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.
Many praise the Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon rolls, so tasty not a one has ever lasted long enough to grow stale. Others have noted how heavenly a confection is the key lime pie created by these German Baptists, who share with the Amish a partiality for long beards and dark formalwear. But truth be told (no matter what the cooks are wearing), on any given day the longest line here is for the milkshakes. Smooth, fruity, and flavorful, the shakes come in strawberry, chocolate, raspberry, pineapple, vanilla, key lime, and mango. So sweet and creamy, in fact, that it just might appear these Baptists have a taste for sin after all.

Knaus Berry Farm
Photo by Laine Doss
Many praise the Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon rolls, so tasty not a one has ever lasted long enough to grow stale. Others have noted how heavenly a confection is the key lime pie created by these German Baptists, who share with the Amish a partiality for long beards and dark formalwear. But truth be told (no matter what the cooks are wearing), on any given day the longest line here is for the milkshakes. Smooth, fruity, and flavorful, the shakes come in strawberry, chocolate, raspberry, pineapple, vanilla, key lime, and mango. So sweet and creamy, in fact, that it just might appear these Baptists have a taste for sin after all.

Contrary to the icon stenciled on the door, Irving Fields looks nothing like an iron Granny bent on reforming the eating habits of a decidedly pudgy nation. To look at his round, avuncular shape, one might not immediately guess that he has operated a health food restaurant in downtown Miami since 1971. But just watch him bustle around the restaurant and store. He's hawking vitamins, mixing strawberry-banana protein shakes, and ringing up the bill -- all the while maintaining a constant stream of banter and gossip directed at newcomers and regulars alike. The restaurant is only a short walk from the county courthouse and county hall, so many of the regulars are a mixed lot of Miami's most famous and notorious denizens. "Mayors, commissioners, judges, lawyers, and cops, I know 'em all," Fields declares. One of his favorite customers is former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who he says confessed that she missed coming into the shop while she served out her term up in D.C. "She said, “Irving, I've got to tell you I fantasized about your fresh fruit and yogurt,'" Fields recalls with evident pleasure. "Fantasized -- that's a strange word coming from her." Oh yes, about the actual food. The menu is large, with well-priced items ranging from tasty veggie burgers and spinach lasagna to chimichangas to a variety of chicken or fish dishes and a selection of salads and fresh juices. The restaurant operates on the downtown's bustle-and-bust cycle, Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Was it propaganda? Was it fixed? Was it a given? In order: No, no, and yes. When Pascal Oudin, one of our all-time favorite chefs of Grand Café fame, finally opened his own restaurant in the Gables, we knew it was only a matter of time till Best of Miami named it a winner. That's because the French-trained Oudin, who has noodled around the area with interim projects like the erstwhile Sweet Donna's, has always deserved a neoclassic place in the Florida sun -- and we're determined to keep him here. So simply put, he keeps producing dishes like lobster bisque with fish quenelles or his justly famous soufflés, and we'll keep buying 'em. And giving him the kudos he deserves.
They say that Costa Rica is the Switzerland of Central America. Then Nicaragua must be the Argentina of that historically embattled isthmus. Why? Churrasco. You know, charbroiled beef. The Nicaraguans are as crazy for it as their Southern Cone cousins. But whereas the Argentines often credit Italy for some of their culinary inspirations, the Nicaraguans tend to look north. Hence dishes such as tenderloin tips a la jalapeña (i.e., with a creamy jalapeño and onion sauce). You, however, need only travel west a few miles to this modest yet elegant establishment on West Flagler and SW 107th Avenue. The menu also offers a wide variety of appetizers and chicken, pork, and seafood entrées. And ask your very cordial waiter for that spirit enhancer that crosses all north-south divides: a carafe of sangría.
The loiterers near this hipster health food market's deli department hover for a good reason. Their pacing near the salad bar and fancy meats section may seem aimless, but they are waiting for a signal that comes just before 10:00 p.m. When the deli guy begins to wrap leftover gourmet sandwiches in plastic, the rush is on to grab fine grub for a buck. Join the hungry bargain hunters for the best dollar meal in town. The upscale deli usually sells its Sonoma chicken wraps and albacore tuna melts for four to five dollars a pop. But once the tofu and spinach wraps and smoked turkey with Provolone panini are removed from the display, they go for just a few cents more than a Snickers bar. Like most deals in town, however, this friendly markdown is threatened by heated competition. The fire sale has cultivated a core group of regulars who queue up well before the prices plummet. Be prepared to duke it out for that mozzarella, basil, and tomato focaccia. Early birds try to cart off as many dollar sandwiches as they can, but if you arrive by 9:45, you're in a good position to score. Wild Oats' Pinecrest store on South Dixie Highway also unloads its leftovers at sale prices, but a dollar won't get you one -- those are sold at half price.
Okay, we admit that the interior of this freaky circus-theme restaurant, with its banquettes shaped like jesters' hats and papier-mâché harlequins dangling from the rafters, is striking. But it's also a little scary, especially if Cirque du Soleil just really ain't your game. All in all we prefer the seaside terrace, which provides the prettiest seating in North Beach. There you can enjoy executive chef Paulo Barroso de Barros's intriguing ginger duck confit with ravioli and fresh mango sauce as it should be: out in the tropical air under a full Miami moon. When it comes to magical entertainment, sometimes nature, with a little help from a chef who knows how to cook a really good osso bucco, is all you need.
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.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®