You have to hand it to the City of Miami. Faced with the daunting task of persuading voters to pass yet another bond issue to improve the same parks the city had failed to improve after two previous bond issues, commissioners were wringing their hands over this difficult sales job. Then terrorists felled the World Trade Center in New York. And then letters spiked with anthrax began circulating in the mail. And then city officials came up with a bright idea. The bond issue's name was changed to "The Homeland Security and Neighborhood Enhancement" bond. After earmarking a tiny portion of the $255 million to buy a few gas masks, commissioners got what they wanted. City voters approved the bond. Let the spending begin!
You have to hand it to the City of Miami. Faced with the daunting task of persuading voters to pass yet another bond issue to improve the same parks the city had failed to improve after two previous bond issues, commissioners were wringing their hands over this difficult sales job. Then terrorists felled the World Trade Center in New York. And then letters spiked with anthrax began circulating in the mail. And then city officials came up with a bright idea. The bond issue's name was changed to "The Homeland Security and Neighborhood Enhancement" bond. After earmarking a tiny portion of the $255 million to buy a few gas masks, commissioners got what they wanted. City voters approved the bond. Let the spending begin!
The Lincoln Theatre is intimate enough that everyone in the audience can watch artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas's expressions -- they tell the story. His enthusiasm and excitement about music are written all over his face, as when he introduced an evening of works by Soviet-era composers, part of the contemporary-music series he has put together for his youthful orchestra called Sounds of the Times. So you get lucky with a Shostakovich or two from a big, conservative orchestra. But three twentieth-century Russians in one evening? The series opened with a visiting conductor, Reinbert de Leeuw, who led the symphony through four modern French compositions, though Thomas's ardor for new music was clearly present. Then we had American Lukas Foss conducting his own work on his 80th birthday. Great stuff, but you don't have to wait for a special series like this one to come around. All season the orchestra plays fresh and fascinating concerts, from Mahler and Hindemith to Weber and Britten. Okay, so NWS has the dedicated funding that frees it from having to do Beethoven on the beach -- or anywhere else -- to stay in business. Still the mind for programming a gem like Sounds of the Times is rare, and Miami is lucky to have it. With visionary Thomas holding the baton we surely will be treated to more.
This is junkyard heaven, the place where cool, funky things go to die or to be bought or rented as the case may be. Chandeliers and traffic lights hang from the ceiling while stained-glass windows, Coca-Cola vending machines, marble busts, golf clubs, and bookshelves line the walls. Looking for a life-size bronze boar sculpture with green patina? It's here. A vintage, Jetsons-style Philco Predicta television set from the Fifties? Yep, right over there. A giant Head and Shoulders shampoo display bottle? Check the back. Old gas station signs, telephones, typewriters? Got 'em. Don't know what you're looking for? Give yourself at least an hour to walk through this Smithsonian-scale emporium. If you feel yourself getting tired, plop yourself down in that row of movie-theater seats over by the door.
Pan-seared scallops
C'mon, an overpriced sushi joint? We only have about a hundred of those, so why reward a new one? Well, friends, try out Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's dishes and then come back and tell us it wasn't worth every penny. So what if some whine about the décor. People! Style over substance has been Miami's cement shoes for too long. And so what if the super-fresh sashimi melted in your mouth so quickly and deliciously you almost forgot you just ate it. And who cares if chopsticks were used as weapons for the very last crumbs from the black codfish with miso. It doesn't matter. What does matter is this: Miami finally has a Matsuhisa masterhouse to return to over and over again for more of the same. For the first time in a while, a restaurant has opened that can truly contend with the best of the best.
You'd think that in a town as wonderfully weird as Miami, no one could ever grow jaded by what they see around them. Think of those clueless mothers with toddlers hoping to cross a busy street but refusing to use a crosswalk, standing on the center line as cars whiz by only inches away. Or how about the drag queens who are as comfortable prancing down the aisle at Publix as they are working the room at a Beach nightclub? And what about the irrational panic that overtakes thousands of people at the approach of a storm? And don't forget our really, really bad drivers.

All that and much more surely looks pretty darn loony to someone from, say, Des Moines. But in fact this stuff becomes old hat to anyone who's lived here for more than a couple of hurricane seasons. Locals adapt to this cognitive overload by simply accepting it. With time we come to see bizarre behavior as normal, and we're surprised when out-of-town friends express astonishment. If we've moved here from some other place (that would be about 90 percent of us), our occasional returns to the old homestead are often accompanied by a kind of psychic deflation. Everything seems somewhat dull and boring, as if all life's sharp edges had been sanded down and smoothed over. Eventually our adaptive response to life here in the steamy subtropics can lead us to an unwitting blindness in which we lose sight of the fact that we're operating in a very wacky world.

