Translated, dim sum means "touch the heart," meaning this is food that aims to please, by providing a great grab bag of variety; there's a little something for everyone seeking small bites of big flavors. And though this is not the only excellent dim sum establishment in town (or even on the block, as better-known Tropical Chinese confirms), its offerings are the most excitingly similar to those in the top dim sum parlors in the world. Though small, casual Kon Chau serves up over 60 selections, divided into four basic categories: sweet dessert items; deep-fried items; miscellaneous stir-fried, grilled, or stewed variety dishes; and most important, steamed savories such as stuffed breads, various root vegetable and cereal "cakes," and dumplings galore. There's har gau, small steamed cilantro-spiced pork and shrimp dumplings; fun gor, especially a steamed vegetable version filled with spiced shiitake mushrooms; and cheoung fun, tender but chewy rolled rice noodle crêpes filled with barbecued pork, beef, or shrimp, topped with a succulent salty/sweet sauce. Selections are made by menu, less festive than the rolling carts at some dim sum establishments (but, in smaller and slower-turnover tea houses, ensuring greater freshness). At any rate Kon Chau's large proportion of Asian diners confirms the quality.
It seems odd that a restaurant with three locations (Hialeah and Deerfield Beach as well) and a name like Little Havana can be "unknown," but this Cuban specialty joint in North Miami easily gets lost amid the clutter of shops, banks, and condos on Biscayne's commercial strip. Once you find it, though, you'll know why tourists and locals alike pass on the word about the no-frills cuisine served up seven days a week. From traditional Cuban selections like oxtail in wine sauce and palomilla steak to Spanish omelets and a savory ground beef in Creole sauce, the dishes are basic in presentation (all come with rice, beans, and fried plantains) and delicious in their simplicity. Each course complements the selection of appetizers ranging from fried yuca to the Cuban tamal with mojo. Also worthy of entrée consideration is the baked or fried chicken plate and the broiled seafood assortment. Top off any meal with either the guava with cheese or a sinfully good coconut flan. Prices range from $6.95 to $22.95 and it's open from 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily.
So much has been said about this North Miami eatery and its scrumptious menu of gastronomic delights (including what we said in "Best of Miami" last year, when it also took this award). It has done justice to the former home of Mark's Place, Mark Militello's nationally recognized shrine to New World cuisine. In addition to executive chef Edson Milto's traditional but still exotic feijoada (served weekends), the Picanha menu offers plenty of adventure. The same can be said of the restaurant's festive atmosphere. After dinner you can sip the best caiprinhas in town as you samba into the night accompanied by live bands (call for music details).

BEST ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT LUNCH BUFFET

Every weekday at 11:30 a.m. manager Tom Dalgan throws open the doors on a sumptuous lunchtime feast: daily carving, chicken, fish, 22-item salad bar, and an academic ambiance that may nourish you with ideas as well as food. All this until 1:30 p.m. for a fixed price of $9.75. Drinks and desserts are extra. Enter the parking lot off Red Road just north of Dixie Highway.
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?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®