On the menu at Touch, desserts are graced with the definitive title "finishing touches." As if sweets are only to be enjoyed at the end of a meal. Well, at the risk of sounding like a sugar addict, we recommend the sinful selections created by pastry chef Dominique Pereira, a native of Lyon, France, be considered fare for any hour. Banana-and-berry bread pudding accented with honey-lavender syrup for breakfast sounds good. Fruit is important. Instead of filet mignon as an evening meal, why not a thick three-chocolate (white, milk, and dark) layered mousse? Chocolate is chock full of antioxidants. Caramelized bananas paired with silky ice cream makes the perfect late-night snack. Dairy products promote sleep. Good thing the kitchen at Touch stays open until midnight (1:00 a.m. on weekends). Now, if we could only get them to serve breakfast and lunch.
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.
Café Pastis
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.
South Florida's Mexican restaurants are known for their extensive menus, kitschy décor, mariachi bands, and spicy salsa. Well, this one's only got the last to its name. The décor is bare bones and in truth not altogether comfy, with bar stools and a couple of tables comprising the majority of the seating. Nor does the menu take more time to read than a comic book, given that there are only about a dozen items from which to choose. Point is, though, these twelve dishes rock North Miami with a decidedly Latin beat. Yucatan soup, chicken stock flavored with lime, is worthy of standing alone as the sole appetizer. Follow it with a burrito Maya, filled with pork in aromatic pibil sauce, or authentic tamales wrapped in corn husks and steamed to perfection. Burritos Grill Café doesn't supply fancy eats, but it does make beef tacos al pastor to order, and no one is playing a guitar in your face as you stuff it.
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.
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While this eatery's name seems to suggest something far simpler than fine dining, things are not always what they seem. Shoji's stuff is not standard sushi but rather neo-Japanese/New World fusion food -- and very fine indeed. Instead of the standard sushi-bar faux-crab sunomono, for instance, there's snapper ceviche with sake, citrus, sweet peppers, onion, cilantro, and masago, available alone or on a sampler plate with equally imaginative ceviches of hamachi, salmon, and scallops. Forget California rolls; makis here include spicy lobster roll (huge lobster chunks plus mango, avocado, scallion, salmon caviar, and spicy shiso leaves, with jalapeño-spiked mango purée substituting for the usual sushi-bar chili catsup) and a melt-in-your-mouth crispy oyster roll, a shrimp tempura roll gone to heaven: deep-dried cold-water oysters plus cucumber, lettuce, masago, chili mayo, and capers. Yes, South Beach's other upscale sushi eateries (like Nobu) have similarly imaginative dishes, but they don't do take-out. And none of them for sure have pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith's desserts. The homemade ginger ale float probably wouldn't survive a doggy bag, but astonishingly subtle green tea cheesecake and soufflé-light warm chocolate cake will.

While Miami has plenty of Chinese/American chop suey joints, as well as one-step-up places serving honey-garlic chicken that's less old-fashioned gloppy but no less Americanized, our town has few eateries that offer authentic Chinese food. This very nongentrified but very welcoming little spot, located in an unprepossessing mini-mall, does. Salty pepper shrimp -- crisp-coated whole crustaceans served like soft-shell crab, shell and head on for maximum flavor, on a bed of crunchy-battered Chinese broccoli -- is a must-not-miss. Macau's ho fan, broad noodles that are sautéed with various other ingredients either dry-style or wet (sauced), have a chewy texture that makes them far more interesting than the lo mein normally found in American Chinese eateries. Those needing comfort food will find it in congee, difficult to find almost anywhere in America outside major Chinatowns: a delicate savory rice porridge garnished with a variety of meats and veggies. In its humble heart, this is classic Cantonese.
Jumbo's
Adrianne D'Angelo
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.
Big Squeeze Juice Bar
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.
Soyka
You remember the scene in Steve Martin's movie The Lonely Guy, when he goes to a restaurant to dine alone. He says to the maitre d': "I'd like a table for one," to which the man loudly replies, "A table for one?" The entire place goes quiet. A spotlight is directed on the lonely guy as he's escorted to his table. After he's seated and the staff pointedly takes away the setting across from him, he finally asks them to kindly turn off the light. That pretty much sums it up. There are few other experiences in life that make you feel more lonely than dining alone. But with the right restaurant you can actually feel part of something rather than apart. Such a place is Soyka. It's usually so loud and bustling that no one will notice when you walk in unaccompanied. But don't do a table. Take a seat at the bar or the long communal table up front. The people behind the bar will make you feel comfortable and utterly normal. You can order a complete meal (no need to choose only "bar" food) without the spotlight descending on you as someone asks if they can take the "free" chair from your table. And you will be normal, what with all those other single diners around you also ordering their meals. No, at Soyka you are not alone at all.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®