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.

BlueSea
South Beach has been sushi central for almost a decade now, and in the past few years the ranks of stellar traditionalists such as Maiko, Sushi Rock, and Sushi Hana have been swelled by star-power newcomers like Bambù and Bond St. Lounge -- not to mention Nemo's super Shoji Sushi outpost taking off with a bang. Whew! But currently the best Miami sushi, with proven seaside freshness and solid creativity, can be found at BlueSea. This tiny (eighteen seats -- all at one marble, diner-style countertop) eatery has somehow escaped terminal trendiness despite its location in the lobby of the hyperhyped Delano Hotel. Instead of a star chef, BlueSea has a layered sashimi arrangement of hamachi and avocado with rich blackstrap rum and lime dipping sauce; a sesame-flavored tuna tataki tower with spicy daikon radish chips; a crisp salmon skin-garnished plate of green tea noodles topped with a quail egg and spicy mayo; imported Russian caviar; and an assortment of the usual sushi fare. All come with a very non-Japanese assortment of mix-and-match dipping sauces. Don't dig standard soy stuff? Try inventive Indonesian asam manis, rich Thai peanut, incendiary Korean kim chee, or citrusy ponzu. And though BlueSea doesn't take reservations, waiting in the Philippe Starck-designed space, with its cocktail bar and comfy couches, is no great hardship.
Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe
Strolling along Collins Avenue you can single out Argentines from other Latin Americans by the telltale gourd in hand filled with a stuff called yerba maté. This is not just a drink. According to those from the pampas, yerba maté is a gentle diuretic that possesses incredible powers: It stimulates mental alertness, aids in weight loss, cleanses the colon, energizes the body, accelerates the healing process, relieves stress, calms allergies, fortifies the immune system, and increases longevity (we dare any Chinese herb to beat that!). But drinking it also is a cultural and social affair dictated by rules of consumption. The Guarani Indians of South America were the first to begin sipping yerba maté (commonly known as maté), a practice that was picked up by the gauchos, who would share a maté around the campfire to enhance their communal bonds. (In traditional maté ritual, the cup often is shared among close friends and family using the same straw, or bombilla.) The characters in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land became "water brothers" and "water sisters" when they drank from the same maté gourd. Now you too can join the family. Buenos Aires Bakery offers the largest variety of maté brands: Taragui, Rosamonte, La Merced, Canarias, Nobleza Guacha, Union, and our personal favorite, Cruz de Malta.

First, an apology. We know the place looks as if it has been attacked by sea breezes and salt water for the past couple of decades. We know it's not much to look at. We know if you're not in the know you'd drive right on by. That's because of what you don't know: the genteel atmosphere. The unobtrusive service. And the creamiest, richest peanut sauce in the industry. We like ours over the "swimming angels" -- chicken, shrimp, steamed broccoli, and tomatoes. But we also can't resist items like the honey beef, the squid with mushrooms, or the duck curry with pineapple, cashews, and peas. As an added bonus, Siam Bayshore also features a sushi bar, which hardly is an afterthought given the quality of the raw goods -- and it's certainly less fattening than the Thai fare. But when it comes to the blue ribbon, to be honest we're just not all that concerned about the ol' scale, unless it's the one we use to weigh quality. In this case that's off the scale.
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.
At first glance the gustatory enticements on this stretch of Biscayne Boulevard seem flatter than the landscape. The eye gets caught on the bright ubiquitous colors and familiar logos of McDonald's, KFC, Subway, and Taco Bell and sees little else. But the neighborhood also boasts eateries that speak not to the comfort of national fast-food dining but to the richness that waves of immigrants have brought to Miami's cuisine. Within a few blocks there is Honduran, Nicaraguan, Peruvian, and Haitian cuisine served at the kind of down-at-the-heels-looking joints that you pray have great food. Housed in a building with a lime-green shingled awning on the corner of 30th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, Delicias del Mar Peruano offers fresh seafood seasoned with lime, basil, mint, garlic and other pungent flavorings. Portions are large enough for two. The fiery jalapeño salsa with sliced baguettelike bread is worth a visit alone. The restaurant prepares six kinds of ceviche, heat adjusted to order; seafood soup (with octupi, large shrimp, and mussels in a clear broth); and perfect arroz con mariscos (shrimp with yellow rice) with flaky rice and just-cooked shrimp. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just like a neighborhood restaurant should be.

Best Food Stop On The Drive To Key West

The Cracked Conch

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.
This isn't a big sweaty American slab of beef hanging out of a bun. It's a Cuban twist on the he-man classic and thus must have some pork in it somewhere. And so it does -- a slice of roast beef atop a slice of roast pork, lettuce, and tomato, all pressed between two pieces of toasted Cuban bread. Melts in your mouth, not all over your shirt.
Perricone's Marketplace & Cafe
Photo by Lynn Parks
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®