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.
We dare you to call up a restaurant at random and ask how much they'd charge you for bringing in your own bottle of wine. We guarantee you'll be quoted a price of no less than ten dollars and probably at least twenty, all for the hard work the waiter has to do to uncork and pour your chosen label. After all, why should the management let you enjoy a vintage from your private cellar when they can charge you triple the wholesale cost for one you don't really care about? Not Su-Shin. This sushi place simply doesn't care about what you bring in -- Petrus or plonk. They'll still charge two dollars per customer. Let's say for argument's sake you've brought with you a nice Riesling that goes really well with Asian flavors and you spent, oh, $12 on it. For a romantic dinner for two you'll be paying an additional four dollars for the privilege of drinking it with your meal. That's a grand total of $16. (The same bottle, if the restaurant offered it, would probably be listed at $25 or more.) So what does Su-Shin know that its colleagues don't? Only that customers are likely to spend twice that on, say, uncooked tuna.
It's got the casual, been-there-forever feel of a neighborhood hangout. The green-and-brown color scheme is oddly appealing, and the place looks bright and friendly. Diner ambiance minus the dinginess. No need to settle for a table and chairs -- it's all booths. And breakfast, naturally, is served all day, featuring monster omelets and refreshing honesty from the waitstaff: "Have the hash browns. The home fries have been sitting all morning." Hey, if this spot's good enough for the Bee Gees, it's good enough for you.
Once you've tried Fico nothing else is as rico. Even if you're one of those purists who used to have to put up with the total lack of seating at the original location on Flagler, it's worth it! (The patience of so many loyal customers, eating while standing up at those narrow counters, has been rewarded with a new section at the Flagler restaurant where you can actually sit at tables and chairs.) Of course the newer South Beach Fico lacks the quirky character of its predecessor, but the seafood hasn't suffered. Fico's always-perfect broiled fish fillets remain the seafood standard, but every variety of fresh seafood -- fried, grilled, or broiled to order -- is consistently scrumptious. Excellent soups too. A special salute to the tostones de platanos Hawaianos, fried green plantains stuffed with little crawfish. Now they're expanding the menu to include chicken and pasta, but who needs that?
You're a high-dollar lawyer in a city that breeds them and business is good. Then one day, that risky, somewhat shady Latin-American venture you got your biggest client to invest in goes rotten -- bloody coup rotten. He's angry and he's outside your office right now. Your mind is blank, your palms sweaty, your stomach growling. Growling? Ah yes, it is lunchtime. Might as well make your last meal a good one. Striding purposefully out of your office, you sweep your client along to your car, promising that everything will be explained over lunch at the Rusty Pelican. The tension begins to leave your shoulders as your silver Lexus climbs the modest curve of the bridge between the mainland and the Rickenbacker Causeway. You spot the restaurant thinly disguised as a rustic shack. A few minutes later, you're walking into the maritime coolness of the place, where you promptly duck into the bar. Your client parks his fat butt at a table by the window and stares moodily at a yacht bobbing nearby. You take the bartender aside and order oysters, escargot with blue cheese, and two very dry martinis. Back at the table you contemplate the city skyline etched into pale blue across the shallow end of Biscayne Bay -- and think, as you always do, how beautiful Miami is from a distance.

BEST WATERFRONT RESTAURANT YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

The Commons

How about a dockside patio with an unobstructed view of both the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay? How about a Thursday- and Friday-night happy hour with the stars above, a fresh breeze, and sixteen-ounce glasses of Bass & Co. Pale Ale on tap? Tucked into a science lab and classroom building at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key, this bar-cum-eatery began life as a cafeteria for students who might have cared more about describing the life cycle of Ocyurus chrysurus -- that's a yellowtail snapper to you -- than eating one. But then the caterer Parties By Pat took over the kitchen, decorated with some palm trees and pastel murals in the dining room, and invited in the public. Open only for breakfast and lunch, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, the Commons specializes in grilled chicken, gourmet pizza, and affordable sandwiches, explains manager José Martinez. The bar is open only Thursday and Friday from 5:00 to about 10:00 p.m.

Calling the Pelican a restaurant may convey the wrong impression. It's a thatched-roof, open-air, low-cost, shorts-and-sandals throwback to a different era, perched high above the sand on the Newport's fishing pier (known to old-timers as the Sunny Isles pier). The north side offers table seating. We recommend the south side. Tall cocktail tables attached to the pier railings accommodate three stools each. Grab one to catch the southeasterly summer breeze and behold the sweeping view down the coast. Turquoise water, white sand, deep blue sky, a distant cruise ship heading to sea. It's sensational at sunset. The Pelican's menu favors burgers over seafood, but if you ask for the freshest fish and have it simply prepared you can't go wrong, especially with an Italian pinot grigio or German Riesling (no bottle more than $15). The kitchen is open till 9:00 p.m. seven days a week. You can park at the foot of the pier but it's expensive. Better to use the public parking up the road and across the street.
This is a humble little spot, a bit down on the heels, but the fresh and plentiful fare makes up for the lack of décor. The star in Holy Family's firmament of classic dishes is its divine pwason gwo sel, a whole fish, usually snapper, prepared and fried in a traditional Haitian style. Also without blemish are the lanbi, or conch, in a Creole-type sauce, and legim, a spicy mixture of vegetables and usually meat. The basic diri ak pwa, rice and beans, are good enough to make up a whole meal. There is one dish missing, for religious reasons, from Holy Family's menu: griot, or fried pork. The restaurant's faithful don't mind at all.

BEST PUERTO RICAN RESTAURANT

Benny's appetizer list is like a dim sum of Caribbean cuisine. Bacalaitos (flat cod fritters), alcapurria de masa (ground beef in fried plantain dough), tostones rellenos (fried plantains sliced and stuffed with your choice of shrimp, lobster, or squid), and the list goes on. You may not want mondongo (beef tripe) with your mofongo (mashed stuffed plantains) but owners Benny and Wanda will recommend it with snapper, yellowtail, or kingfish. Just south of the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds, Benny's opens at noon, and the slightly cheaper lunch menu is out until four o'clock Monday through Friday. The place closes at 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

The Honey Tree

Gleaming white, spongy, and about as tasty as a giant sugar-free marshmallow, tofu isn't exactly the most appealing ingredient. But place it in the capable hands of the chefs at the Honey Tree and tofu is transformed into something entirely different: It's eminently edible. Grilled tofu in tamarind peanut sauce, Indonesian tofu stir-fried with vegetables, curried tofu triangles. Hungry yet? Each weekday the six-year-old market (and three-year-old deli) offers several freshly made dishes for lunch that you can eat in or take out. Mouthwatering and healthy vegan and vegetarian specialties can include penne pasta tossed with tomato sauce and soy sausage, sautéed spinach with mushrooms, and kale and potato patties topped by chunky tomato salsa. A hearty soup of the day, fruity smoothies, and delicious desserts such as nondairy chocolate mousse pie and carob- and walnut-studded banana bread are also available. Sold by the pound, the eats are often gone by late afternoon. So if all else fails, you can choose some organic produce from a small fridge and settle down for a healthful meal from one of the freezers. The friendly folks who surround you will make you feel as good as the food.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®