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.
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.
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 "dining" part might be a bit of a misnomer, given that this restaurant is more of a good place to snack on caviar and sip champagne. But you can't argue with the seductive nature of the fare: caviar, lobster, crab, smoked salmon, Kobe beef carpaccio. Ply your sweetie with some of these luxury foodstuffs and no doubt you'll get quite a return on the investment. And make no mistake -- investment it is. Black truffle soup can run you $45, and a platter of beluga, osetra, and sevruga can cost you $195. Plus, since all of these gourmet items are served with little more than toast points, expect your appetite to be stimulated rather than sated. But that, after all, is the point of aphrodisiac dining: to leave you wanting, craving, desiring more.
You can work up a desert of thirst out on the River of Grass, whether you're fishing, enjoying an airboat ride, or watching a man tangle with an alligator at the Miccosukee Cultural Center. A twenty-minute drive west of Krome Avenue, this tribe-owned establishment is the perfect spot in which to rehydrate. Here the iced brew is served the way it's supposed to be. The age-old formula: tall glass full of ice cubes (ice quantity is crucial); real tea, robust and unsweetened (you can take the country boy out of the country but you can't take the sugar out of the presweetened tea); a quarter of a lemon (not a dinky piece like some places); and finally, free refills.
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.
Sadly the Little Haiti Chef Creole at 77th and NE Second Avenue is no more. New Times can still smell the cinders floating through the air the day after the explosion of a propane canister set off a chain reaction that burned out the insides of this beloved take-out storefront and sent one of the chefs to the hospital. Gone is the floor-to-ceiling mural of fishermen in a Haitian seascape on one wall. Gone, too, the gallery of visiting Haitian celebrities opposite. Although the ambiance is not the same, Chef Creole continues to serve the best fish fresh -- stewed, fried, or grilled -- from their bright and shiny location in North Miami. Here, as at the countless festivals where the Chef sets up his kiosk, you will find flaky, spicy conch fritters, three-alarm conch salad, and tart lemonade. Expect lines out the door at lunch and dinnertime, but your stomach will tell you: It's worth the wait.
The Pit Bar-B-Q
"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.
Ortanique on the Mile
Photo courtesy of Ortanique on the Mile
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.
This converted no-tell motel on South Dixie is painted a really disgusting shade of green; a more reliable harbinger of the food within can be seen in the clusters of patrons on the benches outside the front door, eagerly awaiting their tables. Inside it's long and narrow, with a boxcarlike feel, but the friendly service and the pungent scent of Thai basil, fish sauce, and chili paste more than compensate for the cramped quarters. A Thai restaurant is only as good as its pad thai, and this one kills: a light hand with the ground pork, and it actually has plenty of shrimp! The rich curries are excellent, as are appetizers like tiger tear and nam sod. The chefs also show a deft touch with seafood; if you find a restaurant of any ethnic description that can cook up a tastier whole snapper, let us know. And if you like your Thai food with plenty of fire, you'll be pleased to know Siam Lotus Room actually takes you at your word when you ask for "four stars" of spiciness. Ouch! Hurts so good.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®