Granted the waitstaff isn't wearing sombreros and the music blaring on the sound system is an odd mix of merengue, salsa, and upbeat rock en español. But the requisite cowboy memorabilia clinging to the walls, plus the basket of freshly made chips, tart salsa, and giant margaritas on the table, are enough to tell you there's a definite Tex-Mex vibe in the air. Founded in 1982 in Dallas, the wildly successful On the Border was acquired in 1994 by casual-dining company Brinker International, owner of other popular eateries including Chili's Grill & Bar and Romano's Macaroni Grill. More than 100 outposts now stretch across the country, offering consistently tasty Mexican fare in generous portions. Among the abundant appetizers: smoked chicken flautas served with chili con queso and firecracker stuffed jalapeños filled with chopped chicken and cheeses. Main-dish choices range from burritos, chimichangas, and enchiladas to mesquite-fired fajitas boasting sizzling chicken, shrimp, beef, or portobello mushrooms. Remnants of spiciness can be soothed by a sinful sweet, be it Kahlua ice cream pie, Mexican crème caramel, or apple and strawberry chimichangas.
Franchise-food dining doesn't have the Epicurean seal of approval around here, but once in a while you find an exception. On Friday nights, for example, Robert, the Deep South short-order cook at this mid-Beach branch attached to a Howard Johnson's hotel, will cook you up two golden-red porkchops, an orange sweet potato, and some green broccoli, washed down with heavily iced lemon-Coke. Makes you feel you're in a Carson McCullers novel -- The Ballad of the Sad Café, say. Carlos Duran will serve this feast for only $8.29, and tell you about the time his computer card (for the cash register), which he wears on a vinyl cord, wrapped around a chair while he was delivering an order and nearly pulled his pants off. Lawraye Taveinni, a manager, will seat you in the smoking section (no one sits there) on a crowded Sunday morning and feed you healthy Harvest whole-grain oat, almond, and English walnut pancakes with warm fruit compote for just $5.99. And midweek cute Antoy Williams will cheer up grouchy oldsters who didn't want big sausages on their French toast special ($6.29) with jokes about her bus trip in from Opa-locka: "That driver was madder than you, honey! He just stuck in my face!" Call it breakfast theater.
Something for everyone and plenty of it. That's why you'll often find a line of patrons waiting for a table during peak hours. We're talking chilled snow-crab legs, shrimp, and mussels. Eel, salmon, and California sushi rolls. Barbecued ribs, sweet-and-sour chicken, egg rolls, dumplings, stir-fried veggies. Prime rib, black-pepper steak, General Tso's chicken. A salad bar, six different soups. Eight flavors of hard-packed ice cream, Black Forest cake, miniature coconut tarts, chocolate-dipped fruit. An exhausting array of more than 100 items spread over seven serving stations. Unfettered access to the buffet will run you $7.50 to $11 (on weekends) for lunch and $14 to $17 for dinner. You can also order food à la carte for special dietary requirements. Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 2:30 p.m. on weekends. Dinner is served 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Sunday, and on holidays. Friday and Saturday dinner service continues until 10:30 p.m.
Chefs of all stripes like to say that with regard to cuisine, quality is in the details. For the Cuban gourmet one measuring stick for refined gastronomy is to be found in the mariquitas (curly, long, plantain chips). Casa Romeu's are el maximo: soft and fluffy, not crispy and burned like at some places. Another culinary barometer is the sopa de pollo (chicken soup), which Romeu's customers wistfully remember for days, sometimes weeks. Somehow they even make people rave about the congrí, a seasoned mixture of rice and beans. Romeu regulars are especially fanatical about the picadillo (a juicy, piquant concoction of ground beef, onion, peppers, and spices) and the bistec empanizado (breaded steak). Located about a mile north of Miami Lakes, the restaurant opens at 7:00 a.m. and closes at midnight. ¿Qué más tu quieres?
