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.
Icebox Cafe
Owner Robert Siegmann has created a virtual dessert oasis in the heart of Lincoln Road. And the former New York caterer has done it by taking classic desserts and giving them a modern flair. Take, for example, the pink coconut layer cake. The color isn't the only thing that stands out. Each slice is immense, a towering testament to days gone by. Indeed the enormous dimensions of his creations are Siegmann's trademark. But size alone doesn't matter. (At least that's what we've always been told. Really.) The true test is in the taste, and once again Icebox doesn't fail. The carrot cake is so fresh you'd swear the carrots were picked that morning. The mouthwatering banana cheesecake will make you want to swing from the trees. And don't get us started on their pound cake. The only problem you'll encounter is whether to order the marble, the coconut, the chocolate chip, or the lemon-poppyseed variety. In every category Icebox offers the widest selection of desserts and pastries of any restaurant in Miami that we've seen for a long time: banana cream pies, raspberry-chocolate mousse cake, and an assortment of ice cream cakes too long to list.
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Unlike some of our other more blatant eateries -- Tantra or Touch, for example -- chef-proprietor Kris Wessel's Liaison isn't all about sex. It is, however, all about the sensual: the feel of a large airy dining room with a high ceiling and billowing linens. The look of a sleek bar that has the friendly, open-door ambiance of a corner shop. The taste of Wessel's restrained yet exuberant New Orleans-inspired cuisine that combines classic French technique with local and seasonal ingredients. Don't look for too much blackening seasoning, though. This restaurant doesn't hit the diner over the head with Cajun flavors and drag her off to a cave for a bout of postprandial feasting. Rather Wessel seduces the sophisticate in all of us with items like filé gumbo with blue crabs; grillades of veal served over grits; crêpes stuffed with oysters; or zesty short ribs. Wash it all down with a sparkling kir royale, and you've got the perfect introduction to the main course after the dinner, if you know what we mean (wink, wink).
It's just a simple ground-beef sandwich, dressed with a bit of sauce and the obligatory vegetable matter. Yet somehow it's like biting into a memory of your favorite comfort food Momma used to make. Wash it down with a tropical juice: banana, mango, passion, papaya, guava, or Jus Tropical special blend. About as much lunchtime bliss as you can expect for five or six dollars. There are a handful of other sandwiches -- chicken, tuna, or a daily special-- and some sweet snacks for dessert. Friday and Saturday nights the place stays open until 1:00 a.m. so patrons can lounge at outside tables and listen to the sounds of Haitian musicians like Sweet Vibe play at the front of the shop. During the week Jus Tropical is open from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
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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.
A little piece of Spain is hidden in the heart of Little Havana. Step inside Casa Panza, wind your way past the old wine barrels, and chances are you will be greeted by the owner himself, if not some other family member, who will guide you inside. The first thing you'll notice then is how big the place is. After the sangría starts to flow, you realize there are chunks of fruit in there, and not the Libby's cocktail variety. Four days a week there are live flamenco performances by world-renowned dancer Celia Clara and her singer/guitarist husband, Paco Fonta. Despite all the heel thumping and hand clapping, you'll still be able to hear the grease sizzling as waiters serve up tasty fried chorizo. For large parties the paella is a must. We say large parties, because otherwise the plethora of seafood and meats will go to waste. Dining alone? The tortilla española is a light and fluffy treat. Whatever you choose, rest assured the taste will be authentic, the entertainment will be rousing, and the service will be impeccable.
Hanna's Gourmet Diner
Don't be fooled by the name Hanna -- this is the same beloved Gourmet Diner of old. And by old, we mean oldie but goodie. Original chef-proprietor Jean-Pierre Lejeune sold his signature place six months ago to new owner Sia Hemmati, who vowed to keep everything the same. Well, he broke his promise. By adding white linen tablecloths, fresh flowers, and the use of credit card machines, he actually made the stainless-steel diner with its hallmark French-inspired chalkboard specialties better. Not that we're complaining about the most perfectly herb-roasted chicken in Miami, or the meatiest veal Bolognese sauce, or the slickest steak au poivre. And of course we certainly can't bitch about the custard fruit tart, the recipe for which is exactly executed each day with vine-ripe strawberries and fresh kiwis. Call us sentimental if you must, but we're just darn glad that neither new owners nor faithful followers have lost sight of the Diner.
There is a moment in the night, usually after the clock passes 3:00 a.m., when if awake, the body hits a crossroads. Either go to bed or push on to the dawn's first light. If the choice is to forgo sleep, sustenance is usually a must. For a hot meal there is no better place than the 24-hour 11th Street Diner. Whether it's pancakes or fried chicken, the diner serves quality food at reasonable prices. An added bonus for late-night owls is the possibility of a celebrity sighting. The proximity to South Beach clubs makes the eatery a natural stopping place for the famous. Recent hungry partyers seen chowing down include pitcher Livan Hernandez and rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J. (See, the famous haven't departed the Beach; they've just moved on to better and cheaper places.)

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®