Tobacco Road
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?
One of Havana's most beloved attractions for tourists and locals alike is the Coppelia ice cream stand in the Vedado district. There are those who believe Cubans would rather give up rum, or roast pig, than live without ice cream. Thus Miami's Coppelia has quite a reputation to live up to. It does -- even if it looks like any other strip-center storefront in Flagami. In a random survey, one Cuban visiting from Havana pronounced the Miami ice cream "better" than the Cuban Coppelia (which is a state brand sold throughout the nation). The flavors and the special sundaes here all recall those offered on the island, though in greater variety: marvelous mamey and mango, coconut, orange-pineapple, and peach. Of course you can't go wrong with the all-American flavors like chocolate almond, chocolate chip, and cukis con crema (cookies and cream). A high note: the Pico Turquino sundae, an original Coppelia creation named after Cuba's highest mountain peak and featuring clouds of whipped cream raining multiple flavors of syrup over mounds of ice cream perched on a cliff of cake.
In 1994, back when Lincoln Road was just emerging from its rutted, nearly abandoned phase, Alfredo Gonzalez and his sons Alex and Adrian opened David's Café II. Their original David's Café had been up and running on Collins Avenue since 1977, offering Cuban fare in a diner setting. But the family was looking toward the future, and it looked to be on the Road. They were right. Their business has only grown since then, expanding to add a café to David's II in 1999. But the Gonzalezes never strayed from their roots serving simple, tasteful Cuban dishes -- such as tostones stuffed with seafood, and churrasco steak -- even as all manner of hip restaurants (drag-queen waiters) and celebrity-owned bistros have opened and closed around them. Perhaps their biggest challenge came a year ago, when the weedlike Starbucks set up shop across the street selling $1.50 espressos. Despite it all David's has thrived. Thank God there's still a place on the Road where locals can buy 50-cent cafecitos. The café is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The restaurant is open from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday.
Ah, the Grove, where people live in trees, bartenders look like clowns, and rickshas run wild through heavy traffic. Like a lot of Grovites, Mezzanotte is a little kooky. But in a good way. Take, for instance, the bistecca pulcinella: steak with peppercorn, brandy cream, and a touch of demi-glace. Kind of crazy! Or the insalata parmigiana: mushroom salad with thin slices of Parmesan cheese, virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Positively flaky! Or how about the calamari della casa: calamari, scallops, fresh tomato, peas, and a touch of cognac. Now that's outlandish! Or the pollo contadino: chicken with sirloin steak, sausage, mushrooms, potato, garlic oil, and white wine vinegar. Absolutely wacky! Even more insane is the fact that, in an area once bereft of good restaurants, Mezzanotte has several fabulous contenders, including Anokha (Indian), Baleen (seafood and steak), Bice (Italian), Le Bouchon du Grove (French), and Las Culebrinas (Cuban/Spanish). But Mezzanotte's prices (beef, chicken, and seafood entrées start at $14.50) are less absurd than most of them.
The old and rather large woman makes her unlikely way through an unruly flotilla of tables crammed with far too many revelers. She tips her ample belly first one way and then the other over each table as she makes the usual rounds. Roses for your lady friend? Perhaps the secrets of her palm are itching to be told? Most ignore her, too busy with wine and plates of tapas that keep magically appearing on the tables. Such tapas! These are appetizers that would make the king and queen of Spain feel welcome, assuming they'd be inclined to while away a humid night in a Calle Ocho tavern. There are some 35 different tapas from which to choose -- from hot, salty, garlic-kissed shrimp, squid, and chorizo dishes, to a cool, fluffy Spanish tortilla or creamy potato salad. The median price hovers around five dollars per plate. It's Thursday evening, so the two flamenco dancers are stomping up on the small stage in time with the guitarist, who is singing Iberian tunes, from fast party music to forlorn Gypsy tales. At eleven o'clock a basket of white candles is passed from hand to hand in preparation for a group sing, a prayer to the Spanish saint, La Virgen del Rocio. Come before eight o'clock on Tuesday and Thursday evenings if you want a table near the action.

Have it your way -- a real tuna sandwich. Broiled, blackened, sautéed, it's this big thick tuna steak that dwarfs the roll on which it sits. You can pile on the lettuce and tomato and tartar sauce, or go with a simple squirt of lemon juice, whatever rows your boat. It's a lot of fish for $7.99.

The Pantry
This Jamaican joint is reminiscent of a grandmother's kitchen in Kingston. But no need to travel to the island and make good with locals in order to have delicious braised oxtail or curried goat. Try the brown stew fish and fried dumplings. Until 3:30 p.m. eat the best jerk chicken in town for just $3.99. Thirst quenchers include a variety of Jamaican sodas, sea moss, and ginger beer.

Spris
What makes Spris' baked-to-order, personal pies supreme: a pizza chef from Naples, originating city of modern custom-made whole pies; a wood-burning oven, indispensable for those irresistible charcoaled thin crusts; and fresh, authentic adornments. Frankly the recent opening of also-authentic-Italian Piola just a few blocks away on Alton Road made this category a close call this year. The newer pizzeria also bakes its pies in a real forno a legna, and crusts are a bit more appealingly crunchy around the edges from the get-go. At Spris diners must request a crisp crust, or slices will arrive limp enough that folding them double, or eating with a knife and fork (as is customary in Naples), pretty much is de rigueur. But what really makes Spris' pizzas tops is what's on top: The tomato sauce is full-flavored and spicy enough to stand up to whatever other embellishments are piled on -- fresh porcini mushrooms, quality mozzarella, and raw arugula (thrown on at the last minute) is a typical combo. There's no canned crapola and no precious Hollywood designer-pizza pretension at Spris, just the toppings you'd find in Italy.
Never underestimate the power of an old maxim: Power is as power does. If you want to be perceived as powerful, act it. And eat some power protein for lunch. At this Brazilian rodizio eatery, you don't have to be a glutton to prove you're worthy. Order the "executive lunch," a complete meal for $12.99, which includes soup, caesar salad, side dishes, and a main course ranging from sirloin steak to salmon in white wine-caper-mushroom sauce. Or go all out and sample everything on the 30-item salad bar, then give the green light to the skewer-carrying meat carvers, who will feed you until you feel like having a power hurl, for $25.99. 'Course we don't recommend that if you're trying to impress a client or a senior partner. What we do advise: Check out the free valet parking, then tip big. Your power is in the (doggy) bag.

Picanha's Grille
When Picanha's opened a couple of years ago in the former Tark's, which was attached to a Dairy Queen, we thought it would be another restaurant serf, dredging the lower realm of the dining public for customers. We're not ashamed to admit we were wrong about this honest Brazilian eatery, which is named for the cut of rump roast called a pincanha. Indeed the eatery was so successful with both Brazilians and the uninitiated alike that it recently took its meaty linguincinha sausages and rich prawns sautéed in palm oil and coconut milk to a more conducive venue: the former Mark's Place. Now the Grille is even more packed, especially on Thursdays for Brazilian-style karaoke and caiprinhas, and on weekends for executive chef Edson Milto's traditional feijoada. And here we thought nothing could ever take the Place of Mark's.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®