. We haven't seen any cows strolling around North Miami Beach lately, but the only beef dish at Kebab is the keema matar, minced beef spiced with onion, garlic, and ginger. The lack of beef dishes likely is deliberate, an exclusion made out of respect to cows everywhere. Still it's impossible to miss the bovine, free-range or otherwise, at this superb Indian restaurant. Since 1981 Kebab has been serving up the spiciest curries, the most fragrant nan, and the coolest kulfi (ice cream made with pistachios, almonds, and rose water) around. A kebab may conjure an image of many animal products on skewers, but you'll have to settle for some very tasty chicken tikka or seikh kebab (minced lamb) instead. What a sacrifice.
Most of Miami's Oriental markets shouldn't really carry that pan-Asian moniker. Sure there's an occasional aisle with an Indian curry, dehydrated miso, or Thai peanut glaze. But for the most part, Asian in these joints really means Chinese -- rows and rows of Cantonese condiments and Mandarin teas. Nothing wrong with that, but what about all those spices, sauces, and ingredients that make dishes from Jakarta to Hanoi so delectable? Vinh An is a wonderful exception to the Chinese rule. They have lemon grass, chilies, Thai tea, and a wide assortment of strangely savory Vietnamese fish sauces. Want to try cooking a pot of your own pho (Vietnamese noodle soup)? You can buy all the ingredients to make it from scratch or purchase prepackaged seasoning here. How about a prawn, sugar-cane wrap, or a Penang curry? Vinh An carries a nice range of Asian vegetables and herbs, including mint, lime leaves, and fresh cilantro. The market also has live fish in a huge tank and blue crabs crawling around in crates. But if Chinese is your thing, don't worry; the bok choy is on the shelf and there are those rows of Cantonese condiments.

We'll have the mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad with a Monet, please. No, make that the citrus duck confit with a Degas on the side. Or how 'bout the snapper in champagne sauce with a Gauguin garnish? Okay, we'll let this art gallery get away with billing itself as "ARTernative," because there are some true masters at work here in the kitchen. The delightful Mediterranean menu complements the setting, which comes complete with live dancing and after-dinner concerts. It all makes Meza a must-see and -eat. C'mon in, the art -- and the fare -- is fine.

El Toro Taco
For a real burrito, you gotta go south. In the heart of Homestead is the Mexican center of Miami-Dade County, and it's worth stopping off on your weekend jaunt to the Keys or Biscayne National Park for the delicious concoctions at El Toro. Everything here is made on-site, from the flour tortillas to the pepper sauces. They grind and shred their own beef, and boil their own beans. After choosing a filling of your choice (chicken, or the aforementioned ground or shredded beef) you can order the burrito in one of two ways: with cheese, lettuce, and tomato inside ($4.25); or with a pepper and cheese enchilada sauce on top ($5.50). Both are good. The beans come on the side unless you ask to have them included in the wrap.
Amid the electronic shops hawking VCRs and knockoff Rolexes, this tiny food court features more than a dozen ethnic kiosks where you can get Brazilian rodizio-style meats, Colombian empanadas; Chinese noodles; Middle-Eastern salads; Jewish bagels; and spicy Indian fare. The green- and yellow-clad shoppers from Brazil crowd grills serving spits of beef the size of soccer balls, plus chicken, liver, and pork, leaving vegetarians and lovers of mouth-burning food free to sample the rustic Indian fare at Raja's, where a daily choice of vegetable curries and sautéed cabbage are always available. An incendiary curry chicken tastes as though it's been marinated in spice and then smothered in a creamy sauce of curry and tomato. Platters cost about five dollars. Don't bother speaking English here; this is the real Miami.
The competition may be less than stiff, but Indian Grocery hasn't slacked off. For eighteen years this crowded yet tidy market has offered an array of spices, nuts, relishes, grains, and chutneys to curry mavens here and abroad. The shop is frequented by Indians transplanted via London (and some straight from the Asian country itself), but it's also become a must-stop for Cubans who want to send spicy care packages to their friends and families on the island. So what's on the shelves besides the five C's of Indian cooking (curry powder, cumin, coriander, chilies, and cardamom)? There's no shortage of basmati rice, lentils, and beans -- big bags of the stuff. Across the aisle you'll see jars of vindaloo pastes and tandoori seasonings, which you can use to re-create your favorite restaurant classics. No time to cook? There are rows of canned Indian delights (imported from Bombay) like curried chickpeas, daal, and saag paneer, all ready to heat and eat. The refrigerated case at the back of the place holds roti and nan (and sweets such as kulfi). Or pick up a pack of poppadums (crisp lentil wafers), which spring to life when you nuke 'em for just one minute.
Table Ten 09
Okay, okay, there's a substantial kitsch factor here. The anchors, the lobster traps, the nets, the seashells strung all over everything. But come on, watching the sun set over the downtown skyline through those plate-glass windows is an all-time Miami moment, one that is best shared over a couple of Neptune platters and nice bottle of chilled white wine with that special someone. And once it gets dark, the cityscape looks even more magical. Alternate gazing at that stunning view and into each other's eyes, and pretty soon it'll be, "Damn the over-the-top-nautical theme décor. Full speed ahead for luuuuuv!"

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®