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.
It's ground beef casserole made into a patty and stuffed in a roll. It's like a sloppy joe, only made a lo cubano, topped with melted cheddar cheese, toothpick-skinny French fries, and shaved onions. In Hialeah or Little Havana, if you can stomach all that, munch a frita fit for a king. At El Rey de las Fritas these Cuban hamburgers are the house specialty. For a measly two dollars, El Rey's fritas are packed to the punch. They definitely rule.
Like a street-smart stray with a knack for survival, the S&S has passed unruffled through a handful of owners in its 62-year history in Miami. And it likely has a few of its nine lives left. Across the street from another notable relic, the City of Miami cemetery, regulars at this down-home diner sidle up to stools at the horseshoe-shape counter like alley cats around a Dumpster full of fish, supping on daily specials such as turkey with all the trimmings, brisket, stuffed cabbage, lamb shank, and buffalo wings, served with a choice of side dishes like peas, salad, coleslaw, et cetera. Good-size, tasty portions of familiar fare -- all for less than $12 -- are served by long-time waitresses who seem to know everyone in the place by name. So there's no need to feel alone, even if you're dining that way. Stop by and soak up the atmosphere like a side of mashed potatoes in gravy. Open for breakfast and lunch seven days, and dinner Monday through Friday.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®