We'll tell you straight off the bat -- or fishing line, if you prefer: This seafood market and restaurant has absolutely no charm. Bare (fish) bones to the extreme, the market features only a few kitchenette-style tables, plastic and paper tableware, and a powerful aroma of freshly scaled fish. So why does it win? Easy. In order: Captain Jim's fresh garlic crabs, a three-and-a-half-pound bucket of which will run you only $16.95. A pile of fried Key West shrimp for $7.95. (Captain Jim does a lot of fishing in the Keys.) Cracked Caicos conch, which comes with hush puppies or beans and rice for the same amount of dead presidents. And "extras" like fried clams, conch chowder, smoked fish dip, and smoked marlin. Get the picture? Good. Now go get the seafood before Captain Jim runs out of those garlic crabs -- at his prices, the eats go as fast as his reel.
As a rule, perkiness is annoying. But politeness, freshness, brightness? All good. And in the morning hours, even better. That's what you'll get when you stop in at Jamba Juice for a healthful taste sensation. Left Coast influences (the California-based Juice Club became Jamba Juice in 1995) have obviously infiltrated Jamba Juice's Kendall outpost, which features a tremendous menu of fruit- and soy-based smoothies plus a fresh-juice bar (even wheatgrass grows in patches behind the counter). Ask your upbeat server to toss in a free Jamba Boost (select vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids) for immunity, women's health, or energy, and you'll be treated to a pick-me-up that packs more of wallop than anything you'll get at that gloomy Starbucks next door. Creamy smooth drinks are filled with the fuel your body needs any time of day: Combinations of berries, bananas, peanut butter, peaches, mangos, and more mingle endlessly with nonfat yogurt, sorbet, and ice. Nothing artificial here -- even the shiny happy people who man the blenders and make sure every last drop finds its way into your jumbo cup are genuine. So if they want to be perky, we'll just go ahead and let them.

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.
It might take a little while to get used to. Here you are, all ready to enjoy the best seafood in town, and not a chair in sight! Yet the place is packed, and hardly anyone is ordering take-out. Amid all the roiling humanity, keyed up further by the salsa music on the radio, giving everything a (very) slight beach-party ambiance, you manage to order. You don't have to wait too long. Pretty soon you're leaning against the counter along with everyone else, diving in, and, you got it, thinking it's fun to eat standing up! Next time, sneakers instead of platforms. There's a brand new Fico on South Beach, and the food is probably just as wonderful, but they surely couldn't improve on the original -- seated, standing, or prone.

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.
This isn't a big sweaty American slab of beef hanging out of a bun. It's a Cuban twist on the he-man classic and thus must have some pork in it somewhere. And so it does -- a slice of roast beef atop a slice of roast pork, lettuce, and tomato, all pressed between two pieces of toasted Cuban bread. Melts in your mouth, not all over your shirt.
Many Miami brunch venues are beautiful (the Biltmore's spectacular Spanish fountained courtyard immediately comes to mind), with prodigiously packed buffet tables. But few settings are waterfront. And cuisine, no matter how impressive in quantity, rarely is of cutting-edge quality in typical Sunday brunch steam-table settings. Which is why Baleen, whose executive chef is Robbin Haas, beats the competition. Luxuriating at an oceanside table in Baleen's elegant outdoor dining area, separated from the sea by only a few lush palms and a waterfront walking path, brunchers enjoy plate after plate of appetizer items atop several big buffet tables in the indoor dining area: fresh fruit, just-baked croissants and breads, and the usual smoked salmon/cold shellfish assortment, plus unusually imaginative cold salads such as chicken with fresh cherries and walnuts, seafood with impeccably fresh briny clams, and caprese with top-quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Move on to hot entrées: grilled shrimp with citrus beurre blanc and risotto, tiny tender lamb chops with rosemary/ricotta polenta, Belgian waffles with real whipped cream, and smoked salmon as well as standard eggs Benedict. Definitely save room for the hazelnut/mocha cake, chocolate-covered strawberries, mousses, flans, and buttery homemade cookies on the dessert buffet table.
South Beach has been sushi central for almost a decade now, and in the past few years the ranks of stellar traditionalists such as Maiko, Sushi Rock, and Sushi Hana have been swelled by star-power newcomers like Bambù and Bond St. Lounge -- not to mention Nemo's super Shoji Sushi outpost taking off with a bang. Whew! But currently the best Miami sushi, with proven seaside freshness and solid creativity, can be found at BlueSea. This tiny (eighteen seats -- all at one marble, diner-style countertop) eatery has somehow escaped terminal trendiness despite its location in the lobby of the hyperhyped Delano Hotel. Instead of a star chef, BlueSea has a layered sashimi arrangement of hamachi and avocado with rich blackstrap rum and lime dipping sauce; a sesame-flavored tuna tataki tower with spicy daikon radish chips; a crisp salmon skin-garnished plate of green tea noodles topped with a quail egg and spicy mayo; imported Russian caviar; and an assortment of the usual sushi fare. All come with a very non-Japanese assortment of mix-and-match dipping sauces. Don't dig standard soy stuff? Try inventive Indonesian asam manis, rich Thai peanut, incendiary Korean kim chee, or citrusy ponzu. And though BlueSea doesn't take reservations, waiting in the Philippe Starck-designed space, with its cocktail bar and comfy couches, is no great hardship.
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.

First, an apology. We know the place looks as if it has been attacked by sea breezes and salt water for the past couple of decades. We know it's not much to look at. We know if you're not in the know you'd drive right on by. That's because of what you don't know: the genteel atmosphere. The unobtrusive service. And the creamiest, richest peanut sauce in the industry. We like ours over the "swimming angels" -- chicken, shrimp, steamed broccoli, and tomatoes. But we also can't resist items like the honey beef, the squid with mushrooms, or the duck curry with pineapple, cashews, and peas. As an added bonus, Siam Bayshore also features a sushi bar, which hardly is an afterthought given the quality of the raw goods -- and it's certainly less fattening than the Thai fare. But when it comes to the blue ribbon, to be honest we're just not all that concerned about the ol' scale, unless it's the one we use to weigh quality. In this case that's off the scale.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®