The Cheesecake Factory
You may want to call us predictable, common, okay even cheesy, but as far as chain-restaurant food goes, the Cheesecake Factory stands alone. We've even heard that other restaurants like to pick Cheesecake items straight from the menu and serve the delicious dishes themselves. That's the same menu that features page after page of tasty selections, like the sweet-corn tamale appetizer, Sheila's favorite blackened chicken pasta (hot, hot, hot), or the Chinese chicken salad. Leave room after the gargantuan portions for a slice from one of the Factory's 30-plus cheesecake selections. And leave some time to get your fill: You'll probably have to wait up to a half-hour on evenings and weekends.
It's hard to believe a society capable of cloning sheep can't produce a decent-tasting nonfat dessert. A fellow frozen-yogurt consumer once said, "It's supposed to taste strange; it's nonfat. It's got all kinds of weird chemicals in it." She then continued contentedly munching the junk, not unlike a cloned sheep. Well it tastes like crap, and I'm not going to eat it anymore! Fortunately science finally has come up with Yocream. This stuff is super rich, extra creamy, and (Seinfeld fans take note) fat free! One-half cup vanilla contains 100 calories and zero grams of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; one-half cup chocolate has 110 calories with .5 grams total fat (zero from saturated fat or cholesterol). And there's not a trace of the artificial aftertaste common in other nonfat treats. Ingredients include active yogurt cultures, some natural items you'd find in a baker's pantry, plus a few you might not, including the mysterious "sweetener" and "stabilizer," plus cellulose and guar gum. You can find vanilla and chocolate Yocream at Banana Royale ice cream store in Aventura, News Café on South Beach, as well as in shakes and smoothies at Norman Brothers.
Tucked among the many unexpected treasures in Libreri Mapou are tall bottles of a mysterious ivory liquid. A love potion? A purifying bubble bath? Not exactly, though you could say Kremas Mapou has alchemic properties. Here in this venerable Little Haiti bookstore, the cultural and intellectual heart of Miami's Haitian community, is owner Jan Mapou's homemade contribution to the potable arts. Kremas Mapou is this thick, syrupy drink that doesn't taste quite like anything else. A subtle pang of alcohol -- "sugar cane rhum," as noted on the label -- heats up the rich vanilla-almond-cinnamon mixture just enough to turn it into a deep velvety dream of a cream. A 700-ml bottle costs $13; smaller quantities are correspondingly less, down to a cute little pocket size for $1.
Unfurling waves of hot-shot eateries have recently been splashing into South Beach, but this is nothing new. Big-money ventures and top-drawer chefs have been dashing onto our shores for years now, only to crash on the rocks of financial reality and roll quietly back out again. One, Pacific Time, has ticked consistently along like a fine-tuned watch since stunning locals with what was then radical for these parts: pan-Asian food. That was back in 1993, when PT was the only place to go for fine dining on Lincoln Road. Now, with cafés cluttering every corner and cranny, many maintain it's still the only place. Pacific Rim favorites like Szechuan grilled black grouper have been around from day one but the ever-evolving menu manages to keep surprising. Desserts, too, are legendary. Owner/chef Jonathan Eismann's steady presence and talent have kept Time like a Rolex in a neighborhood of Swatches.
Colombian food is comfort food: sparingly seasoned meats, beans, rice, plantains, and of course, arepas. For Miami's Colombian community, Los Arrieros provides an equally comforting atmosphere: walls adorned with quaint little balconcitos (models of Spanish-tile balconies), a life-size balcón for a stage, and a couple of jocular trovadores improvising verses from handwritten audience requests. The restaurant, which moved from its previous, more easterly location some two years ago, specializes in the cuisine of la zona cafetera, the mountainous coffee-growing region of central Colombia that includes the cities of Medellín and Manizales. (Arrieros are drovers who lead teams of coffee-bean-laden donkeys down from the fields.) The menu's highlights include a savory sancocho, a clear soup loaded with gallina (hen), chunks of green plantain, potato, and yuca, seasoned liberally with fresh cilantro. (At $6.50 the large sancocho is a great value.) The bandeja paisa features a tender steak, a strip of delicately fried chicharrón (pork skin), a mountain of white rice, a steaming bowl of red beans, and a fried egg. Spoon on some deliciously bright chimichurri sauce for a little snap in your steak. Wash it all down with a Manzana Postobon soda, and immerse yourself in la experiencia total de la comida paisa.
