Yuca does it fancier, plenty of places on Calle Ocho do it with more elegance, but the best Cuban cooking is home cooking, and that's what Sergio's has been serving in a consistently impressive manner since 1975. It's a coffee shop at 6:00 a.m., when the first café cubanos come steaming from the machine; a luncheonette in the afternoon, as piles of Cuban sandwiches get pressed; and at dinnertime the mostly Cuban clientele packs the place for flavorful renditions of their comidas favoritas. The prices are right, too: A grilled eight-ounce palomilla steak with rice, beans, and choice of plantains or fries, costs just $6.50. The crowd gets louder and livelier as Sergio's switches gears again late Friday and Saturday nights, when it stays open 24 hours.
If writer David Mamet had been to Villa Habana, he never would have scripted the line in his film Wag the Dog, in which William H. Macy's character declares there is no difference between good flan and bad flan. Granted, making a cup of custard is kind of hard to screw up, so there probably isn't any flan out there that would scream "bad." But the Villa Habana version goes way beyond "good." It's thicker, creamier, less eggy than most, with a delicate flavor that goes great with a foam-topped, after-dinner cortadito. The restaurant's regular menu is full of familiar Cuban favorites, executed with a deft and distinctive touch. So sure, go there for the ropa vieja al vino, but remember, there's always room for flan.
If we knew how popular Argentine steak houses were going to be this year, we would've bought stock in the beef industry. The American beef industry, that is, since most of the Argentine eateries are using the more consistent American Angus rather than the unreliable South American counterparts. But it is the method, as they say, and not the madness that makes something work. And in Argentine steak houses, the method is low-risk investment: high-temperature-grilled meat slipped medium-rare onto your plate and doused with garlicky chimichurri sauce. Doesn't get much more solid than that. No doubt the parrillada is one trend we'll tire of sooner or later. But for now we're just grateful the culinary wind is spreading these steak house seeds throughout the land.
It's been a long journey pushing westward in the brutal traffic. But here you are at the roadside oasis called Rancho los Cocos. This glorified country produce stand used to be really way out west but is now in scenic Westchester. Wooden tables piled with locally grown fruits and vegetables are lined up under a wide roof, which also shades a cluster of little tables and chairs. Here the weary commuter can enjoy Cuban home cooking chosen from an indoor minicafeteria. Or try a shrimp, beef, or chicken shish kebab grilled to order outside. Then there's the wonderful los Cocos juice bar offering a full complement of fresh juices and batidos. When you're finished eating, browse through the produce and bring home a bag or two of whatever's in season.
In the restaurant's bygone heyday both the famous and infamous, from Jackie Gleason to Meyer Lansky, were regularly seated in the rounded vinyl booths of the Celebrity Corner. Although Wolfie Cohen hasn't owned it for quite some time, the 53-year-old institution still offers both old-timers and tourists a place to savor an authentic slice of Miami Beach's past, or maybe just a satisfying hunk of cheesecake. Even the waiters' uniforms -- black vests, white dress shirts, and bow ties -- appear to be circa the more formal Fifties. Miami Beach artist Stewart Stewart added a burst of color to the already character-filled place in 1991 with his Pickle People Promenade and a smorgasbord of 3-D paintings of Wolfie's standards, including Day-Glo borscht with a dollop of sour cream, matzo ball soup, and a perky BLT, all of which take on a surreal glow at 3:00 a.m. in the seemingly timeless 24-hour eatery.
Some folks visit this corner storefront eatery for its baked pastas. Other patrons go for its wonderfully prepared veal scaloppine dishes and fillets of fish sprinkled with capers. And most appreciate the lengths the staff goes to ensure that even those waiting for a table outside have a glass of refreshment. We, however, frequent the cafe for its absolutely fresh caesar salad, which is redolent with garlic, Parmesan, and the all-important anchovies. Oh, we know picky diners don't like to look an anchovy fillet in the eye, so to speak. But you don't have to. The dressing here incorporates chopped anchovies, not whole ones, so you get the proper flavor without being, well, grossed out. Best of all, the kitchen will split an order for you, and the results usually are two huge salads for the price of one.

