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.
Every morning Rafat Monem gets up at about 4:00 and heads to work, where he will bake more than 7000 individual loaves of pita bread. By early afternoon they will all be sold. Each loaf is an individual work of art, a light and airy source of comfort, whose gentle folds ply easily apart exposing a soft and inviting interior. Monem, the son of the store's owner, Okashah Monem, has been baking pita bread for seventeen years. What makes it special? "It's the ingredients we use," says Monem, a Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem. And what are those ingredients? "I can't tell you that," he laughs. "It's a secret."
If you're looking for really top-quality seafood, you'd be better off going to La Dorada or Baleen. Yet for affordable, consistently fresh fish in a friendly environment, Fishbone Grille is still our favorite. A wide array of seafood comes grilled, blackened, sautéed, or fused with New World accompaniments, such as seven-spiced tuna with green mango, kim chee, and peanut sauce; or crisp whole Key West yellowtail with black beans, rice, and scotch bonnet vinaigrette. Chalkboard specials are appealing, too, as are the various types of raw oysters on hand. The décor at both locations, downtown and in a former HoJo on U.S. 1, is comfortable if less-than-pleasing to the eye, but the crowd is jovial, service efficient, and the triangular wedge of jalapeño cornbread that comes with each meal is worth the trip by itself.
Joe's Stone Crab
Photo courtesy of Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant
You don't have to know the maitre d' to get a good meal quick from Joe's. The take-out division, just to the north of the landmark seafood restaurant, serves the same menu -- without the three-hour wait (same prices, without the tip). In addition to the standard dinner of stone crabs, coleslaw, creamed spinach, and a slice of key lime pie (a meal we heartily endorse), take-out customers can choose from a wide variety of other wonderful selections, from po'boys to fried chicken to swordfish steaks. Quality, the ingredient that has made Joe's an institution, is dependably maintained. And, we repeat, without the wait. Joe's is closed from May 15 to October 15.
Mykonos Greek Restaurant
A Miami institution for nearly three decades, Mykonos consistently offers the best in Greek cuisine. From standards such as gyros and souvlaki to richer dishes, including moussaka and pastitsio. They can even make roasting half a chicken seem exotic, seasoning it with just the right herbs and spices. The portions are large and the prices are so reasonable that over time, you'll be able to save enough money to take your own trip to Greece (and stop in on that party island all covered in blue and white, also called Mykonos). But when you do, you probably won't find the food any better. The best thing about this Mykonos: the people. Most of the staff are relatives of owners John Kafouros and Nick Pantelaras, which gives the place the warm feel of a small, family-run eatery.
Lucila Jimenez has turned her family tradition of baking festive and inventive cakes into a thriving business. Her two Sweet Art bakeries, with their 50 employees, seem to be able to coax batter and icing into almost any shape, for any event. Mountains, hearts, toys, the island of Cuba -- nearly anything is possible. Her signature "jewelry box" cakes are a true marvel: They look for all the world like oversize Limoges porcelain boxes, complete with gold fittings, and yet, amazingly, they are not only edible, but delicious. Try one of Lucila's cakes for a special occasion, and her tradition will quickly become yours as well.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®