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.
Most of the handful of Mexican restaurants in town seem to cater to Mexican-American tastes. El Fogon's fare hails from further south of the border (including the Yucatán), and the difference is reflected in the quality and style of their humble burritos. The chicken is seasoned and seared, the picadillo (seasoned ground beef) is divine, but best of all is the cochinita pibil -- chunks of tender pork stewed in the red, delicately tart pibil sauce. When wrapped in a tortilla with refried beans and enrobed in melted cheese, the cochinita crosses over from sublime to ridiculously good. Oh, and the burritos are huge; a party of two should consider ordering a cup of tortilla soup each, then sharing the monster. That way they won't have to roll you out.

Tuscan Steak
The intentions of Tuscan Steak should be obvious: That T-bone is meant to feed a family. Likewise that serving of three-mushroom risotto with truffle oil, or the herb-grilled rack of lamb with the green apple-basil chutney, or the oven-roasted duck with cranberry chutney. Prices indicate the restaurant's philosophy, as does the credo written on the menu: "At Tuscan Steak all portions are served family style and [are] intended for sharing." But note that the intro also allows that in this eatery, "there are no rules." In other words who says you have to share? So go ahead -- dine singly, order doubly, and make a pig (or a duck or a steak) of yourself.
Berries in the Grove
You're in the office, it's midafternoon, and that sweet tooth starts clamoring for attention. A thick, creamy, fruity drink would quiet the ruckus, but you don't want that artificial stuff the fast-food joints peddle. It's too far to drive to the farms in Homestead to get the real thing. The alternative is this roadside stand just south of U.S. 1. Take your pick of fresh papaya, mango, or kiwi juice, or mix and match to create a new concoction. Nonfat frozen yogurt keeps the calories down, and a scoop of protein or ginseng can be added for a boost of energy. Price is on the high side at $4.25, but think of all the gas you're saving. You can get your fix between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Best Restaurant For The Hearing Impaired

Joe's Stone Crab

Joe's Stone Crab
Photo courtesy of Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant
Act I: The front desk. A middle-age gentleman in a plaid sport coat waits in a ten-person line. He finally reaches the host, who is taking down names.

Host: How many?

Patron: What?

Host (impatiently): How many in your party?

Patron: Oh. Four.

Host: That'll be a two-hour wait.

Patron (disbelieving): Huh?

Host (shouting): Two hours!

Patron (still not sure he heard correctly): Huh??

Host: Two hours! Two hours!

Act II: The bar

Bartender: What'll it be?

Patron: What?

Bartender (impatiently): What do you want to drink?

Patron: Oh. I'll have a gin and tonic.

Bartender: What??

Patron (shouting): Gin and tonic!

Act III: The dining room, five gin and tonics later.

Waiter: Can I take your order?

Patron is silent.

Waiter (shouting): Whaddya want to eat?

Patron tilts sideways in his chair and falls over with a loud thump. The captain is called over. He assesses the situation and then drags the man out by his ankles to make way for the next party. The man's head bumps on the tile all the way to the door: thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack.... And you thought all that noise was from cracking stone crab shells.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®