Cuban sandwich and Versailles -- in Miami, they go together like, well, José Martí and poetry. Like most everything on Versailles' extensive menu, this Cuban sandwich is a credit to its cuisine. Lots of ham, generally more than in other versions, and melted Swiss cheese between not-overly-flattened slices of very fresh Cuban bread. No gratuitous grease. The only thing that could make it better: a little less stinginess with the pickles.
"What's new?" I asked the blonde at The Pit's service counter. "Nothing," she replied. "Tommy Little has owned this place for 35 years, and his whole idea is never to change anything." Thank the Lord for small things. The food here is as reliable as guessing that the counter lady's hair color began life in a peroxide bottle. Good meat, slowly smoked over blackjack oak logs. Key lime pies made from scratch. Fresh frogs' legs and onion rings. Plenty of good customers. Laurence Fishburne is crazy about the chicken. Dennis Rodman loves the ribs. Steven Tyler brought the Aerosmith crew to dine. Jim Carrey and Alex Penelas have been known to pile their plates high. Such stars could make you think you're on South Beach instead of in a tiki hut at the edge of the Everglades. But after being sated by the best barbecue, you'll be glad you're swamps away from that sandbar.
Proprietor Delius Shirley and chef-proprietor Cindy Hutson had the right idea when they closed Norma's on the Beach! and opened Ortanique. Their first Miami restaurant, named for gourmet Jamaican chef Norma Shirley (Delius's mom and Cindy's mentor) was a solid, impressive venture that we honored as Best Caribbean Restaurant year after year. But with Ortanique (and with apologies to Norma) the specter of a mother's influence has been removed, not just from the name but from the entire spirit of cookery that infuses the place. In short the coproprietors are working miracles of a pan-Caribbean nature on the Mile, and Hutson has expanded her skills mightily in her colorful new digs. A more extensive menu includes some old favorites such as pumpkin bisque and fried calamari salad, but also ranges from less obvious house specialties like button mushroom ceviche to ostrich burgers to curried rabbit. Followers of the old Norma's needn't fret, though: Ortanique still offers Blue Mountain coffee, which could make espresso look like a regular cuppa Joe, and golden cake soaked in rum. Order them both for two highs in one.
It's ground beef casserole made into a patty and stuffed in a roll. It's like a sloppy joe, only made a lo cubano, topped with melted cheddar cheese, toothpick-skinny French fries, and shaved onions. In Hialeah or Little Havana, if you can stomach all that, munch a frita fit for a king. At El Rey de las Fritas these Cuban hamburgers are the house specialty. For a measly two dollars, El Rey's fritas are packed to the punch. They definitely rule.
Like a street-smart stray with a knack for survival, the S&S has passed unruffled through a handful of owners in its 62-year history in Miami. And it likely has a few of its nine lives left. Across the street from another notable relic, the City of Miami cemetery, regulars at this down-home diner sidle up to stools at the horseshoe-shape counter like alley cats around a Dumpster full of fish, supping on daily specials such as turkey with all the trimmings, brisket, stuffed cabbage, lamb shank, and buffalo wings, served with a choice of side dishes like peas, salad, coleslaw, et cetera. Good-size, tasty portions of familiar fare -- all for less than $12 -- are served by long-time waitresses who seem to know everyone in the place by name. So there's no need to feel alone, even if you're dining that way. Stop by and soak up the atmosphere like a side of mashed potatoes in gravy. Open for breakfast and lunch seven days, and dinner Monday through Friday.
Drooling over meat-dripping sandwiches or hot dogs of saturated fat doesn't seem like the civilized thing to do when you're traveling by foot through Miami's urban jungle. Oh, there are plenty of portable grease pits along the way, tempting even the most health-conscious of souls. Real health hazards. But just think of them as obstacles in your journey. What you want is a vegetable patty of mushrooms, brown rice, and cheese wrapped in pita bread with added alfalfa sprouts (a wondrous tonic), carrots (rich in vitamin A), romaine lettuce (a good source of protein), and cherry tomatoes (bursting with vitamin C). That veggie burger and many more natural treats await your arrival at Orange Carrot. Perhaps a bit out of the way from the Bayfront shopping circuit but definitely within walking distance. And remember, walking is a good complement to a veggie burger, much better than that extra cheese.
