BEST CAESAR SALAD 2002 | Fresco California Bistro | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
George Martinez
There's something invigorating about tree-shaded Coral Way, especially after it leaves the dusty hustle of Miami on its way to the Gables. Just a few blocks from the Brickell financial district, Fresco California Bistro offers a cool, unhurried respite for lunch. And for a refreshingly light summer lunch nothing beats the bistro's crisp caesar salad: fresh romaine lettuce, nicely balanced oil-garlic-egg dressing, Parmesan cheese, and croutons made from Fresco's tasty bread, a hunk of which comes with the salad. Not bad for $5.25. Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 to 10:30 p.m. Friday dinner hours till 11:00 p.m. Saturday noon to 11:00 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Spanish-packaged goods greet you at the door. Decorative ceramics line the wall. Have a seat. Order a pitcher of sangria from the friendly waiter. Peruse the menu. It suggests some expensive items: newborn eels from Spain sautéed in olive oil and garlic; roasted baby suckling pig; grilled surf and turf. But most of the dishes at Casa Paco are as reasonably priced as they are delicious. Paella -- chicken and rice or rice with seafood. Special house chicken -- a tender half-boneless grilled bird smothered with onions, lime juice, butter, and pepper served with white rice and fried sweet plantains. Several types of fresh fish (snapper, salmon, mahi-mahi, monkfish) and shellfish prepared in countless ways. Spanish and Basque omelets. After you've devoured dinner, your belt may be two notches looser but dessert is a must. A long list includes flan, rice pudding, homemade ice cream, and crema catalaña, its candied sugar topping hiding a creamy custard beneath.
This cozy and casual café, one of the few locals' hangouts left in the vicinity of Lincoln Road, is more than just a bakery, particularly after two welcome improvements: expanded restaurant hours and acceptance of credit cards. If you're looking to impress the folks at home with pastries you can pretend you made yourself, there's no better place in town to get goods to go. You won't find any of those puffed-up pastries that look so polished yet taste like shoe polish. Here it's just old-fashioned quality. That's not to say everything at the Icebox is basic. Two of the best offerings are pretty fancy: party-perfect petits fours and a remarkably rich yet light almond/praline/butter-cream dacquoise. The pound cakes evoke days when bakers literally meant a pound of butter. Common carrot cake, often far too heavy, is moist but subtle. Coconut cake -- the classic among two or three layer cakes featured daily -- will convert coconut loathers to lovers. And for those whose idea of ice-cream cake has come from supermarket frozen-food cases, the Icebox's namesake masterpiece could well be a life-changing experience.

Pity the hamburger. The poor patty has been subjected to more abuse and gratuitous puffery than any dish deserves. A barely edible version is available at any number of fast-food establishments for as little as 99 cents. Or you can shell out twenty bucks for one at the Park Plaza Hotel in New York. Between these two extremes are the countless $5.99 to $12 models, some better than others but all, at the end of the day, just hamburgers. Which is the whole point: Is there no place left where a person can go for an honest burger at an honest price? Five ounces of cooked ground beef on a fresh bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and if one is so inclined, a slice of melted cheese (maybe even a few strips of bacon), all for a price that seems proportional. Whatever happened to the all-American hamburger stand, that icon of the Fifties and Archie comic books, that great symbol of democracy and all that was good and right in our nation? Well, the genre is alive and well in North Beach. Rocky's Cheesesteak and Cheeseburgers may not be a "stand" in the technical sense -- it's actually a corner storefront with both indoor and outdoor seating -- but it feels like one. Walk in off the street, plunk yourself down on a stool or chair, and order up. The menu includes grilled chicken sandwiches and cheesesteaks, but it's the burgers people go for. We recommend, in particular, the sourdough, which comes with melted Swiss and is served on sourdough from one of Miami's best bread factories. That one will run you a whole four dollars (as opposed to two dollars for the regular burger). Follow it with a slice of gourmet cheesecake -- flavors include Oreo cookie, guava, dulce de leche, and strawberry -- for $2.50. Feel guilty? Leave a big tip.

