The key to being a fine Italian eatery is to effectively deliver high-end cuisine without losing the rustic charm and culture of the Italian countryside. Though some may argue Il Tulipano lost much of its charisma after moving from North Miami to its new digs in the Grove, the same cannot be said for the delectable Tuscan dishes that dress Old World staples with the finest of modern touches. From the exquisitely prepared fresh asparagus and mozzarella-tomato-basil appetizers to the homemade pasta entrées, Il Tulipano specializes in serving up classical sustenance. Not to be missed are the tender veal and the seafood-laden linguine, each perfect examples of northern Italian cuisine. Add stellar wine selections and decadent desserts (an apple tart both rich and savory), and it's clear that Il Tulipano has earned this award.
This outstanding eatery just beyond the Doral Country Club delivers a cuisine one would expect in one of those hard-to-find, five-table family restaurants. With a head chef, Iggy, able to cite Milan as one of his training stops, you know you're getting the real deal and plenty of it. From traditional antipasti (dressed just enough to add style but not so much to become silly) and homemade pastas to fresh seafood dishes, Bruschetta covers every Italian base, including its bread namesake, and has room left over to experiment. The specials vary, obviously, but if available do not pass on the sea bass (entrées are usually between $14 and $19). Also worthy of note is the bold and tasty pears with cheese. Of course no Italian dinner would be complete without dessert. And if sweets are your thing bring a healthy appetite -- the after-dinner treats are decadent, original, and well worth the guilt.
The performance ran late, you got to talking, but still you're really hungry. Miami, unlike Miami Beach, isn't chock-a-block full of kitchens open past 10:00 p.m., so where to head? Of course, how could you forget! But better hurry over to Versailles before it gets too crowded. In fact lines snaking outside the restaurant after midnight are not unusual, and those lines include children and grandparents. A plate of ropa vieja might hit the spot, or a simple medianoche sandwich, made for exactly this hour. The lights are bright inside, the mirrored décor adding even more luminosity, and at some point you won't know whether it's midnight or noon. And of course it doesn't matter. This most famous of Cuban restaurants has defied changes in time in many other ways, so sit back and order a café con leche. Tomorrow may never come.
A lot of people just can't eat breakfast anywhere else, especially if they're Caribbean-born. The fried, boiled, or stewed fish plus grits and johnnycake are too good. (The typical eggs, bacon, and grits special for $3.50 is no slouch either.) But the real reason everyone comes here is they get to jonesing for the fried conch. Many never even bother to try the other entrées. That's okay, but one day you'll be ready for a taste of the chicken (fried, steamed, baked, or barbecued), oxtail, pork chops, ribs, or the aforementioned fish dishes. And that's when you'll know you can't go wrong. (Prices are a little higher than they need to be, but do you hear anyone complaining?) One more thing you'll learn: Macaroni and cheese was invented here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over the years this friendly restaurant in the Chateaubleau Hotel has been cited in this edition several times, and for good reason. The food is tasty, the service is attentive, and the extended-family proprietors -- from Greece via Montreal -- are serious about the restaurant business. They care about what they are doing. Now the olive tree has branched and a new generation has taken charge. And there are changes afoot. Brothers Costa and Angelo Grillas, just 23 and 25 respectively, want to make the restaurant a little more lively than the one their uncles ran. So the décor is brighter. A belly dancer performs to live music on both Friday and Saturday evenings. And the boys are planning a Greek-style happy hour for Wednesdays. Oh, and the food: Try the leg of lamb, or the whole fresh snapper with a Greek salad. Opa!

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®