Cafe Floridita
George Martinez
This sliver of a restaurant is in old downtown, which with every passing day seems to gain more and more flavor as a thriving ultramodern Latin-American city of the Sixties. Wednesday is garbanzo soup day. A bowl makes a meal (especially with the complimentary side of hot buttered "Cuban" bread), and it contains four essential food groups: potato, cabbage, chorizo, and, of course, the multifaceted chickpeas, as they're called in El Norte. Sit at the lengthy counter or at a table in back. They also deliver.

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Three-radish salad with soy-lime vinaigrette? Crisp oyster rolls? Lobster tempura? Green tea cheesecake? And cold sake on tap to wash it all down? An establishment that treats Japanese cuisine with respectful innovation, Shoji is the latest product to debut from the Michael Schwartz-Myles Chefetz team. Like the partners' other restaurants, including Nemo, it seems Shoji was destined for success from the get-go, thanks to flavorful drinks like the sakatini (like a cosmo but with sake). Indeed we've been waiting eagerly for it to open for almost a year -- and hey, we're not all that patient. So it's all the more satisfying not only that Shoji lives up to its implied reputation, but that we can award it for its high cuisine so readily.
New York's Big Apple Deli
Naming yourself after the Big Apple is like setting yourself up for failure, or at least for bitter comparisons. Add moving into the space formerly occupied by a very successful restaurant, and you've set yourself a double challenge. How could you possibly succeed? Well this deli does, and it does so admirably, in the spot where Andre's Diner used to be. Turkey for sandwiches is roasted on the premises and sliced off the bone, not slipped out of plastic. Whitefish salad features big chunks of the flavorful fish. Hot open-face brisket platters can't be beat, unless you're thinking about ordering that pastrami Reuben known as a Rachel. Even the desserts -- rugelach, chocolate layer cake, and carrot cake, for example -- are made daily. For once even the New Yawkers can't complain.
As one of the original Mango Gang of chefs who put New World cuisine on the serious dining map a decade ago (and the first to win a James Beard Award), Mark Militello is a certifiable culinary star. But at his South Beach eatery, the real star is Militello's almost impossibly well-flavored fusion food -- and it's obvious from the clientele. Although Washington Avenue is South Beach's nightlife central, Mark's doesn't attract club kids but a casually classy twenty-five-to-fiftysomething crowd that knows from noshing. So settle back in the exotic movie-set glamour of the black-enameled, hardwood-paneled Deco dining room (or better yet the balmy, multipooled outdoor tropical terrace) and swoon over the masterpieces: succulent West Coast oysters in a golden-brown potato wrapping, topped with horseradish crème fraîche and osetra caviar; a "millionaire" organic green salad with Maine lobster, foie gras, and truffle vinaigrette; crisp anise and hazelnut-crusted soft-shell crab; spot prawns with silky black truffle sabayon; or a mushroom-dusted pompano with foie gras, warm green lentils and chanterelles, and rich, naturally sweet aged balsamic vinegar sauce. The extensive menu changes nightly, but thanks to the skill of the guy who actually cooks at Mark's while Militello supervises his ever-expanding empire, executive chef Tim Andreola (a protegé of fellow Mango Ganger Allen Susser), one can count on mostly magic.
We're not saying anything we didn't already say back in 1999, 1997, 1996, and 1994. And our deciding factors -- freshness, consistency, selection, reasonable prices, and, truth be known, free samples -- are probably nothing you don't already know about Biga, which, like bread itself, has become a staple in South Florida. Whether you live near the Coral Gables, South Miami, South Beach, Key Biscayne, Dadeland Station, Coral Way, Kendall, Boca Raton, or West Palm Beach shop, the hearty country breads and Latin specialties are trucked to you daily from Biga's 20,000-square-foot baking commissary in Hialeah. Besides, Biga is a bakery that knows how to have fun: How about a loaf resembling a cluster of grapes, a bunny bun for Easter, or a heart-shaped brioche for Mother's Day? Heck, if you've got the dough, you can even buy your own Biga franchise.
