The empanada is to many South American countries what the cheeseburger is to heartland America: the most popular grab-and-go meal and a cultural icon. These fried or baked dough pockets stuffed with a variety of meat or vegetable fillings are abundant at bakeries all around Miami, but few establishments serve them as fresh and authentically Argentine as Confiteria Buenos Aires Bakery & Café. The fried, ground-beef version (jazzed up with bits of hard-boiled egg, green olive, and spices) is the winner. Its baked cousins -- available with chicken, spinach, or ham and cheese -- with their flaky crusts, are equally delectable. Take a dozen home for the family. Better yet, linger inside this warm and bustling café and have them with a Quilmes (Argentine beer) while enjoying the swirl of activity created by the Bonarense transplants who flock here for a taste of home. Open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Maybe it's the seasoning that's developed from years of repeated cooking on the grill and in cast-iron pots that makes the food at Shorty's taste so good. If the crowds of hungry patrons lined up at all hours outside the log-cabin-looking Dadeland eatery are any indication, the restaurant, founded in 1951, continues to dish out the same lip-smacking chicken and ribs it always has. Various combinations of meat and poultry are offered, but for those not inclined to the juicy, Flintstone-size slabs, a selection of substantial sandwiches beckons. Barbecue beef or pork, chargrilled chicken breast, and tender beef brisket are served on a bun, accompanied by crinkle-cut French fries (creamy coleslaw dotted with zingy celery seed comes with the brisket). A sweetish red barbecue sauce or a smoky-brown homemade mixture provides embellishment. Baked beans, potatoes (sweet and white), garlic bread, and perfectly cooked ears of corn (plain or drenched in butter) are among the starchy sides. With courteous, efficient service and grub this good, Shorty's is bound to be around another half-century.
Fernando Lopez is an artist. He writes screenplays and sculpts, and he believes someday he'll make it as a filmmaker. But seven years ago his wife Belkis talked him into opening a juice shop, and that has provided a living for the couple and their three young children. Fernando's artistic sensibilities and Belkis's culinary talents have also made their little restaurant a popular stop for the work-week crowd that appreciates lunchtime specials such as turkey peccadillo and veggie lasagna. The storefront café gives off a time-capsuled Seventies vibe, thanks in part to Fernando's colorful artwork on the walls and the aroma of steaming vegetables and tamari. But also featured on the menu are luscious smoothies and vegetable-juice combos to cure every ill, from arthritis and acne to indigestion and impotence. And if you don't know what ails you or just what you need, Fernando is not shy about making an instant diagnosis. Open for breakfast and lunch, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

What's the most vital thing needed in a health-food store? Great cookies! Whole Foods' cookies are fashionably huge but also full of the natural ingredients natural women and men crave, like butter. Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin are fab, but the chewy sugar cookies are especially addictive. Incidentally, the store's other stock is superior too: a mammoth selection of crisp fruits and veggies, including local and hard-to-find produce like frisee, plus organic seeds and herb plants, sparkling fresh fish, top-brand poultry, and meats both usual and unusual (buffalo burgers). There is kid-friendly health food such as Fran's fun frozen line of fish and chicken nibbles shaped like starfish and dinosaurs, and a selection of esoteric wines and beers that would do an upscale specialty liquor store proud. Also available: a huge choice of vitamins and natural cosmetics at very fair prices, as well as a prepared-foods department featuring dishes that not only look drop-dead gorgeous but taste great. Even the tofu! But really, it's the cookies that count.

