Okay, it's an archaic term. So we'll go with the euphemism and allow that Andre's "sunset specials" are the best in the biz. And that's not only because the restaurant offers complete meals, including soup or salad and dessert and featuring elegant pastas and tender meat dishes, for a measly nine dollars. It's because the let's-make-a-meal deal goes on and on: Monday through Thursday, Andre's offers "between specials" as well, which are full-course meals plus a glass of wine ranging from $14.75 to $16.75. These are so tough to beat because chef-owner Andre Filosa, a legendary local aficionado of Northern Italian fare and French-influenced dishes, puts out a great product. Quite frankly the more you get of Andre's at the cheaper the price, the more you can afford to go. And if that's your goal, as it is ours, then all we can say is, "Score!"
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.
Located just a few blocks west of where downtown Miami begins to get graceful and tree-lined, this little shop has been satisfying Miami's pita, falafel, and baba ghannouj cravings since 1954. Okashah Monem and his sons have stocked the shelves and refrigerators with all manner of Middle Eastern goods, plus music and videotapes and an odd assortment of trinkets. The shop also features a bakery and deli offering a falafel and pita sandwich for $2.50, as well as plates of kibbeh, tabbouleh, shish kebab, and baba ghannouj, for $3 to $5. A small collection of plastic outdoor tables and chairs is crammed into the deli area, perfect for a quiet lunch spent contemplating the comforting piles of nuts, cheeses, and breads. Or spend the time eavesdropping on the teasing exchanges between the Monems and their many regular customers. The Oriental Bakery & Grocery is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Fact of the matter is, Donna's is a market with a restaurant inside. So you can purchase a number of gourmet foodstuffs to take back to your office or home with you to snack on in front of the TV. But if you're smart -- as we know you are -- you'll order take-out from the bistro menu. Summer-yellow cherry-tomato gazpacho travels exceptionally well, even with the addition of the Maine peeky toe crab centerpiece (though you may have to do a little fishing to find it once you get it home). Chef Donna Wynter and sous chef Philip Brock also pack up a delish "mosaic of Montrachet," goat cheese seasoned with roasted vegetables and then wrapped and baked with thin slices of potato, that beats the chips you pour out of a bag any day. Sturdier fishes like the salmon steak with Creole mustard survive beautifully, and even sweets like the Bahama Mama -- a mélange of sautéed mango, papaya, and pineapple in clarified butter and dark rum -- give the phrase "home-replacement meals" a whole new (and truly valid) meaning.
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 Cracked Conch is not to be confused with the Cracked Conch Café further down on Marathon Key, more expensive and not as down-home-tasty. The Cracked Conch also is not to be found by street address; it may have one for official reasons, but, the attitude about official stuff being what it is in the Keys, the address is not visible as drivers whiz down the Overseas Highway. Just look on the left side of the road, around Mile Marker 105 in Key Largo, for a small overgrown wooden shack with lots of hopeful cats on the roof licking their chops. Relax. You're there. Also there are a rustic room with booths, not tables; a terrific country jukebox; an informal take-one-now-leave-one-later bookcase of delicious vacation trash reading; even more delicious always-fresh local seafood and homemade specialties (several variety platters let you sample most everything including -- surprise!-- tender deep-fried cracked conch); a beer list longer than the food menu; and a great sense of humor: A note on the menu states that the Conch is run by "a very close staff and family. Close to broke. Close to insanity." The Cracked Conch is closed Wednesday. But if you begin a Key West weekend on Wednesday, you've been listening to waaay too many Jimmy Buffett songs.
The Idaho potatoes are cut fresh every day, long and thin. The restaurant buys them from a distributor who ensures uniform size and quality. The vegetable oil in which they are fried is changed daily. "And we make every batch to order," says manager Patricia Ferraro. After all, the restaurant has a reputation at stake that precedes its three-year existence on South Beach. The flagship Joe Allen on Manhattan's 46th Street is 35 years old. Sister restaurants in Paris and London both boast more than twenty years. And among them all are certain simple, signature American dishes: the calf's liver, the sirloin, the hamburger, and, of course, the French fry (which, grouped as a serving, costs $3.50). Joe Allen is open from 11:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. daily.
The boulevard was abuzz when Pascal Oudin opened his eponymous eatery last year, and the place certainly hasn't lost any of its charge. Chef Oudin has crafted a contemporary French menu that's exciting but accessible, leaving the steak frites and escargots to neighbor Les Halles (which prepares those dishes simply and beautifully). Pascal's offerings aren't extensive, but with captivating choices like tenderloin of beef with snails, wild mushrooms, and garlic with Bordelaise sauce; magret duck breast with savoy cabbage; and sautéed yellowfin tuna au poivre (for those who can't do without peppercorns), diners will still need time to peruse and decide. And when the dessert arrives, warm and lovely after all those other courses, you'll be reminded that it's never too early to plan for the future. The 55-seat restaurant is intimate without seeming cliquish, and the waitstaff is attentive and knowledgeable of the menu and the wine list. Prices are reflective of the fare's essence: not over the top. Pascal's is open for lunch, too, where such sensibility is even more obvious.
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.
There's an old Cuban proverb: "The shrimp that falls asleep is sucked away by the tide." No one is really sure what that means, but this much is clear: If it's seafood you're looking for, go to the source. Situated at the water's edge on soon-to-be-overdeveloped Watson Island, Casablanca features the freshest seafood in the area. Just-caught yellowtail, grouper, dolphin, and snapper, still surprised to find themselves out of the water, stare up from ice-filled trays. Lobster claws and shellfish are piled high next to what appear to have been entire shrimp villages. And goodies from the sea flow in throughout the day, thanks to Casablanca's location. Just don't fall asleep. You'll get sucked away by the tide.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®