That's where this year's Best of Miami comes in. With this thirteenth edition of our paean to all that is good and dear about our home, we wanted to see Miami with fresh new eyes. We set out to lift the veil of ennui, to polish the mirror we use to reflect our own image. So in the second year of the new millennium, 2002, we sought a new view. Inside you'll find the unexpected and the new. Best place to play darts? You'll never guess. And you'll be surprised to learn of a cool little waterfront restaurant on Virginia Key. We'll guide you to a fine charity you probably never heard of. Ditto our best hidden neighborhood, best roast pig, and best Indian grocery. We can almost guarantee you've never taken our best hike. Like we said — lots of new ideas to keep life here interesting.

Some things, however, never seem to change. Has anyone other than Gloria Estefan been voted best local girl made good? No surprise that our readers once again think La Carreta is the best Cuban restaurant. And also no surprise that reader response to Best Category We Didn't Ask turned up some gems: Best Restaurant to Dine in During a Hurricane, Best Activity to Do While Intoxicated, Best Place to Go Stoned, Best Support Group.

And finally there always are some rascals out there who can't resist the temptation to bend the rules, especially if it might mean a coveted Best of Miami award. Yes, we had our share of brazen ballot-stuffers again this year, among them a certain scooter shop whose 36 identical ballots arrived in one envelope. Almost fooled us! At least one person complained confidentially via e-mail: "I am outraged at the lengths some folks would go to try to win a category in the Best of Miami. I am an employee at a very popular [business omitted here] and I was asked to enter [the business] on ballots (thousands of ballots) and submit them to your office. Use different pens and try to change your handwriting, I was told! Are we that hard up for publicity? What is this contest coming to?"

Indeed, what is it all coming to?

Sometimes the magic is simply in the place. No matter what you call it. No matter how lively Thursday nights get with all those boisterous kids. Fridays and Saturdays after midnight at this little place on the corner of Calle Ocho and SW 22nd Avenue -- with the lights down low and Luis Bofill at the microphone channeling Beny Moré -- today is just like yesterday. All the love you've every felt, all the arms that have ever held you, every kiss still worth remembering comes back to you. Go ahead, slide your hand down his back. Brush your lips across the nape of her neck. Nobody's watching. And if they are, they're smiling.
Photo by Chris Garcia / Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau
Without doubt this park is the greatest gift ever bequeathed to the public in Miami's history. Back in 1940 the Matheson family, which had owned most of Key Biscayne since early in the century, agreed to a deal proposed by Dade County Commissioner Charles Crandon. The family would donate the northern two miles of its holdings for use as a public park. In exchange the county would construct a causeway from Miami to the island. As Crandon later wrote, the Mathesons "recognized that it would make the remaining land they owned immensely valuable once the causeway was built and in use, which is exactly what happened." The 975-acre park, named in honor of the commissioner, opened along with the causeway in 1947. Since then the Mathesons have been vigilant in protecting their gift from commercial exploitation by government bureaucrats hungry for revenue. Stretching from the Atlantic to Biscayne Bay, Crandon Park comprises more than most people realize: a marina, boat ramps, moorings, and a dive shop adjacent to Sundays on the Bay restaurant; Crandon Golf Course and its driving range, clubhouse, pro shop, and restaurant; the sprawling tennis center and its associated facilities; various storage and maintenance yards; Calusa Park and its tennis courts, playground, and recreation center; a county fire station; the lovely Crandon Park Gardens (the old county zoo); the new Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center; an extensive kids' play area featuring a grand carousel; rental cabanas, concession booths, and many picnic areas and athletic fields along the park's eastern half; three significant archaeological sites; three ecological preserves of several hundred acres; and of course the world-famous beach itself. Need we say more?
The pop-radio wars have just begun. Dance-only upstart WPYM-FM (93.1) calls out the big dogs at Power 96 to put up or shut up. Power takes the bait and responds decisively. Sure it plays more commercials, and it saturates us regularly with hip-hop we've heard before, but Power still spins the better dance music, particularly after hours, and it gets bonus points for effectively mixing two very distinct and progressive urban sounds. It doesn't hurt to have competitors dropping Power 96's name so ridiculously often. Latin grooves still reign in the Magic City, but like it or not hip-hop is now and dance is the future. Power has them both covered and plenty of advertisers to keep it in business.
A delicate rose fashioned from slender blush-pink slices of tuna. Carefully carved thin strips of cucumber wrapped around crab stick, avocado, masago, and shrimp. Wooden boats bursting with artfully arranged squares of fish. How fresh is it? Take a glance behind the sushi bar. If the huge white tuna slumped across the sink, ready for carving, is any hint, very.

Best Of Miami®