Caesar salad has become such a mainstay of contemporary cuisine that even fast-food joints offer a version. But we like places where the salad is tossed fresh and made to order with whatever you want put into it. The friendly salad makers at Perricone's serve a hearty and delicate caesar at the rustic restaurant's deli counter. With or without anchovies, this salad is a winner. The crisp romaine leaves are coated in a creamy egg and garlic dressing, accented with a perfect hint of Parmesan. Have it with a nice chardonnay and your lunch in Perricone's tropical garden beneath the banyans becomes downright dreamy.
It's Wednesday, hump day, and the morning is closing in on you like a python around your neck. You sidle up to the counter at Enriqueta's and order the café con leche, wondering how in the world you're going to get through the next eight hours. The waitress calls you "amor" and sets down a steaming mug of milk and a little stainless-steel pot with espresso coffee in it, so finely brewed there's a delicate foam on top. Yeah, that's the stuff. You mix just the right amount of coffee into the milk. Today it's full-on, dump the caffeine in. You're going to need all the help you can get. You sip. The coffee is sweet and strong, the milk is warm and comforting. Suddenly things don't seem that bad. There's that cutie on the second floor you want to ask out, and you just remembered your boss is gone half the day. You take another sip. Yeah, things are looking up. You smile. The waitress smiles back. Best damn dollar you've spent in a long time.

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.
The main body of the White Lion Café is nestled in a converted Twenties-era Florida bungalow-style home. Constructed of Dade County pine, the house is warm and hurricane-sturdy. Placed around the rooms are touchstones of a bygone time: a wooden wall phone, a metal icebox, a Fifties-era Coca-Cola machine. Even the prices, which happily feel a few years behind the times, seem faithful to the antique ambiance. There is no corresponding stuffiness, either. Intermixed among the pieces are whimsical notes that help set a light tone. On the wall of one room is a mounted jackalope (a rabbit with horns, for those who have never seen one). Attached to the side of the house is a covered patio where animal-shape Christmas lights are strung from the rafters, picnic tables stand ready, and cats lounge underfoot. In contrast to the antique theme, the food is prepared with fresh ingredients. Simple fare like fried chicken and grilled snapper is tastily cooked to perfection. Sometimes though, the old ways still are the best. No new-fangled instant mashed potatoes served here. Delightfully seasoned, they are made by hand.
Sango's has won our hearts before as the best Caribbean take-out -- but why stop there? Rosie Hollingshead's jerk is so good, her little counter in Perrine can take on all dining-room challengers. If the huge portions don't fill you up, the Arawak-inspired pepper pot and pumpkin soup will. Or do true honor to Jamaica with the national dish of ackee and codfish. If you're carrying a meal home for a little romance, be sure to order the home-brewed love juice, Sango's planter's punch. If that's not enough to get in the mood, stop in at Aquarius Records next door while you're waiting for your order and pick up some deep luvy dub to listen to back home while you tickle your honey's lips with coconut drops.
Nobody denatures raw-fish proteins in citrus juices like the Peruvians. So it should come as no surprise that this low-key restaurant that calls itself Chabuca's Place, dedicated to the memory of famous Peruvian composer Chabuca Granda, serves some damn good ceviche for $12. Get it Chabuca-style and you'll get to try an unusual starchy corn from Peru. If you must have your fish tempered with heat, there are plenty of dishes from which to choose, including an excellent mixed seafood platter that comes as a mound of rice loaded with shrimp, mussels, scallops, squid rings, and itty-bitty octopi. The restaurant is open from noon till 10:00 p.m. most days, and until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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.
This food is so good you have to pass through a metal detector just to get to it. Hang a right just past the bathrooms in the Juvenile Justice Center, and there it is, the colorful little trailer from which at-risk teenagers on probation in the juvenile court system serve up fresh food for low prices five days a week. You can get sandwiches, salads, chicken wings, and daily specials flavored with vegetables and herbs grown onsite by the teens. Park yourself at a picnic table or lounge in the sun-filled courtyard where you can watch the mingling of cops, judges, social workers, and children. An average breakfast or lunch will run you from $2.75 to $4 and is almost always healthier than fast food. Teen Cuisine also offers catering.
Cheese and wine can be a match made in Heaven, but only when in harmonious union. Such are the laws of nature. At Whole Foods Market another perfect pair can offer advice on how to achieve this delicate balance. Specialty cheese buyer Claudia Roldan will offer suggestions on choosing and combining just the right cheeses for any occasion, from the grainy Parmigiano Reggiano for an authentic Italian feast, to the drunken goat cheese from Spain. There are more than 35 cheeses from around the globe, and wine connoisseur Marguerite Roldan, related to Claudia by marriage, knows how to pair them with just the right wine from France, Italy, Chile, or Spain. For instance the Pyrenees with pepper, a semisoft rich and creamy cheese with a buttery taste, goes well with a red wine from Chile, offers Marguerite. The sumptuous Belletoile Brie, which Claudia says is perfect with raspberries, should be flushed down with a light red French wine. And Leerdammer, a baby Swiss, should be combined only with a sauvignon blanc. For further education on cheeses and wines, there's even a small shelf with reference books on the subject.
A nice big bowl of hot chili doesn't require the commitment that a cheeseburger does. To get the full enjoyment from a burger, you have to eat it while it's piping hot, straight through, before the juices seep into the bun and before the cheese coagulates. A bowl of chili can be spooned into your mouth at a leisurely pace, between gulps of beer. It even tastes better that way. A spoonful of chili, a sip of beer, a spoonful, well, you get the point. The beer cuts through the tomato flavor and gives your tongue a fizz. The tomato in the chili makes the back of your throat feel good. If you're doing some serious beer drinking, there is no better accompaniment than an order of chili. With cheese, sliced jalapeño peppers, and onions on top, like they serve it at Tobacco Road, it's a balanced meal in a bowl: protein in the hamburger, niacin in the kidney beans, vitamins A and C in the tomato, calcium in the cheese, and antioxidants in the onions. Sit at the pecky wood bar at the place that boasts the oldest liquor license in Miami and order another Foster's. You all fired up?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®