Best Food Stop On The Drive To Key West

Green Turtle Inn

The drive to Key West can be grueling, especially when you're hungry and stuck in weekend traffic. Resist the urge to succumb to a quick fish-sandwich-and-fritter fix and instead hit the brakes in Islamorada. The Green Turtle Inn, a delightful old-fashioned eatery where great food and just the right dose of show biz meet, will ease your weary traveling bones. The dark paneled walls covered with yellowing photos lend a cozy feel to this institution, which has sat oceanside since 1947. You'll relax the minute you walk in; song stylist Tina Martin is at the piano nightly, flipping through her massive songbooks, belting out breathy numbers, and greeting the masses with her trademark "turtle wave." The moderately priced fare is simply prepared yet delicious: steaks, chops, seasonal stone crabs, fresh catch of the day, surf and turf, lobster. The house specialty, turtle steak, is a savory treat that's always recommended by the waitstaff. (Don't feel guilty about sampling this delicacy: The Turtle assures the creatures no longer are harvested in local waters. You'll get the freshwater variety.) "Full-course" meals also are available and include soup (conch or turtle, from the restaurant's own cannery) or tomato juice, salad, rolls, and entrée with choice of potato and vegetable. Save room for key lime pie with five-inch-high meringue, "the original way it was made," according to a crusty waitress. If you have some time to spare before check-in, catch host/master magician Bastille's act on Friday and Saturday nights. The "world-famous illusionist" will dazzle you with his stellar mind-reading abilities. Before you hit the road, guzzle a cup of coffee and give Tina an appreciative turtle wave. Hop in your ride and you're halfway to paradise. Open every day except Monday.
Los Tres Amigos
Mexico and Miami have much in common. Both have plenty of corruption and new construction. Both are working hard to join the industrialized world. Unlike the land of the big piñata, however, the Magic City has a sorely underdeveloped taco sector. But authentic taco entrepreneurs from Puebla and other Mexican towns are popping up where you'd least expect them. This little restaurant and take-out window in a dusty warehouse district is the leader of this fledgling industry. It's where you'll find the genuine item. At $1.50 per unit, the cost-benefit ratio is excellent. Each taco is constructed with two soft tortillas, instead of one. The marinated pieces of grilled sirloin are gilded with chopped onions and cilantro. Apply red or green hot sauce as needed. Consume other varieties: pork chunks cooked in a dry pepper sauce (al pastor), chorizo, or shredded chicken, all cooked with Mexican herbs. For an extra 50 cents you can receive the top-of-the-line tacos: beef tongue, tripe, jerky beef, or goat meat with avocado leaves. Viva el capitalismo!
In the South Beach scene, late-night snacking really has become the norm. So it's not unusual to see couples supping at 10:00 p.m., parties laughing over veal chops at 11:00 p.m., clubbers strapping on the predance feedbag at midnight. But while you can find plenty of places to eat, it's harder to discover one where you can dine. So far Secrets, open till 2:00 a.m. daily, has been something of a, well, secret. But proprietors Filip Rady and Milan Radesits are bound to have a late-night success on their hands with items like tenderloin bites marinated in yogurt and served with mango chipotle coulis, and a crab and rock shrimp "burger." Indeed the tropically influenced fare ranges from pan-seared tuna steak topped with sugar-cane juice to fruit-stuffed French toast, which pretty much means you can enjoy the secrets of culinary success not only late at night, but early in the morning as well.
Tokyo Bowl
You can feel it beginning on your way home from work: the craving, the wanting, the needing. It was a stressful day -- the boss yelled, the clients yelled, the colleagues yelled -- and more than anything, you need a pick-me-up. Call it a fix, say you have an addiction, do whatever it takes (except steal TVs), but just make sure you have sushi, pronto. Look no further than Tokyo Bowl. Not only can this counter-service Japanese restaurant satisfy your need for raw fish, vinegar rice, and seaweed, it can do it in a split second via the drive-thru, which was leftover from when the building was part of a chicken chain. The sushi menu isn't as exotic or extensive (read: numbering in the hundreds) as other sushi bars in Miami; Tokyo Bowl offers about eight rolls and five different kinds of sushi, including tuna, salmon, and dolphin. But here it's not just the quality of the eatery, it's the speed of it that counts. In our busy book, instantaneous sushi is the eating man's heroin, and you don't have to worry about withdrawal.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®