The Cuban sandwich is an art form. There are a thousand improvisations, depending on the taste, level of talent, and materials available to the maker. But as with any school or period in the art world, there is a certain archetypal Cuban sandwich, the paradigm for anything that would presume to call itself a Cuban sandwich. Where is such a masterpiece found? It is at Enriqueta's. The archetypal Cuban sandwich has to be on pressed Cuban bread, and it must have just the right combination of ham, pork, swiss cheese, and pickles. How Enriqueta's cooks do it, turning out perfect copy after perfect copy, is a mystery of the creative spirit.
What other North American city would be the source of a soft drink with a South American twist? Miami's own Cawy Bottling Company produces a fizzy elixir made with yerba mate extract. (No, those are not marijuana plants in the logo.) Mate tea, of course, is a wildly popular hot drink in Argentina and is on the rise in the Argentine outpost expanding right here in the southern cone of Florida. Among the herb's fabled effects: a healthy gastrointestinal tract, a strengthened immune system, youthful hair, improved sexual performance, and less stress (not necessarily in that order). But one is not always in the mood for hot tea in 95-degree heat. Hence the cold variant in a can. While the sucrose and corn sweeteners in Materva may undermine the medicinal powers of the mate, one must never underestimate the placebo effect. Anyway you'll be doing your teeth and waistline a favor. The most amazing thing about Materva is that it's produced in this sugar-crazed town but is far less sweet than Coke, Pepsi, and their uncola counterparts.
From what we've experienced, Bamboo Garden doesn't do anything different for its take-out customers than it does for its in-house clientele. And therein lies the compliment. The staff is equally courteous whether you're sitting down for dinner or standing and staring absently at the fish tank while you wait for it. The condiments -- duck sauce, soy sauce, Chinese mustard -- are just as free-flowing, along with homemade fried noodles. And the execution of the garlic eggplant with sliced pork, the kung po squid, or the beef chow fun with black bean and pepper doesn't veer away from excellence, whether you're consuming it on the spot or taking it home for spot-on take-out dining. The name may say Bamboo but the effort made here is hardly wooden.
Casa Juancho, a Calle Ocho institution that has taken the award for Best Spanish Restaurant several times over the years, is all dark woods and moody lighting, brick walls and tile floors. The strolling musicians, formally attired waiters, and hanging hams will make you think you've stumbled into some Iberian period drama. Oh yes, and the tapas are exquisito. Casa Juancho's extensive menu features 31 tapas items, from serrano ham, blood sausage, fried or grilled calamari, shrimp, squid, mussels, octopus, and beef tips to roasted or fried peppers, mushrooms, and sheep's cheese. Many of the dishes are deeply flavored with garlic and olive oil. Prices range from a $6 plate of pulpo a la gallega (octopus) to $15 for the fritura malagueña (mixed fried seafood plate). The restaurant is owned by the Felipe Valls family of Versailles and La Carreta fame, so expect a mix of Cuban power brokers and tourists looking for a Miami experience. Open Sunday through Thursday from noon to midnight. Friday and Saturday till 1:00 a.m.

This place, which is technically located in a pocket of unincorporated Miami-Dade County just across the street from Coral Gables, has old James Dean pictures and everything Fifties -- fried chicken, meaty chili, big portions, and no regrets -- and also serves the best milkshake we've had since childhood visits to the Wildwood Diner up in New Jersey. That's because Marie Burg is from Philly, where they put a little extra in the shake. Two huge scoops of Cisco ice cream (but only vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, the classics), whole milk, half a minute in the blender, and God knows what else. (Marie ain't talking.) "The most important thing," she says, "is you've got to get that feeling like when we were kids and hanging outside the diner, you know? When everything counted soooo much? That's the secret." Marie somehow gets it in there, and she charges only $2.95. What could be bad? Picnics is open 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; Saturday till 5:00 p.m. and Sunday till 3:00 p.m.
Every chef extraordinaire knows that one key ingredient to serving outstanding French fries is a magnificent little metal container. That is what they arrive in (with a paper liner) at this savory little slice of France near Sunset Drive, thus keeping them warm all the way through your exquisite bowl of mussels in white wine and shallots. There is nothing nice about cold, soggy fried-potato fragments. At Café Pastis the hot, yellow-white, and slightly crispy outside keeps the robust flavor and hearty texture steaming on the inside. They're so good you might also want to have a little grilled New York steak with green peppercorn and cognac sauce with them.
Maybe it's because they make so much coffee here (all the classics except the hot brown water served at many "American" restaurants) that the café con leche at Versailles is so fresh and rich. Maybe they use some special machine. Maybe it's coffee beans from a special plant smuggled out of the Sierra Maestra 43 years ago. Better not to think. Just drink.
The best fried chicken, you think, might be somewhat difficult to determine as it's one of the most common edible items around. But of course we're not talking about merely the crunch, which at Jumbo's is admittedly damn good. We're talking about the whole fried-chicken meal, the booth in which it is consumed, the other crunchers in the room. Located on the corner of one of Miami's more disagreeable streets, Jumbo's is a beacon. Bright and warm and crowded, it begs you to sit down. The combo platters are named after Miami high schools, the various fried foods delivered with a choice of two sides, which makes all the difference. When you order a Booker T. Washington at lunch, and piping hot drumsticks and legs arrive with black-eyed peas and collard greens, for $4.99, you know it doesn't get better than this. The collards are Deep South, cooked forever with bacon and its fat, and they bring out the true essence of the chicken. Not too greasy, the fried batter doesn't cling to the meat, which is ample -- these are no skinny legs. After the umpteenth visit, if you want to try something else, order the fried shrimp and conch. Again, you won't walk out hungry. As your waitress and the owner wish you well, your arteries will wish Jumbo's had never opened, for your next visit won't be far away.
So you need a spirulina fix and don't have lots of time? If you're anywhere near North Miami Beach you'll be well advised to zip over to the fastest little health-food place in town. Okay, so the menu also offers gyros and French fries. Don't worry. You'll find a large variety of smoothies, fresh-pressed vegetable juices, and vegetarian entrées. For thirteen years this roadside stand has been attracting healthy eaters with its ramshackle charm and laid-back atmosphere. If you crave something with a kick, be sure to order Amos's famous "roots tonic," a chilled brew described by one waitress as tasting "like living hell." Despite a bouquet reminiscent of gasoline (and with a similar burn), this mighty elixir -- made on the premises with a combination of roots and barks and served in a shot glass -- will kick you into high gear and launch you back on the highway of life bursting with energy.
First of all, there is not now and never will be anything remotely comparable to a fresh, warm Krispy Kreme glazed. So forget that. But on the local doughnut scene, Donut Connection is making a very important contribution and deserves every one of its many contented customers. The contribution? This cheery little place on busy 163rd Street is about the only remaining doughnut shop in the county that has not been gobbled up by that huge chain that sells good coffee and mediocre donuts. Donut Connection's product is top quality, and the selection of pastries, muffins, and doughnuts can't be beat. The mango- and guava-filled are sinfully tasty, and their cake doughnuts, many varieties, are the absolute best.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®