Bon-Bon Bakery
Just the name, written in big old-fashioned script above the entrance to this 32-year-old bakery, makes you think of sweet treats. And here there's an abundance of just about every Latin-American-style treat that can be baked. Homemade tamales simmer in a crockery pot by the cash register, and periodically a kitchen helper carries out fresh loaves of Cuban bread. In the morning and afternoon, people stop in on their way to or from work to pick up empanadas or pan gloria, maybe some pasteles de guayaba, cookies or cupcakes for the kids. The cakes at Bon-Bon are beautiful (it's best to order first and pick up later to ensure freshness), and the pies are dense and heavily crusted. The chocolate, coconut, and almond brazos -- a rolled log of cake that looks like an arm -- are festively decorated and even more fun for the palate.

Was it propaganda? Was it fixed? Was it a given? In order: No, no, and yes. When Pascal Oudin, one of our all-time favorite chefs of Grand Café fame, finally opened his own restaurant in the Gables, we knew it was only a matter of time till Best of Miami named it a winner. That's because the French-trained Oudin, who has noodled around the area with interim projects like the erstwhile Sweet Donna's, has always deserved a neoclassic place in the Florida sun -- and we're determined to keep him here. So simply put, he keeps producing dishes like lobster bisque with fish quenelles or his justly famous soufflés, and we'll keep buying 'em. And giving him the kudos he deserves.
Tony's represents Miami-Dade County the way it used to be, with a small-town rural feel. Breakfast at this greasy spoon begins at 5:00 a.m., daybreak being the time farmers usually go to work. Plopped in the middle of each of the two dining rooms are two big tables, one square, one round. These are where regulars who are eating alone but want to chat with their neighbors can sit. A prime topic of conversation is the weather (did we mention this is rural farm territory?). The food at Tony's is basic, but one can usually fill up on a good, complete breakfast for less than five dollars. Still doubt that this establishment isn't just another joint shoveling hash for cash? A toy train motors through the restaurant on tracks built high into the wall -- can't get more country than that.

Norman Brothers Produce
Alex Broadwell
Incredible but true: Peruse the produce shelves of local markets here in one of the nation's major tomato-growing counties, and can you find a truly ripe, truly red specimen spurting with sweet-tart juice, even during seasons when mouthwatering morsels are nearly falling off the vines half an hour southwest in the Redland? Nah. Not so you can count on it, anyway. What you'll probably find is a "vine-ripened tomatoes" sign over a pile of pinkish orbs hard as billiard balls. Except at Norman Brothers. If the store's buyers can't find truly ripe tomatoes -- local if possible or from somewhere like the Carolinas -- shoppers won't find tomatoes on the shelves. And in addition to carrying a full line of the usual suspects (in an unusual state of peak ripeness) and rare specialty-shop produce, the store is a treasure trove of tropical fruits and vegetables that grow and thrive in our climes yet are almost never seen in our stores, such as fresh tamarind and jicama. There's also a sizable selection of prepared foods, cheeses, fresh fish, and fancy imported items, but pricewise Norman Brothers is no ultra-upscale gourmet shoppe. You won't find a better buy on whole fresh Florida lobsters -- in season, naturally -- anywhere.
Shorty's Bar-B-Q
Anais Alexandre
Once was a time when picking a good key lime pie was simple. A half-dozen well-known ingredients and a straightforward preparation added up to a consistent product that would always deliver that sweet-tart bite. You don't meddle with a good thing once it's perfected. But this is South Florida. People meddle. So you never know just what to expect from a particular establishment. Some places produce a sort of lime-flavor cheesecakelike confection, while others prepare a bright green yet bland sliver of custardy pie. Let's not even get into the variety of crusts and overdone whipped cream or meringue toppings. Ideally you want a pie that's a pale green and tart as a Granny Smith apple but with an underlying creamy sweetness that takes the edge off. It's a good finish to a meal of sweet, smoky barbecue ribs. Shorty's, a south-county throwback to the Fifties, delivers both of these well. Belly up to the long wooden benches and eat yourself silly. But save room for the bakery-delivered pie, $2.79 worth of simple delight. Open Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11:00 p.m.
Football Sandwich Shop
Just north of the bustle and hustle of Little Haiti and just south of the suburban meadow of Miami Shores squats a 28-year-old shrine to past greatness. Various shades of pink and the words "Home of the Zonker" transform what once was a gas station into a place where mere salami, ham, Provolone cheese, and a generous layer of mayonnaise become divine inspiration for less than four dollars. Take your zonker and a beer to one of the outside tables, or lean against the guardrail overlooking the Little River as it flows past the parking lot. But sit inside if you want the real deal. The walls are plastered with posters and memorabilia from Old Hollywood and every major sport in the Western Hemisphere (except soccer -- like that counts). There's a virile young Ronnie Reagan as gunslinger, Jackie Gleason as pool shark, Marilyn Monroe as pneumatic nitwit, the Babe and Joe DiMaggio as baseball icons. Even the Hialeah racetrack has a spot on the wall. But it's Dan Marino who will take your breath away. Really. An artist lovingly drew just the head and naked shoulders of Number 13 rising from a sea of blue, as if he were the Greek god Poseidon. Lightning sparks distantly in an ominous black sky as dolphins leap over Marino's prodigious shoulders and into the water. Eat it up.
Owner and chef Philippe Torchut is French and he bakes every morning with that joie du vivre and that je ne sais quoi. What we do know is that these croissants are fluffy in the middle and a little crisp around the edges. What more does one need to know? His staff also serves a proper café au lait (and a variety of sandwiches and entrées, si'l vous plaît).