What do you do if you want a quality dessert around midnight but don't want to get gussied up and spend a fortune at some South Beach hot spot? For 46 years Rascal House has had the answer. The place is open until at least 1:00 a.m., and the waiters here wouldn't bat an eye if you sauntered into the joint in your bathrobe as long as you had your wallet with you. At best they might offer an acerbic comment in the gruff manner for which they are famous, as they wait for you to choose from among the 34 different homemade treats. Dessert at Rascal House is meant to satisfy rather than dazzle. There are no effete dribbles of exotic sauces or bizarrely flavored sorbets. The favorite here is the cheesecake, rich and heavy enough to be a meal in itself. If your arteries can take it, move on to the bobka, a marbleized pound cake, or the Victory layer cake, which consists of seven levels of chocolate and whipped cream. Don't worry about offending your fellow patrons: There is no shame in being a glutton in this cafeterialike setting.
Madame John used to cook and sell griot (Haitian-style fried pork) out of her Little Haiti home. Her griot became so popular that at certain hours on weekends, cars would clog the street and lines would even spill outside. A few years ago, no doubt at the urging of customers and code-enforcement inspectors alike, the operation moved into a real restaurant. It's still principally a carry-out business, though there are chairs and booths and a big television tuned to Haitian cable channels. Griot is still the star of Madame John's menu, but now you can order other typical Haitian dishes, such as tassot (fried beef or goat) and truly spectacular poisson gro sel, a whole fish spiced and cooked with various vegetables and seasonings. The place is packed at lunch and dinner times, and service is slow (unless you're pregnant -- it's bad luck to keep an expectant mother waiting to eat, because her baby will send bad vodou your way). But Madame John's food outweighs these discomforts. After all, there's a reason she has too many customers.
It has long been known that the best place to get political scuttlebutt in Miami-Dade is at the coffee window of the Versailles Restaurant. On election day it's also an ideal location to watch the county's political players: the campaign managers, the ad men, and the precinct captains. These vital cogs in the election machine inevitably come to Versailles during the day for lunch or a quick cortadito. One might see city Commissioner Tomas Regalado, or radio personality Marta Flores, or Hialeah campaigner Herman Echevarria and his ever-present assistant Francois Illas spinning tales of an imminent victory. At another table could be Pedro Milian, who serves as a campaign conduit to Spanish-language radio. Diving into the special brew can often be found Albert Lorenzo, fueling up after an arduous day exhorting the old folks that operate his phone banks. When the voting booths have closed and the returns are in, they come back to dissect the results. If the race is a true squeaker, remember: Versailles is open until 2:00 a.m.
If only Monty Python's John Cleese had gone to Amici's instead of the National Cheese Emporium when "he came over all peckish." Unlike the comedy team's famed skit of a barren shop and deceptive store owner, Amici's offers a cornucopia of "cheesy combustibles" laid out in a helpful manner. Proprietors Carmine Chirico and Carlo Casagrande hail from New York, and their Italian market proves they know good food -- cheese in particular. Their new store, which opened this past December, has a selection that ranges from Stilton to Sage Darby and everything in between. The cheeses are displayed with helpful suggestions on accompanying wines and foods. For example they recommend crusty breads, grapes, and a hearty red wine with fontina val d'Aosta. Amici's also sells cheese accouterments, such as fondue sets, cutters, and special knives. Their fresh mozzarella marinated in extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley, and a pinch of red pepper is heavenly. There are even huge wheels of cheddar, "the single most popular cheese in the world."

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®