Laurenzo's Itialian Market
A family-owned market since 1964, Laurenzo's offers a unique experience here in South Florida. "We're a snapshot in time," offers David Laurenzo, who runs the market along with his sister, Carol, and their father, Ben. "We're like a piece of Little Italy back in the Fifties." Everything in the store offers authentic Italian cuisine, from their homemade ravioli to the mozzarella, made fresh every morning. Their cousin Roberto, who still lives in the old country, also keeps the store stocked with items that can only be found in Italy. Laurenzo's deli section is filled with marvelous treats for the tongue, such as the pepperoni-mozzarella bread and spinach pies. But it is perhaps one of the simpler delicacies that speaks volumes about Laurenzo's. Their rice pudding is nothing short of heavenly. "Like your grandmother made," David says. If only all our grandmothers cooked so well.
Rio Cristal
Natalia Molina
There they are. Piled atop your palomilla steak. They're hand-cut, golden, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside. You down half of them before you even think of cutting into that beef. The waiter knows they're good. He offers you more papitas after you and the others at the table make the first batch disappear. Your answer: Sí, sí, sí.
Not just a sushi joint (though the sushi chefs heartily greet all patrons who enter), this bustling lunch-and-dinner spot in downtown Coral Gables offers daily specials -- scribbled in kanji and English on blackboards that run the length of the east wall -- depending on what's fresh. A treasure on the regular menu is the spicy kimuchi ramen, a fiery interpretation of traditional noodle soup, a bright orange broth brimming with sliced pork, bean sprouts, and spicy kim chee. Other noodle dishes are uniformly excellent. The sushi is superb as well, and without the scourge of cutesy nicknames for different kinds of rolls that plagues so many other popular sushi bars. One indicator of the quality: At any given time, the restaurant seems to boast at least one party of Japanese businessmen who have sauntered across the street from the Omni Colonnade.
Whole Foods Market
There are some great health food stores in Miami, but on the whole, Whole Foods has more and often better stuff. Seems there's always something you didn't see on your last visit: the latest chlorophyll/kelp tabs; a new herb mixture to strengthen the lungs; bricks of dark chocolate from Prague or other distant cities; exotic organic plums, kumquats, and pomegranates; champagnes; soy concoctions you've never heard of. Whole Foods' own brand of vitamins and sauces and teas and frozen veggies, et cetera, are, well, really good. The place makes a chipotle-chili salsa that kills. And the fresh seafood/poultry/meat section is hard to beat for the likes of free-range chicken, hormone-free beef, and fresh sausages that Jimmy Dean never imagined (try the chicken-basil-spinach, or Greek-style lamb). Whole Foods' new store north of its old location is, while giant, very pleasant. Sometimes there's even a masseur stationed near the entrance, ready to properly relax you for a complete holistic shopping experience.

Best Wine Selection In A Restaurant

Indigo

If sheer numbers alone could point out a great wine list, then Indigo easily takes top honors, with more than 700 vintages from which to quaff. But as with most things, when it comes to wine, quality is more important than quantity. Fortunately this restaurant, located in the lobby of the Inter-Continental, proves itself thrice over with wines that range from a 1995 Château Lascombes from France to a 1996 Ferrari-Carano Alexander Valley chardonnay from California to a 1997 Yalumba Botrytis Sémillon from Australia. The wine list highlights a "Southern Hemisphere Selection," from which fans of Australian, New Zealand, and South African fermentations can consume to their palates' content. The restaurant also offers bargains in the form of a featured "wine of the month" and prix-fixe wine luncheons, at which several courses are served and several complementary wines are poured. The latter usually take place in the wine room, a glass-walled area off to the side of the lobby, where serious grape discussions often ensue. Given the eatery's dedication to wine, perhaps the name would have been better served by being called something like Rouge, Blanc, or Plum, rather than Indigo.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®