The name sounds like an Argentine steak house, but the Gaucho Room in the landmark St. Moritz Hotel, part of the oceanfront Loew's complex, really is more an Argentine-theme restaurant. Family portraits on the walls and plush faux-steerskin dining couches instead of chairs feed the fantasy that you're eating in the living room of a wealthy pampas cattle rancher, while twentysomething Boy Wonder chef Frank Randazzo more literally feeds fantasies. In fact while the Gaucho has never hyped its steaks, the all-American cuts beat any in town (assuming you're looking for quality rather than quantity), and the superbly flavorful beef, grilled on a traditional parrilla grill and served with three garlic and chervil-spiked chimichurri salsas of varying heats, is even better. But inventive South American/Southwestern fusion specialties such as savory wild mushroom tamales, queso fresco pulled duck empanadas with smoked chili sauce, or annatto-glazed Chilean sea bass with a crunchy jicama/spinach sauté (not to mention desserts like poached fresh exotic fruit with bittersweet chocolate-coated coconut mousse and Malibu rum consommé), would tempt even a genuine gaucho to bag the beef.
Epicure Gourmet Market & Cafe
Alejandra Cicilia
Certain places may do certain foods very well, but Epicure has it all, and does it all well. And what especially sets this gourmet shop above not just most in Miami but in the world is personnel who are both extremely knowledgeable about the store's products and astonishingly friendly, even on days like New Year's Eve, when checkout lines stretch to, roughly, Fort Lauderdale. Not sure which melon is ripe or whether those $37-per-pound wild mushrooms are really worth it? Charlie in produce will give you the skinny. The guys behind the fish and meat counters share recipes and timing tips for everything they sell. The prepared-food folks dispense generous samples to the undecided and advice to unaccustomed party hosts. And if by some fluke you ask someone who doesn't know the fine differences between the store's dozens of different olive oils or cheeses or chocolates, that someone will immediately, and cheerfully, locate someone who does. Absolutely the best thing about Epicure, though, is the bag packers, who are to standard supermarket baggers what Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel is to Hello Kitty. Never a broken fancy free-range egg! Never a squished heirloom tomato! Never a wasted half-inch of bag space! You may not think bag packing is fine art -- but it is at Epicure.
Chevys Fresh Mex
We thought proprietor Alejandro Garcia and chef-wife Lorena Vega-Beuggie were completely nuts when they reopened Divina. They'd formerly operated this Mexican haute-cuisine restaurant for only seven months a couple of years ago, and while they got great reviews and built a loyal clientele, landlord problems forced them to give up the space. But when they saw that Divina's successor, Chow, had gone out of business, they decided a little resurrection was in order. Can't say any of Vega-Beuggie's fans were dismayed; that corn torte with poblano cream sauce she makes produces a powerful craving, and, admittedly, we also were suffering without our regular fix of squash blossoms and cuitlacoche. Our goal now? To let everybody in on the secret of their success, so the duo will have no choice but to expand their hours to include a divine lunchtime.
Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop
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.

Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House
The best Jewish deli in South Florida is the Rascal House, of course. Need we say more? Of course. This isn't some sissy Southern-belle category like Best Sorbet. This is the real thing. You got your pastrami and corned beef, both as fatty as you could get at the Carnegie, or even Katz's, in Manhattan. (If you don't like it fatty, maybe you should move to Califrigginfornia.) You also got your blintzes, which at the Rascal are homestyle, meaning that the cheese -- or blueberry, or whatever -- filling is enclosed by delicate French-type crêpes rather than the thin but tough layer of pastry cement you're probably used to. You got your genuine grated-not-mashed potato pancakes -- oniony, crisp, and reasonably thin -- not those fat squashed potato puffs many establishments sell to those of you who don't know their latkes from their tushies. You got your clientele at surrounding tables that's a typically Miami mix of Cuba and New York: "¡Mira! Oy!" And Rascal House's very firm waitress-dominatrixes will make sure you return often enough to keep your soul filled. If these mother figures make you feel guilty about not calling your own mom lately, you can FedEx a Rascal cheesecake home. Strawberry is best. In short you got somewhere not even a visiting New Yorker could complain about. So, what's not to like? Come! Eat!

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®