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.
Laguna Seafood Restaurant
You'd think more restaurants in this food capital of the Caribbean would know how to fry a green plantain. Yet all too often, even otherwise outstanding Cuban (or Puerto Rican, or Dominican, et cetera) restaurants produce indifferent patacones. They're always too big, too thickly sliced, not ripe enough. And they're never hot; you find yourself staring at a flavorless, lukewarm pile of plantain pucks. The ones at Laguna always come out sizzling and are made from plaintains just ripe enough to leave the insides tender without crossing the line into plátanos maduros. This bustling, low-priced lunch spot has plenty else to recommend it, but its tostones are without peer. Ask for una tasita de mojo al lado. Mmmm.
Laurenzo's Itialian Market
Laurenzo's is a throwback to the days before hordes of swarming yuppies nationalized the word gourmet by blurring its definition to include a deluded sense of sophistication that's based on a so-so go-go stock market, vast washes of German cars, and upscale grocery shelves crammed with pricey and semiprecious eatable oddities. Instead Laurenzo's is a no-nonsense mom-and-pop Italian market that caters to cooks and diners who want to buy fresh and interesting ingredients that can provide robust yet subtle meals. In addition to the wares of Laurenzo's first-class butcher, baker, and fishmonger, you can buy homemade, tricolor tubetti pasta or the fresh mozzarella that employee Ralph Perrota has been conjuring in plain sight on the premises for the past twenty years. If you are intent on grandly spreading around the big bucks, well, yeah, they've got them small bottles of Extra Old Modena balsamic vinegar for $169. But we recommend blowing your wad on the battarga, a traditional dried fish roe product that goes for a hundred bucks a pound, and tastes great when grated on nearly naked pasta.
Cafe Ragazzi
Alexandra Rincon
Judging by the nightly crowd of people milling about outside Ragazzi, sipping wine and chatting away while waiting for a table, it appears most of you don't need us to tell you how good this petite 52-seat trattoria really is. Seems you've heard about the homemade bread; delicious risottos and pastas; freshly prepared Italian seafood, chicken, and veal dishes accompanied by brightly cooked greens; and the perfectly poached pears for dessert. In which case it's probably unnecessary to remind you just how hospitable the cozy room is, or how popular the prices. Where else can you get salmon carpaccio drizzled with truffle oil over a bed of mixed greens for $7.95? Cafe Ragazzi is the best, and you know it. Honorable mention and a tip of the capellini to Tiramesu for their great homemade pastas.
The black embroidered shawl of a flamenco dancer drapes down from the arched entrance of this cavelike tavern. The air inside is misty, lanterns hang over the bar, and the waiters are dressed like toreros. Here the tapas are eaten medieval style: standing while chugging down an ice-cold Estrella Galicia (Spanish beer) or sitting at a wooden barrel. To really get into el tapeo, try the bandeja de tapas variadas, an assortment of six tapas for two or more people that includes Spanish sausages, pan tomaca (toasted bread dipped in a tomato and garlic sauce), fluffy Spanish tortillas, ham-and-cheese croquettes, and fried crabmeat. Feast on fried calamari a la andaluza (soaked in aioli sauce and lemon) or shrimp sautéed in white wine and garlic; both will bring out the duende in you. The seafood-stuffed mushrooms and the roasted red peppers bursting with calamari will have you, as the Spanish say, entrando en calor.
The curative properties of honey are legion; this sweet, dark elixir is not only heavenly to taste but may very well be the healthiest honey for miles around. Ray Chasser founded a farm in Little River 22 years ago and called it The Earth 'n Us. Today Chasser is still farming, right in the middle of the city. For twenty years he's been selling raw honey from his own beehives. Just within the past year, though, the bees have come under attack from mites and beetles, insects accompanying the feared Africanized bees, who have begun to invade South Florida. Chasser says he's been able to control the mites, but the beetles are destroying his non-Africanized bees, who don't realize the beetles are predators. The only way to kill the beetles, according to Chasser, is to use a highly toxic insecticide that inevitably gets into the honey. He won't touch it, and contends he's the only beekeeper in the region who doesn't. "So I've gone from 50 hives to 20 hives in eight months," Chasser laments. "But I've been watching, and the bees are beginning to recognize the beetles as their enemies. I saw a beetle fall into a hive, and the bees killed it. They're going to start fighting [the beetles] off." Even before this crisis, honey wasn't profitable for Chasser; he keeps bees because he's fascinated by the industrious creatures. He just raised the price for a quart of honey from six to seven dollars -- still a very sweet price.

Best Restaurant To Die In The Past Twelve Months

Al Amir

This self-labeled "Mediterranean" restaurant, more Lebanese than anything else, was chef-owner Ali Husseini's second attempt to crack the dining code in Miami. His first, an eatery of the same name on South Beach, gave way to this particularly welcoming oasis on Biscayne Boulevard. Unfortunately Al Amir II eventually also bowed out, exiting in an understated manner a few months ago: One day it was there, the next day it was Ponte Vecchio, an Italian restaurant (because Miami really needed another pasta palace). Al Amir's extinction makes it that much harder to find tangy labneh, a yogurt dip; or fried kibbeh (ground beef and wheat balls), or chicken breast stuffed with coriander and sautéed in butter. But we're Miamians. If there's anything we know how to do, it's wait for what we want. So when (we will not say if) Husseini comes back with round three, we'll be ready.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®