Ah, the Grove, where people live in trees, bartenders look like clowns, and rickshas run wild through heavy traffic. Like a lot of Grovites, Mezzanotte is a little kooky. But in a good way. Take, for instance, the bistecca pulcinella: steak with peppercorn, brandy cream, and a touch of demi-glace. Kind of crazy! Or the insalata parmigiana: mushroom salad with thin slices of Parmesan cheese, virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Positively flaky! Or how about the calamari della casa: calamari, scallops, fresh tomato, peas, and a touch of cognac. Now that's outlandish! Or the pollo contadino: chicken with sirloin steak, sausage, mushrooms, potato, garlic oil, and white wine vinegar. Absolutely wacky! Even more insane is the fact that, in an area once bereft of good restaurants, Mezzanotte has several fabulous contenders, including Anokha (Indian), Baleen (seafood and steak), Bice (Italian), Le Bouchon du Grove (French), and Las Culebrinas (Cuban/Spanish). But Mezzanotte's prices (beef, chicken, and seafood entrées start at $14.50) are less absurd than most of them.
The old and rather large woman makes her unlikely way through an unruly flotilla of tables crammed with far too many revelers. She tips her ample belly first one way and then the other over each table as she makes the usual rounds. Roses for your lady friend? Perhaps the secrets of her palm are itching to be told? Most ignore her, too busy with wine and plates of tapas that keep magically appearing on the tables. Such tapas! These are appetizers that would make the king and queen of Spain feel welcome, assuming they'd be inclined to while away a humid night in a Calle Ocho tavern. There are some 35 different tapas from which to choose -- from hot, salty, garlic-kissed shrimp, squid, and chorizo dishes, to a cool, fluffy Spanish tortilla or creamy potato salad. The median price hovers around five dollars per plate. It's Thursday evening, so the two flamenco dancers are stomping up on the small stage in time with the guitarist, who is singing Iberian tunes, from fast party music to forlorn Gypsy tales. At eleven o'clock a basket of white candles is passed from hand to hand in preparation for a group sing, a prayer to the Spanish saint, La Virgen del Rocio. Come before eight o'clock on Tuesday and Thursday evenings if you want a table near the action.

Have it your way -- a real tuna sandwich. Broiled, blackened, sautéed, it's this big thick tuna steak that dwarfs the roll on which it sits. You can pile on the lettuce and tomato and tartar sauce, or go with a simple squirt of lemon juice, whatever rows your boat. It's a lot of fish for $7.99.

The Pantry
This Jamaican joint is reminiscent of a grandmother's kitchen in Kingston. But no need to travel to the island and make good with locals in order to have delicious braised oxtail or curried goat. Try the brown stew fish and fried dumplings. Until 3:30 p.m. eat the best jerk chicken in town for just $3.99. Thirst quenchers include a variety of Jamaican sodas, sea moss, and ginger beer.

Spris
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.
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.

Picanha's Grille
When Picanha's opened a couple of years ago in the former Tark's, which was attached to a Dairy Queen, we thought it would be another restaurant serf, dredging the lower realm of the dining public for customers. We're not ashamed to admit we were wrong about this honest Brazilian eatery, which is named for the cut of rump roast called a pincanha. Indeed the eatery was so successful with both Brazilians and the uninitiated alike that it recently took its meaty linguincinha sausages and rich prawns sautéed in palm oil and coconut milk to a more conducive venue: the former Mark's Place. Now the Grille is even more packed, especially on Thursdays for Brazilian-style karaoke and caiprinhas, and on weekends for executive chef Edson Milto's traditional feijoada. And here we thought nothing could ever take the Place of Mark's.

Best Fried Chicken In A Supermarket Chain

Publix Deli

Freshly chopped chicken, coated with flour batter flecked with ground black pepper, deep-fried en masse to a golden crunchy brown, done on the inside but not overdone, and always hot off the serving tray, Publix fried chicken is so good it brings back memories. Serve it cold, and it makes you hanker for a grassy lawn, a shady tree, and a picnic basket packed with lemonade and potato salad. Serve it hot, and you'll long for macaroni and cheese, a heap of greens, and cornbread seasoned with diced jalapeño peppers. Meets the mom bar, which says a lot about a supermarket deli.

El Rincon De Chabuca
Nobody denatures raw-fish proteins in citrus juices like the Peruvians. So it should come as no surprise that this low-key restaurant that calls itself Chabuca's Place, dedicated to the memory of famous Peruvian composer Chabuca Granda, serves some damn good ceviche for $12. Get it Chabuca-style and you'll get to try an unusual starchy corn from Peru. If you must have your fish tempered with heat, there are plenty of dishes from which to choose, including an excellent mixed seafood platter that comes as a mound of rice loaded with shrimp, mussels, scallops, squid rings, and itty-bitty octopi. The restaurant is open from noon till 10:00 p.m. most days, and until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Best Wine Selection In A Restaurant

Bice

Bice Restaurant
With 222 wines on hand, ranging in price from moderate to expensive, oenophiles and novices alike can enjoy Bice. In fact when it comes to vino, the restaurant walks confidently between egalitarianism and elitism. There is no wine steward, an old-school vestige that had more to do with pomp than practicality, according to restaurant manager Jason Bruce. Instead the entire waitstaff takes part in weekly wine tastings by experts in a continuous training exercise, where they are taught how to isolate the components of taste in a wine. "We'd rather have the whole staff know about the wines rather than just one specialist," says Bruce. Management is as proud to offer a $780 bottle of Chateau Margot, or a $295 of Gaja Barbaresco, as it is to offer a $26 bottle of Roggiano super Tuscan (meaning all the grapes come from the Italian region of Tuscany). The wine "cellar" actually is part of the dining room, where, with reservations, up to eighteen diners can enjoy their meal surrounded by racks of wine.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®