Scotty's fish sandwich is an ode to simplicity. A slab of fresh dolphin grilled to perfection and served on a bun with lettuce and tomato. Tartar sauce on the side. Eat it while sitting on Scotty's long wooden deck overlooking Biscayne Bay. Just beware the sharks. No, not in the bay. Miami City Hall, right next door.
Supermarket cheese sections often are criticized for their shrink-wrap items, mass-produced and factory-packaged hunks of cheese that taste like so much sawdust. We're not going to lie: Milam's has some of that stuff in stock. But it also has cheese that's been cut from an actual wheel on the actual premises -- Jarlsberg that's still fresh enough to be pliable, bufala mozzarella so new it's still coming together as a curd. In addition the gourmet market carries some harder-to-source products, including white Stilton with apricots and kasseri, a malleable, just-pungent Greek cheese that too often falls under the shadow of its sister feta's salad fame. And then of course there are the cheese-board byproducts: smoked mackerel, sopressata and other Italian sausages, and dips the likes of jerk shrimp with black bean or chicken with lemon-cilantro. So you'll pay a little more for indulging your superior dairy cravings, both in the wallet and in the waist. Talk to the hand. It's wielding the cheese knife.
Enough with the goyim joints. You want bagels made on the premises by people who know what they're doing for people who know what they're eating? Go to Aventura. Specifically this place. Bagel Cove's bagels -- beautiful, warm, chewy, hand-rolled loaves -- are not only the best in town, they're delivered to you by women who care, ladies who'll always tell you that you look too skinny, who can't understand why you don't find some nice man or woman and settle down, who always want you to come back soon. A bagel with a schmeer you can get anywhere, but love like that? Dahrklink, please.
You won't find fresher fish anywhere in town than at this simple, cement-floor shack by the fishing boat docked at Watson Island (except maybe at the fish shack next door, but Casablanca has more variety and takes credit cards). You also won't find bigger crowds, not even at velvet-rope clubs. But this is a pretty pleasant bunch. So dump your friends or family under the trees along Government Cut to watch the cruise ships sailing by, and picnic on Casablanca's fresh seafood salad and fruit drinks. Go in and grab a whole fish from one of the dozens of iced bins packed with many variations on the usual suspects seen in town: black grouper, much more succulent than red; not just yellowtail but mutton, mangrove, and hog snappers. There's also a fabulous shellfish selection. Line up with the other fish schleppers at the cash register, pay, and decide what you want done with your catch: scaling, cleaning, filleting, whatever. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes later your fish will be ready. Tip the flashy filletmeisters in back a buck or two and they'll cheer like you just won an Oscar.

Miami actually has many great Asian groceries, including a treasure trove on 163rd Street between Biscayne Boulevard and I-95. But big Lucky is best for one-stop shopping. The canned and bottled goods include not just standard soy-sauce-at-bargain-prices stuff for Asian aficionados but Lee Kum Kee's excellent XO sauce, several types of non-oyster oyster sauce for those who don't eat shellfish, and Longevity brand full-cream condensed milk for the ultimate key lime pie. The produce department has a full selection of Asian greens like snow-pea tips, fresh water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots -- even durian, the fruit that tastes like heaven but smells like hell. There's a fish department where you can see some of 'em swimming. Refrigerated cases contain a mind-boggling assortment of prepared dumplings, many in party-perfect mini sizes, and an assortment of Chinese-style sausages including near-legendary Sun Ming Jan brand from Brooklyn, whose secret ingredient is gin. Herbal and ritual remedies are stocked for those seeking health, luck, love, whatever. You'll also find a sizable selection of dishes and eating and cooking utensils. Cookbooks are on hand for those who haven't the vaguest idea what to do with the items they're buying. The clincher: If Lucky's overwhelming bounty renders you too weak to wok home, Miami's best dim sum joint (Kon Chau) is in the same mall.

Alex Broadwell
Larger than the sign marking the Norman Brothers name on the front of the store are the red letters just below that exclaim, "The Fresh Approach." Words the proprietors live by. Any doubts? Check out the mouthwatering prepared foods (smoked ribs, rotisserie chickens, meat loaf), impeccable seafood and meat (including USDA prime-dry aged beef), tempting baked goods (pastries, breads, fine chocolates), top-shelf deli items, enticing fruits and vegetables, and refreshing juices and fresh-fruit shakes. A bit pricey, yes, but weekly specials guarantee you won't go home empty-handed.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®