Shorty's Bar-B-Q
Anais Alexandre
Since Miami no longer is the nation's southernmost city but Latin America's northernmost, a yearning for Old South Florida cuisine rarely becomes urgent. But after a day gaping at gators in the Glades, nothing hits the spot like cracker cuisine, primo of which is barbecue. And the primo place at which to get it is the Pit, conveniently situated at the outskirts of the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail, miles before the road morphs into Calle Ocho. The décor in this small spot is perfect for a Florida barbecue joint: rustic wood booths inside, tiki-hut-covered picnic tables outside. And the food is even more perfect. This is genuine you-can-smell-the-smoke-for-miles pit barbecue, cooked slow over smoldering blackjack oak. The tender yet toothy ribs are terrific. But hard-core classicists order the $3.95 triple-winnerer: juicy pulled pork topped with crunchy, slightly sweet chopped coleslaw right on the sandwich, just like in North Carolina. And for noncarnivores, there's elegant fried fresh catfish. Among side orders, lightly floured crisp real onion rings are required eating, as are tangy-sweet barbecue beans. For dessert skip the overly sweet key lime pie and order another beer, since the Pit has imported Beck's and some Hank Jr. (or Senior) on the jukebox.
The name means "Russian ravioli sold here." Scoop up your fill of pale meat dumplings, pierogi stuffed with cheese, potato or cabbage stew, and cherry varenikis for about four dollars a plate. A variety of soups includes Moscow-style borscht. Communication with the staff is limited if you don't know Russian; they do, however, speak the universal language of grunt and point. The little bistro is situated inside the Driftwood hotel, in a second-floor overlook bubble. The front window looks out over Collins Avenue, with its pedestrians blithely ignoring traffic and lines forming outside Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House across the street. The view out back is of the hotel's innards and a small tiki bar and, beyond that, sparkling Biscayne Bay. For some reason the modest dining room is divided into "bistro" and "café," with signs proclaiming that patrons are expected to tip ten percent if they sit on the bistro side of the room and fifteen percent if they sit on the café side. They claim to be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Those wacky Slavs.

Latin American Cafeteria
Let's hear from the Cubans on this one. Although it's won Best Cuban Sandwich three times, isn't this still your favorite place for more than just that? Ask your viejo -- he'll be sitting with us. This particular location was chosen not just because it is housed in an old Arby's with a huge U-shape counter, but because it serves outstanding Cuban food at amazingly reasonable prices. And some form of free entertainment -- checking out the people on the other side of the counter or listening to myriad conversations going on --is always included. The waitresses, though not young, deliver a healthy amount of attitude, no doubt from dealing with all the humanity that pops in after midnight for a batido de fresa, with their homies along for the ride. The staff is made up of seasoned pros; if you're a regular, they'll start your order the minute they see you walk in. Your choices are varied no matter if you're sitting at the counter, the outside dining area, or just picking up something at the ventanita. A breaded steak that hangs over the platter it's so big? It's here. An assortment of sandwiches alongside full meals of fish, beef, and chicken prepared numerous ways? Here. And the place is known for pouring thick, creamy milkshakes in flavors ranging from vanilla to mamey. Mom's house is the only place to get a better Cuban meal, and even she has her days off.
The loiterers near this hipster health food market's deli department hover for a good reason. Their pacing near the salad bar and fancy meats section may seem aimless, but they are waiting for a signal that comes just before 10:00 p.m. When the deli guy begins to wrap leftover gourmet sandwiches in plastic, the rush is on to grab fine grub for a buck. Join the hungry bargain hunters for the best dollar meal in town. The upscale deli usually sells its Sonoma chicken wraps and albacore tuna melts for four to five dollars a pop. But once the tofu and spinach wraps and smoked turkey with Provolone panini are removed from the display, they go for just a few cents more than a Snickers bar. Like most deals in town, however, this friendly markdown is threatened by heated competition. The fire sale has cultivated a core group of regulars who queue up well before the prices plummet. Be prepared to duke it out for that mozzarella, basil, and tomato focaccia. Early birds try to cart off as many dollar sandwiches as they can, but if you arrive by 9:45, you're in a good position to score. Wild Oats' Pinecrest store on South Dixie Highway also unloads its leftovers at sale prices, but a dollar won't get you one -- those are sold at half price.
It's the eternal Zen question: How many links does a chain make? In chef-proprietor Mark Militello's case, we think the answer is several, all located in the South Florida area. With the recent addition of Mark's CityPlace in West Palm Beach, "Trade-Mark" Militello has expanded the empire he began in North Miami, then moved to Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and South Beach. Many chefs of his James Beard Award-winning caliber think a namesake restaurant is sufficient, but we know when it comes to talent, a single venue is only one hand clapping. But four -- now there's some real regional noise in the making.
Most of us are introduced as children to The Sandwich, various processed foodstuff squeezed between two slices of white bread. People ask, "Did you eat?" and we reply, "I had a sandwich." Everyone knows it isn't the same thing. Well, everyone except the Sandwich Mill's John Rossetti, whose inspired creations include the Tuscan Tower (roasted Italian vegetables with basil cream on a French batard), the Smokestack (roasted pork, caramelized onion, stewed apple, and vinegar mayo, also on a French batard), and the Taste-o-Tradition (roasted chicken, caramelized onion, and sweet potato spread on sourdough). And Rossetti makes everything, including half-a-dozen varieties of bread, right on the premises. Now that's good eatin'.
Molina's Ranch Restaurant
Molina's has a large and dedicated fan club; it's certainly among the best Cuban restaurants in town. Thus Molina's black bean soup, as a staple of any Cuban cuisine, has to be perfect, and it is. Very hearty, a nice thick broth enriched with just enough of the right seasonings to complement, not overpower, the succulent legume.

