A fajita is a fajita: some kind of meat, chicken, or fish, served on a sizzling platter with a bunch of standard bell peppers and onions. On the side you'll receive some chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, refried pinto beans, maybe a little guacamole or sour cream, plus some flour tortillas to roll around it all. Agreed? Not if you've been to La Gloria. Here, beef or chicken fajitas are sautéed with onions, but instead of bell peppers you'll find palate-tingling poblanos on the hot plate. Refried beans are made with the black turtle variety rather than the light-brown pintos. And tortillas, served warm and coddled in a woven basket, are soft, homemade corn disks, not commercially produced, bleached flour patties. As a result customers discover how fajitas, which are so ubiquitous you can find them at Taco Bell, are meant to be. Fans can pick up a La Gloria fajita, and -- you guessed it -- drop the chalupa for real.
Palme d'Or
Photo courtesy of the Biltmore
Say what you will about the French, but anyone witnessing the worldwide millennium celebrations would have to agree: They've got style. So does La Palme d'Or, an already excellent restaurant that was elevated further by that rarest of occurrences, an inspired marketing idea. During the first week of each month, a guest Michelin-rated chef prepares signature dishes from his restaurant in France. For lovers of fine Gallic cuisine, nothing can top this opportunity to sample fare from chefs such as Paul Bocuse, or Alain Passard of Paris's amazing Restaurant Arpége. Regular La Palme chef Philippe Ruiz is enough of a talent in his own right to make it the best French restaurant, even without these Michelin masters. Want proof? One bite of his foie gras ravioli with goat cheese mousse and black truffle shavings should do. Bonus best scam: Wear a bathing suit under your dining apparel and sneak a postdinner dip in the hotel's alluring swimming pool.
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew destroyed the original O.C.O.C. (or O.C. for short), then located on Old Cutler Road. But fisherman Mike Pace soon resurrected his pub-style restaurant a few miles west on a busier strip. Oyster lovers will be merry as clams during happy hour (4:00 to 7:00 p.m. daily) when draft beers are $1.50 per glass and the rocklike mollusks are $4 per dozen (usually the fee is $7 per dozen). Executive chef Kevin MacWhinnie and owner Mike Pace conduct meticulous inspections to keep bad oysters at bay, assures hostess Ivonne Bley. "They're really picky," she observes. "They go beyond the call of duty." Peel-and-eat shrimp fans can choose three varieties: traditional, garlic, and Cajun. Clams run $6 per dozen.
Morton's The Steakhouse
John Kenneth Galbraith's observation that more people die in the United States of too much food than they do of too little must have been gleaned over a lifetime of eating T-bones the size of small-town airstrips and boulder-size baked potatoes at various American steak houses. It's this conformity of the genre that makes choosing the best steak house, excuse the expression, a real horserace. Morton's crosses the finish line first not merely because of its USDA prime cuts of meat (though these are, it seems, just a little bit tastier than the rest) but also owing to superior service, seafood, side dishes, and desserts -- especially the sultry Godiva hot chocolate cake. Like at all steak houses, you pay for the quality. Galbraith's quotation appears in The Affluent Society, an apt phrase for those who can afford to dine here regularly. Then again there's something about seeing beefy businessmen stuffed into plush red banquettes that makes cutting into a thick steak that much more rewarding.
Shorty's Bar-B-Q
Anais Alexandre
Ripe, tender young legumes swimming in a smoky sauce, the barbecue beans at Shorty's are more than just a side dish; they are a tangy treat to be savored all on their own. Naturally no one is suggesting you should sit in an enclosed restaurant where everyone is filling up on baked beans, and baked beans alone. Our point is merely that the beans at Shorty's deserve more credit for being so damn good. We think they are every bit as important as the ribs and chicken cooking on the grill. And we're willing to fight any man, woman, or child who says otherwise.
Neighborhood restaurants usually are friendly and informal places that proffer generous helpings of consistent if modest food to an appreciative local clientele. Crystal Cafe's crisp white linens, fresh flowers, comprehensive wine selection, and semiformal service would seemingly add up to a finer dining experience than we expect from this category, yet a closer look through the Crystal reveals it to be a humble, family-run affair with no pretense or PR firm. Chef Klime Kovaceski can dazzle with a starter of warm pistachio-crusted goat cheese with truffle oil and raspberry-balsamic reduction, or comfort with New Continental dishes like beef stroganoff that are more reflective of his Macedonian roots. Wife Huguette adroitly orchestrates among the best (but still friendly) waitstaffs on the Beach, and because she and Klime are always present, the restaurant's consistency remains unparalleled. It's elegant, yes, but for the locals, Crystal Cafe remains a joy in the 'hood.
The best reason to stop in and buy a bag of traditional and terrific croissants at Renaissance is that it gives a busy person an excuse to pause in a first-class bakery and pick up just a few more things. Like their potato-based focaccia, or its chewier cousin, the fougasse, a pesto-smeared loaf that begins life with sun-dried tomatoes and basil in its dough. Or one of their chocolate cakes that taste so dreamy ... maybe there are things better than sex. Started in 1994 Renaissance has long been a regular stop for discerning locals, and it's worth a drive to the North Miami strip mall. It's amazing just how much a good baker can do with, mostly, a little flour and water.

Best Restaurant In Coconut Grove

Baleen

Baleen
Until recently it would not have been inaccurate to call Coconut Grove "The Land of 1000 Stores and No Great Restaurants." Although in the past couple of years a few excellent eateries have made their home here (most notably Bice, La Gloria, and Anokha), you still need to cross a small bridge to Grove Isle to find the best one. Baleen takes full advantage of its beautiful vistas of Biscayne Bay, the outdoor tables encircled by flowing white curtains blowing in the breezes. The indoor dining room is handsome in a darker, mahogany-tone way, and while there may be red-vested chimps on the lighting fixtures, when it comes to putting out topnotch cuisine, Baleen doesn't monkey around. Every cold seafood favorite you can imagine, like sushi, tuna tartare, stone crabs, conch salad, clams, and oysters (which are shucked tableside), comes fresh, briny, and well chilled. A wide array of seafood dinners, too, some fish dressed in New World trappings but all available simply and sublimely grilled, wood roasted, or sautéed. Meats and steak-house sides also excel, the wine list and service are sophisticated, and the desserts are as beautiful as the evening sunset on the bay. Taking visitors to Coconut Grove? This is where you should bring them to eat. And pray that they pick up the pricey tab.
Little Havana Restaurant
Aran S Graham
This Cuban restaurant is an all-around winner. They serve topnotch meats and seafood alongside Cuban staples. But it's the black bean soup that is a standout. Velvety smooth, with a lemony tinge. They won't divulge their secret ingredient, but it's worth a trip up Biscayne Boulevard to try and figure it out for yourself.
Balans
First things first: It's busy, so if you're not up for a half-hour wait, we suggest you arrive early (the restaurant opens at 8:00 a.m.). Brunch at Balans is not served buffet style; instead diners choose from the menu and breakfast is served à la carte. The crowd is typically a mix of bleary-eyed boys and babes, South Beach locals, and Balans regulars. We suggest the complete breakfast, which comes with Balans's famous pancakes, or the eggs Benedict, which features a made-from-scratch hollandaise sauce. For days other than Sunday, the restaurant's regular menu features dishes with Mediterranean and Asian influences.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®