Yes, Nuevo Siglo is "decrepit-looking," as noted in the New York Times. In fact it looks pretty much as decrepit as most of Havana, Cuba. Sitting at the counter on a balmy winter afternoon, a coffee-scented breeze wafting in from the window open to the cacophony of Calle Ocho, you feel a little like you're lunching in your tia's funky kitchen in Centro Habana. Your tia who can always comfort you with a bowl of savory chicken soup, who seems to effortlessly produce plate after plate of really good Cuban food, such as roasted pork and chicken, picadillo, oxtail (sometimes goat, lamb, or shrimp) accompanied by perfect yuca or maduros, and of course plenty of rice and the potaje of the day -- black beans, garbanzos. Nothing fancy, just a solid meal a lo cubano. The menu changes daily and the entrées go fast. A big lunch can run you five to seven dollars. There are also some decent breakfast specials.
Proprietors of so-called American steakhouses take note: We're just a wee bit tired of the strip-sirloin-and-creamed-spinach routine. That's why we've turned to the products of the asador, the grill room located between the double dining rooms at Graziano's. Like American steak places, Graziano's serves the bare bones -- beef à la carte -- but the flavor of Argentine hardwood and the juiciness sealed in by a slow-turning rotisserie make the cuts of meat incomparable. Nonbeef main courses include suckling pig and gigantic Patagonian shrimp, also hot off the asador. Add starters like quickly seared blocks of Provolone, homemade sausages, or grilled sweetbreads, and a wine list so comprehensive even enophiles get confused, and what's left to say but grazie?
Many people aren't even aware of the place, which isn't so surprising. This stretch of Collins Avenue, dominated by high-rise condo buildings, hardly seems a likely locale for a classy restaurant. But here is Shula's, tucked away near the back of the Alexander, far from the bustling crowds, the perfect setting for a dining room conducive to privacy. Here there are no clanging plates, noisy diners, or obtrusive music. Here you and your guest can slip into a plush banquette and recede from the world, almost literally invisible. Here the waitstaff is discreet and respectful. Here you won't be thoughtlessly interrupted. Here, as you indulge the decadent menu, you can say what you really think and no one but your intended listener will hear.

True to its origins, this Parisian bistro stocks a healthy number of red wines to counteract all those high-fat cheese and meat offerings. But the so-called French Paradox isn't what Brasserie Les Halles is all about. Indeed the eatery, which highlights different regions of France such as the Loire Valley and Alsace-Lorraine, offers an exceptional number of vins blanc as well. Looking for something appropriately matched to the rabbit roasted in mustard sauce? A cool Chateau de Maimbray Sancerre is a good option. A little bubbly to celebrate a special occasion or maybe just to wash down a bowl of moules marinières? The 1990 Pommery Cuvée Louise is a delicious choice -- and priced at $165 is just a bit less expensive than other lists around town. Of course if you believe nothing fits a French bill like an order of steak frites and a glass of Bordeaux or Burgundy, then at Brasserie Les Halles you'll always be in the money.
When they had their place called Norma's on Miami Beach, partners Delius Shirley and executive chef Cindy Hutson built a reputation as masters of Jamaican cuisine, in part because Delius's mom Norma was their mentor, and the tiny kitchen in the Lincoln Road eatery limited the number of ingredients that could be kept on hand. But when the pair moved their operation to Coral Gables a few seasons ago, the name changed and the menu expanded to reflect the possibilities of a larger work space. Now, says Hutson, liberated from whatever the category of Jamaican bistro might mean, she is giving culinary expression to a wider menu that she thinks of as "cuisine of the sun." That might include dishes with Asian or South American origins. But Hutson's basic culinary education remains Jamaican, the restaurant's coolly elegant décor is still Caribbean, and the food is still divine. Jerked pork and lamb patties are often on the menu, but so too are Thai dishes, or curries, or something from Colombia that calls for coconut milk or ginger. Ortanique, by the way, is a sweet hybrid citrus that comes from crossing an orange and a tangerine, a fitting symbol for a restaurant unlike any other.
We hereby present this new eatery with the ABS Award -- that being Anything But Starbucks. In this coffeehouse-blighted town any signs of new life must be encouraged. So go past the deli counter and up the stairs studded with circles of light. At the top you'll find the bookstore area, featuring regularly scheduled author readings and signings as well as ultrahip black-and-white décor. There are couches and animal-print recliners for lounging, or café-size tables and chairs for lounging and dining. Or sit outside under the umbrellas and watch the world go by. The usual lattes and cappuccinos are offered, and since this place is also a bar, so are Irish coffee and Caribbean Magic (involving light and dark rum). Let the hanging-out commence.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®