Best Restaurant For The Hearing Impaired

Tantra

Tantra Restaurant & Lounge
Perhaps it's the music, spun by DJs who damaged their own hearing so long ago they have ear-practice pads rather than ear drums. Possibly it's the ever-playing Kama Sutra movie, inspiring both moans of delight and screams of "No, not again!" Maybe it's the fashionable crowd, whose very clothing is loud, or the ever-present buzz that follows celebrity diners Jim Carrey or Will Smith like tinnitus. But the requirements for getting past the big boys holding the ropes at Tantra no longer stop at having a reservation. Now you have to be able to lip-read and speak in American Sign Language as well. And it's no use throwing a tantrum -- the only person likely to hear well enough to pay attention is, well, you.
Versailles Restaurant
Photo by Phillip Pessar via Flickr Creative Commons
This mini-empire of restaurants and cafeterías would have been cerrado a long time ago if the most basic ingredient to any Cuban, let alone Miamian, repast missed the mark. One could say La Carreta's success is founded on a thimbleful of thick, dark, sweetly bitter coffee. The restaurants are able to consistently produce cafecito that is neither too sweet nor too watery. If you don't cheat on the amount of grounds used for each brew, your customers will happily return. "The secret is to use the best quality coffee and buy the whole bean," explains Felix Jimenez, manager of the chain's flagship Calle Ocho locale. La Carreta buys from different suppliers, primarily Pilon, and grinds the beans fresh each day. Jimenez adds: "The other secret is to use a ceramic cup. This is what gives it the special taste. If you use a paper cup, it won't taste the same." Hmm, there's a certain coffee chain from Seattle that might want to know this.
We usually don't rely on anybody's good taste but our own, so the fact that this high-end Italian destination has attracted notice over its decadeslong life span from reviewers ranging from Wine Spectator to Fodor's doesn't impress us all that much. But the fare here, along with the sophisticated stylings from the service staff, speaks for itself: stuffed pastas topped with Béchamel sauce; lamb chops glistening with juice; snapper so fresh it, well, snaps. We also should note that given the rising prices in our South Beach establishments, suddenly this menu doesn't read all that rich. Just richly delicious, and reliable, to boot.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®