Drooling over meat-dripping sandwiches or hot dogs of saturated fat doesn't seem like the civilized thing to do when you're traveling by foot through Miami's urban jungle. Oh, there are plenty of portable grease pits along the way, tempting even the most health-conscious of souls. Real health hazards. But just think of them as obstacles in your journey. What you want is a vegetable patty of mushrooms, brown rice, and cheese wrapped in pita bread with added alfalfa sprouts (a wondrous tonic), carrots (rich in vitamin A), romaine lettuce (a good source of protein), and cherry tomatoes (bursting with vitamin C). That veggie burger and many more natural treats await your arrival at Orange Carrot. Perhaps a bit out of the way from the Bayfront shopping circuit but definitely within walking distance. And remember, walking is a good complement to a veggie burger, much better than that extra cheese.
What do you do if you want a quality dessert around midnight but don't want to get gussied up and spend a fortune at some South Beach hot spot? For 46 years Rascal House has had the answer. The place is open until at least 1:00 a.m., and the waiters here wouldn't bat an eye if you sauntered into the joint in your bathrobe as long as you had your wallet with you. At best they might offer an acerbic comment in the gruff manner for which they are famous, as they wait for you to choose from among the 34 different homemade treats. Dessert at Rascal House is meant to satisfy rather than dazzle. There are no effete dribbles of exotic sauces or bizarrely flavored sorbets. The favorite here is the cheesecake, rich and heavy enough to be a meal in itself. If your arteries can take it, move on to the bobka, a marbleized pound cake, or the Victory layer cake, which consists of seven levels of chocolate and whipped cream. Don't worry about offending your fellow patrons: There is no shame in being a glutton in this cafeterialike setting.
Madame John used to cook and sell griot (Haitian-style fried pork) out of her Little Haiti home. Her griot became so popular that at certain hours on weekends, cars would clog the street and lines would even spill outside. A few years ago, no doubt at the urging of customers and code-enforcement inspectors alike, the operation moved into a real restaurant. It's still principally a carry-out business, though there are chairs and booths and a big television tuned to Haitian cable channels. Griot is still the star of Madame John's menu, but now you can order other typical Haitian dishes, such as tassot (fried beef or goat) and truly spectacular poisson gro sel, a whole fish spiced and cooked with various vegetables and seasonings. The place is packed at lunch and dinner times, and service is slow (unless you're pregnant -- it's bad luck to keep an expectant mother waiting to eat, because her baby will send bad vodou your way). But Madame John's food outweighs these discomforts. After all, there's a reason she has too many customers.
It has long been known that the best place to get political scuttlebutt in Miami-Dade is at the coffee window of the Versailles Restaurant. On election day it's also an ideal location to watch the county's political players: the campaign managers, the ad men, and the precinct captains. These vital cogs in the election machine inevitably come to Versailles during the day for lunch or a quick cortadito. One might see city Commissioner Tomas Regalado, or radio personality Marta Flores, or Hialeah campaigner Herman Echevarria and his ever-present assistant Francois Illas spinning tales of an imminent victory. At another table could be Pedro Milian, who serves as a campaign conduit to Spanish-language radio. Diving into the special brew can often be found Albert Lorenzo, fueling up after an arduous day exhorting the old folks that operate his phone banks. When the voting booths have closed and the returns are in, they come back to dissect the results. If the race is a true squeaker, remember: Versailles is open until 2:00 a.m.
If only Monty Python's John Cleese had gone to Amici's instead of the National Cheese Emporium when "he came over all peckish." Unlike the comedy team's famed skit of a barren shop and deceptive store owner, Amici's offers a cornucopia of "cheesy combustibles" laid out in a helpful manner. Proprietors Carmine Chirico and Carlo Casagrande hail from New York, and their Italian market proves they know good food -- cheese in particular. Their new store, which opened this past December, has a selection that ranges from Stilton to Sage Darby and everything in between. The cheeses are displayed with helpful suggestions on accompanying wines and foods. For example they recommend crusty breads, grapes, and a hearty red wine with fontina val d'Aosta. Amici's also sells cheese accouterments, such as fondue sets, cutters, and special knives. Their fresh mozzarella marinated in extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley, and a pinch of red pepper is heavenly. There are even huge wheels of cheddar, "the single most popular cheese in the world."

Best Miami Sports Museum Disguised As A Restaurant

The Big Cheese

This perennially packed Italian eatery features not only huge portions of baked spaghetti and ziti, as well as pizza that lives up to the place's name; it also is stuffed with posters, autographed photos, jerseys, banners, balls, and helmets from Miami sports icons. Shula, Johnson, Schnellenberger, Morris, Marino, The Rock ("Can you smell what the Big Cheese is cookin'?"), the Miami Heat Dancers -- they're all here in memorabilia form. Bring the family, order a couple of dozen steaming garlic rolls, and soak up the sporty spices.
There is a simple menu for this plain restaurant. You can get whole-wheat pita sandwiches filled with chicken salad, hummus, mixed vegetables, or peanut butter. Spread the house dressing over the meal for a tangy flavor. Warm spinach pies stuffed with tuna and avocado or cheese and tomato also are available. Want to delete the carbs? Try the salads made with romaine lettuce or the soup of the day. Wash it all down with freshly squeezed juice, usually mixed with carrot juice. All the food is prepared before the customers as they sit on stools at the wood counter topped with beige tiles. The interior décor amounts to boxes stacked in corners, a large silver drink cooler, and pistachio-green walls. A sandwich-and-juice combo costs about six bucks. Simple. Don't plan on late-night healthy dining, though. Hours of operation are 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and the place closes one hour earlier on Sunday.
If you're going to eat octopus, do it at Benny's, where the house specialties include mofongo (basically mashed, fried, and seasoned plantains) stuffed with octopus, conch, lobster, or other seafood. Benny's is a pleasant place to dine, even if it is in a strip center. It's bright and clean and somehow when the sun is shining in through the front windows, you can almost smell a sea breeze. And the food is great. All the signature Puerto Rican delights are here, including piononos and alcapurrias (sort of a Puerto Rican-style meat pie; the alcapurria de jueyes is addictive), arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas), and tostones de pana pen (better than regular tostones). If you're really serious, there's always mondongo (tripe), gandinga (pork or beef liver), and cuajito (stomach of a cow or pig). The service is gracious and friendly, and the coquito is super-rico.
If you've never had a flop, or never even heard of one, it's time to make your move. Nearly every soul-food joint in Liberty City, Overtown, and Model City serves this mixture of iced tea and lemonade. It's a smooth and refreshing beverage, highly recommended for the coming season. We like People's mix because they brew the tea fresh. As for the name, no definitive answer could be learned from those who regularly partake. Perhaps it comes from flip-flop. Or maybe it's just meant to be drunk on those searing summer days so hot you can't do anything but flop down and sip a cool one.
Situated within a block of county hall and the old courthouse, this breezy cafetería brews the black gold that fuels the machinery of Miami-Dade government (such as it is). Though the kind souls behind the counter are mostly Nicaraguan, they've mastered the ancient Cuban secret of making espresso both strong as battery acid and sweet as an abuelita's smile. Your next trip to the main library will be incomplete without a trip to Cacique's Corner for a colada that will make your tongue bristle like an angry hedgehog.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®