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.
In 1994, back when Lincoln Road was just emerging from its rutted, nearly abandoned phase, Alfredo Gonzalez and his sons Alex and Adrian opened David's Café II. Their original David's Café had been up and running on Collins Avenue since 1977, offering Cuban fare in a diner setting. But the family was looking toward the future, and it looked to be on the Road. They were right. Their business has only grown since then, expanding to add a café to David's II in 1999. But the Gonzalezes never strayed from their roots serving simple, tasteful Cuban dishes -- such as tostones stuffed with seafood, and churrasco steak -- even as all manner of hip restaurants (drag-queen waiters) and celebrity-owned bistros have opened and closed around them. Perhaps their biggest challenge came a year ago, when the weedlike Starbucks set up shop across the street selling $1.50 espressos. Despite it all David's has thrived. Thank God there's still a place on the Road where locals can buy 50-cent cafecitos. The café is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The restaurant is open from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday.

Best Wine Selection In A Restaurant

Bice

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®