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Azul

Azul Restaurant
A view overlooking the bay, back toward Miami, and down sparkling Brickell Avenue is the first thing you notice when walking into the elegant, nouveau-Asian lobby of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Then, at the entrance to the restaurant, you glimpse the waterfall that separates the open kitchen from the dining area. The absolute succulence of the dishes devised by celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein dazzles you next. And finally a bill that surpasses monthly car and mortgage payments combined makes you gasp. If you stopped at the bar first, refinancing could be necessary. But if you've gotten someone else to foot the bill, this is the place to dine (and to stay warm; house pashmina shawls are available to wrap the chilly). Hamachi carpaccio in an Asian-spiced citrus sauce to start? On your own dime, maybe such an appetizer would be out of the question. On someone's else's -- go for it! It's sublime. Foods from the sea remain the best choice for a main course (no need to look at prices this time!). Signature Bernstein dressings, often combining an Asian flavor (a nuac nam or hoisin sauce?) with, say, rose water or papaya, enhance snapper, sea bass, and other fresh cuts. Add up the outdoor vista, the indoor décor, and the internal satisfaction, and Azul reaches the pinnacle of, well, good taste.
Buried in a tiny nondescript minimall, Macau does not look impressive from the outside. And the interior décor is humble, too. But so is the décor in many of China's best restaurants. And Macau's food is Miami's most authentically Chinese. Since Macau is an ex-Portuguese colony and major South China trading port island, people from all over the world have passed through for centuries. So chefs there know how to punt -- and so does Miami Macau's chef/owner May Yuen. If some menu item sounds appealing but not quite appropriate, negotiate; May is happy to improvise for diners with special diets or tastes. Even confirmed carnivores, for instance, will find an unlisted invention of vegetable ho fan (usually called chow fun), chewy broad bean noodles sautéed dry-style with snow peas, bean sprouts, and several other fresh Chinese vegetables. There also are at least a dozen nonmenu specials nightly, often featuring exotic seasonal ingredients. Don't miss delicate sautéed pea shoots with crab or deceptively simple-sounding Maine lobster with ginger and scallion when on the board. But some of Macau's tastiest treats are available always, like salty pepper shrimp. To ensure protection against Macau's only likely disappointment, phone first. Since May is the only cook, Macau closes when her kid has a cold.
Until there is an outbreak of foot and beak disease (or, God forbid, mad chicken) this Anglo version of Pollo Tropical is still a tantalizing investment for a quick healthful meal. The Brickell locale is a favorite lunchtime or postworkout pit stop for the calorie- and cash-obsessed professionals of our shimmering financial district. (You're usually out of there for less than five bucks.) The Kitchen is a pioneer in the merger of salad and entrée: broiled chicken (or beans for the truly health-minded vegetarian) on a bed of rice with fresh tomato, lettuce, and sour cream on top. A clever variety of salsas/dressings make this culinary conglomerate complete.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®