Sure South Beach has all the trendy restaurants, but as any sunburned tourist can tell you, the service there is uniformly slow and sassy. Too many models and would-be-somebodies moonlighting as waiters. At Fishbone Grille the waitstaff actually appears to be enjoying the job. They are attentive without hovering, swift without making you feel rushed, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of the food on the menu and the extensive wines on the list. And they are routinely happy to recommend the best, freshest catch that day, even if it's not the priciest item on the menu. The secret apparently is in the selection: Management tries to hire people with the right mix of congeniality and professionalism. The waitstaff must also take written and oral quizzes during training. It all adds up to an A.
Executive chef-proprietor of Pacific Time Jonathan Eismann goes slumming with this new venture, a remake of Johnny V's Kitchen. And what a pleasant redo it is: The narrow storefront has been converted into a minidiner, complete with blue-and-white tiles, booths for two, and a counter with a Fifties soda fountain. The ideal place for a nosh after a movie or a quickie lunch steps from the touristy grind of Lincoln Road, Westside offers old-timey diner favorites such as meat loaf, burgers, and open-face hot roast beef sandwiches. Certainly it's not the place for a vegetarian (salad options are few and somehow unfetching when paired against grilled barbecue pork chops) but Fox's U-Bet fans clearly have no cause for complaint. The egg cream at Westside is worthy of Manhattan's Lower East Side, and hey, it saves us a trip to the Big A for a simple thirst quencher. Just remember to hit the ATM before dropping by. As it was in the olden days, at Westside only cash is acceptable commerce.
Titanic Brewery & Restaurant
Since opening a little more than a year ago, the Titanic has hopped up the local beer scene. It hosts South Florida's home-brewing competition, the Coconut Cup, which features battles between the Miami Area Society of Homebrewers (MASH) and the Fort Lauderdale Area Brewers (FLAB). It's also received national acclaim at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado, where the Captain Smith's Rye Ale took home a bronze medal in the specialty-beer category, and recently was named a finalist in the prestigious World Beer Cup competition. Closer to home the Titanic has won the hearts of many aficionados with the five house beers brewed on-site (triple-screw light ale, Britannica, boiler-room nut brown, white-star India pale ale, ship-builders' oatmeal stout), plus one seasonal beer that changes every couple of months. And if you want food with your beer, check out the Brew Masters' Dinner. Held about once every six weeks, the meal consists of five courses, each of which comes with a different brew that's chosen to complement the eats. Food also is a major part of the mug club. Membership costs $50 per year and comes with a customized twenty-once mug (four ounces bigger than the usual mug) that hangs in the bar. Membership has its privileges: Besides getting an extra four ounces of beer, mugees also are entitled to special happy hours and free dinner on Wednesdays. Thirsty yet? Oh, and did we mention on the weekend they have great live music? Cheers.
Luna Star Cafe
The chains are on the prowl, and they're everywhere. Although the good old-fashioned independent coffeehouses never had too strong a presence down here in Miami to begin with, they are on the verge of extinction today. Which is why now more than ever it's important to support your local java shop. Our choice: Luna Star, because it stands for everything a coffeehouse should be and everything Starbucks is not. Instead of browsing through grossly overpriced material goods -- coffee mugs for ten dollars? Please! -- you can immerse yourself in the ambiance of a real coffee shop and maybe browse through a book. It also means you get live folky music on weekend nights, plus a subdued wooden interior conducive to reading, writing, and possibly contemplating the universe, not espresso-cup coasters. Beer and healthy hippie food are available, and to make the atmosphere complete, the Museum of Contemporary Art is just down the street. But maybe you just want to sit and have a cup of coffee; there's plenty of that too, any way you want it.
The sopa marinera here is the Latin/Caribbean version of that New England stalwart: seafood chowder. Instead of dairy milk, the fish broth is emboldened with coconut milk. Instead of quahogs and cod, the chowder is studded with shrimp, conch, and snapper. It's a wonderful merging of the Northern and Southern hemispheres, which, after all, is Miami at its best. A small bowl, which is plentiful, runs $4.50; a large, which is obscene, $7.50. Both come with tortilla and side. Adelita is open from 7:00 a.m. until midnight.
Yuca does it fancier, plenty of places on Calle Ocho do it with more elegance, but the best Cuban cooking is home cooking, and that's what Sergio's has been serving in a consistently impressive manner since 1975. It's a coffee shop at 6:00 a.m., when the first café cubanos come steaming from the machine; a luncheonette in the afternoon, as piles of Cuban sandwiches get pressed; and at dinnertime the mostly Cuban clientele packs the place for flavorful renditions of their comidas favoritas. The prices are right, too: A grilled eight-ounce palomilla steak with rice, beans, and choice of plantains or fries, costs just $6.50. The crowd gets louder and livelier as Sergio's switches gears again late Friday and Saturday nights, when it stays open 24 hours.
If writer David Mamet had been to Villa Habana, he never would have scripted the line in his film Wag the Dog, in which William H. Macy's character declares there is no difference between good flan and bad flan. Granted, making a cup of custard is kind of hard to screw up, so there probably isn't any flan out there that would scream "bad." But the Villa Habana version goes way beyond "good." It's thicker, creamier, less eggy than most, with a delicate flavor that goes great with a foam-topped, after-dinner cortadito. The restaurant's regular menu is full of familiar Cuban favorites, executed with a deft and distinctive touch. So sure, go there for the ropa vieja al vino, but remember, there's always room for flan.
If we knew how popular Argentine steak houses were going to be this year, we would've bought stock in the beef industry. The American beef industry, that is, since most of the Argentine eateries are using the more consistent American Angus rather than the unreliable South American counterparts. But it is the method, as they say, and not the madness that makes something work. And in Argentine steak houses, the method is low-risk investment: high-temperature-grilled meat slipped medium-rare onto your plate and doused with garlicky chimichurri sauce. Doesn't get much more solid than that. No doubt the parrillada is one trend we'll tire of sooner or later. But for now we're just grateful the culinary wind is spreading these steak house seeds throughout the land.
It's been a long journey pushing westward in the brutal traffic. But here you are at the roadside oasis called Rancho los Cocos. This glorified country produce stand used to be really way out west but is now in scenic Westchester. Wooden tables piled with locally grown fruits and vegetables are lined up under a wide roof, which also shades a cluster of little tables and chairs. Here the weary commuter can enjoy Cuban home cooking chosen from an indoor minicafeteria. Or try a shrimp, beef, or chicken shish kebab grilled to order outside. Then there's the wonderful los Cocos juice bar offering a full complement of fresh juices and batidos. When you're finished eating, browse through the produce and bring home a bag or two of whatever's in season.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®