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.

If "There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall," as Colette writes in Earthly Paradise, then surely Atlantic is the restaurant that suits all three states. When solitude is a heady wine, there is Sheila Lukins's modern American menu to savor by oneself, along with some more literal vino. When solitude's a bitter tonic, there's the view from the outdoor dining area of gently rolling sand dunes and clear, bright azure waters -- of the pool, that is. And when solitude makes you want to bang your head against the wall, well, at least Atlantic's walls were designed by the Ralph Lauren team. It doesn't make 'em any softer on your scalp, but it sure makes 'em pretty.
Just north of the bustle and hustle of Little Haiti and just south of the suburban meadow of Miami Shores squats a 28-year-old shrine to past greatness. Various shades of pink and the words "Home of the Zonker" transform what once was a gas station into a place where mere salami, ham, Provolone cheese, and a generous layer of mayonnaise become divine inspiration for less than four dollars. Take your zonker and a beer to one of the outside tables, or lean against the guardrail overlooking the Little River as it flows past the parking lot. But sit inside if you want the real deal. The walls are plastered with posters and memorabilia from Old Hollywood and every major sport in the Western Hemisphere (except soccer -- like that counts). There's a virile young Ronnie Reagan as gunslinger, Jackie Gleason as pool shark, Marilyn Monroe as pneumatic nitwit, the Babe and Joe DiMaggio as baseball icons. Even the Hialeah racetrack has a spot on the wall. But it's Dan Marino who will take your breath away. Really. An artist lovingly drew just the head and naked shoulders of Number 13 rising from a sea of blue, as if he were the Greek god Poseidon. Lightning sparks distantly in an ominous black sky as dolphins leap over Marino's prodigious shoulders and into the water. Eat it up.
Miami, not known for its raw-bar diversity, nonetheless has had a stalwart purveyor in this restaurant and its sister in Coconut Grove. But the South Beach locale usually plays second fiddle to the Grove location in the popular imagination. We don't know why. The South Beach spot is wonderfully situated on the water by the Miami Beach Marina, a perfect place to catch a sunset. And this spot doesn't disappoint the tradition of raw bars as a happy-hour destination. From 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. a dollar will get you two peel-and-eat shrimp, or two fresh oysters, or clams. Stone crab legs are two dollars each. And drinks are half-price. The seafood is specially selected for freshness and quality. The raw-bar line can get pretty long, but it's worth the wait. Monty's is open from 11:00 to 1:00 a.m. during the week and from 11:00 to 2:00 a.m. on weekends.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®