Man does not live by bread alone. But if he did, he'd do it here. Rosemary bread. Onion rye. San Francisco sourdough. Sesame semolina. Raisin pecan. And more. Baked fresh every day and laid out in heaping piles on a metal rack for your perusing and consuming pleasure. Get thee to this bakery. Life is short.
To most people "comfort food" means something that's reassuring because it's what we ate when we were kids. Oddly, though, most restaurants' idea of comfort food is meat loaf. How many modern moms made meat loaf? TV dinners are more like it. Why were these especially comforting? For one thing they were served in conveniently compartmentalized trays that kept sauces and juices and flavors separated. For another they became associated with an indulgent adolescent pleasure: zoning out in front of the tube. The problem with the TV dinners of yore, of course, was the actual food they contained. But Big Pink's TV dinners, a different special each day, present no problems in that regard. The food does sound like the old standards (turkey, pot roast, eggplant parmesan, fried chicken) but one bite and you know it's the real thing, not some processed gunk from an assembly line. The mashed potatoes are real. The vegetables are fresh, not frozen. The macaroni and cheese features firm pasta and cheese with real character. The crisp chicken is creatively coated with panko. Desserts include items such as red velvet cake and key lime pie instead of those tiny old Styrofoam brownies. And thanks to Big Pink's delivery service, this updated version of the TV dinner from your past can be placed right in your lap -- just as dear old Mom did lo those many years ago.

It's what Long John Silver's pretends to be but never has been: good seafood on the fly. Capt. Crab's has the fish sandwiches (fried and grilled), the shrimp, conch, clam chowder, and so on. But especially notable in this little shack of a fast-food restaurant are the crabs. A moist and delectable crab sandwich goes for $6; a bucket of heavenly garlic crabs ranges from the one-pounder at $8.50 to the jumbo tub (four pounds) for $29. Pair it with a cold beer, sold by the bottle at the drive-though window, and a two-dollar key lime pie and you're good to go. The drive-thru is open 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

There aren't a lot of chili restaurants in Miami-Dade County, despite the presence of chili in various forms on numerous menus. In fact it's probably safe to say there are no places in Miami-Dade where you can find traditional chili. This void forces us to travel up to Broward County to push a renowned style of chili available only at Skyline. If you know anyone who's ever lived in Cincinnati, or if you've visited the Queen City yourself, then you know that chili is a staple of the diet there and that the type of chili they serve is unlike chili anywhere else. It's nearly as thin as water and is served atop a plate of spaghetti. Accompaniments include a mound of shredded cheddar cheese and/or onions and/or plump red kidney beans. The recipe is a closely held secret but we think we taste chocolate and cinnamon in there somewhere. Skyline is the dominant chili chain in Ohio, founded in 1949 by Greek immigrants Nicholas and Alexandra Lambrinides. Thankfully one of the Lambrinides grandsons migrated to Florida and brought some outlets with him. Skyline is an acquired taste, that's for sure. And for those who've acquired it, the drive north is well worth it.

It seems such an easy dessert. No intricate baking techniques, no rare ingredients, no specific occasion or purpose. And yet it saddens to know how often this creation can turn out so awfully wrong. A perennial favorite among "Best of Miami" readers, Joe's Stone Crab sticks to some trusted basics from a closely guarded recipe and delivers one hell of a slice of homemade key lime heaven. Cool, creamy, and with just the right tartness from the choicest limes, this pie gets the nod over some fair competition. The crust is a straightforward but delicious graham cracker. No whipping cream is used to desecrate the delicate yet rich filling. And the color is correct: not gaudy green but rather a slightly pale, sour-apple shade. The only chink in this pie's armor is the fact that Joe's closes for the summer, leaving its fans to pine away until fall. It's worth the wait. A nine-inch pie costs $18; by the slice it's $4.95.
For some people this tiny, tangy citrus fruit is the key to happiness. And there's no better place to buy joy than the source -- the Tree itself -- where the shelves are dedicated to products flavored with this coveted concentrate: key lime-covered pecans; key lime-frosted graham crackers; key lime marmalade; key lime jelly beans. Diehards can even wash their hair with key lime shampoo and bubble up their baths with key lime soap. But the most obsessed among us probably won't even make it into the shop, given that the patio area contains dozens of potted key lime trees. The three-gallon containers go for ten bucks, and while you might not see limes on the limbs for a few years, it's a good investment nonetheless. Just keep it to yourself. We wouldn't want the canker crowd to get aromatic wind of it.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®