Khoury's Mediterranean Restaurant
Humble chickpeas are transformed by the application of secret spices, herbs, and the old Khoury family magic. But don't ask chef/owner Maroun Khoury for the recipe. Over his many years in the business he's developed a reputation in that regard for being a Lebanese version of the Soup Nazi. So just plunk down $3.99 for an appetizer order, maybe with some hummus on the side, and enjoy this crisply fried treat. Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday; till 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday.

BEST PUERTO RICAN RESTAURANT

Benny's appetizer list is like a dim sum of Caribbean cuisine. Bacalaitos (flat cod fritters), alcapurria de masa (ground beef in fried plantain dough), tostones rellenos (fried plantains sliced and stuffed with your choice of shrimp, lobster, or squid), and the list goes on. You may not want mondongo (beef tripe) with your mofongo (mashed stuffed plantains) but owners Benny and Wanda will recommend it with snapper, yellowtail, or kingfish. Just south of the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds, Benny's opens at noon, and the slightly cheaper lunch menu is out until four o'clock Monday through Friday. The place closes at 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe
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.

BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

The Honey Tree

Honey Tree
Alexandra Rincon
Gleaming white, spongy, and about as tasty as a giant sugar-free marshmallow, tofu isn't exactly the most appealing ingredient. But place it in the capable hands of the chefs at the Honey Tree and tofu is transformed into something entirely different: It's eminently edible. Grilled tofu in tamarind peanut sauce, Indonesian tofu stir-fried with vegetables, curried tofu triangles. Hungry yet? Each weekday the six-year-old market (and three-year-old deli) offers several freshly made dishes for lunch that you can eat in or take out. Mouthwatering and healthy vegan and vegetarian specialties can include penne pasta tossed with tomato sauce and soy sausage, sautéed spinach with mushrooms, and kale and potato patties topped by chunky tomato salsa. A hearty soup of the day, fruity smoothies, and delicious desserts such as nondairy chocolate mousse pie and carob- and walnut-studded banana bread are also available. Sold by the pound, the eats are often gone by late afternoon. So if all else fails, you can choose some organic produce from a small fridge and settle down for a healthful meal from one of the freezers. The friendly folks who surround you will make you feel as good as the food.
Shorty's Bar-B-Q
Anais Alexandre
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.
South Beach is known as sushi central, and it is arguably true that a greater concentration of very good Japanese restaurants can be found on any square mile of Beach than anywhere in the U.S.A. Still, visiting Japanese chefs, local Asian foodies, and others in the know head west to this small spot in a fairly downscale shopping mall for Miami's most authentic Japanese fare -- especially Matsuri's daily specials, dishes rarely found elsewhere like foie graslike (and nonfishy) monkfish liver in spicy broth, or shisamo, succulent salt-broiled smelts stuffed with their own "caviar." And well worth the drive by itself is Matsuri's selection of toro, buttery belly tuna often seen on sushi-bar menus but almost never available: silken chutoro (particularly tasty in negitoro, a steak tartare-esque preparation of chopped toro and scallions, topped with a quail egg), and even more marbled otoro, the ultimate in sushi/sashimi decadence.
A Grove favorite for years, Paulo Luigi's is a testament to the importance of consistent quality. Serving up outstanding Italian cuisine in hearty portions, the restaurant delivers the best traditional dishes, such as a decadent chicken marsala, while spicing up more modern fare with selections like a mozzarella-drenched shrimp Parmesan. Recent changes to Paulo Luigi's bar area are welcome. Once a legendary sports bar, it has been upgraded to a cozy lounge that will attract nightcrawlers eager for a down-tempo shift from the overbearing Beach scene, as well as diners who want to linger after a satisfying meal.
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.

Whole Foods Market
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.

Pan-seared scallops
Pan-seared scallops
In terms of franchising, chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa is hardly the Hard Rock Café, but a dozen restaurants worldwide is at least a mini-empire -- and that loss of control when the head honcho isn't in the kitchen most often means the loss of high standards. But both the food and the service at South Beach's Nobu are absolutely extraordinary. Unlike New York's more formal Nobu, this spot, though located in the glam Shore Club, is intended as a more casual hangout. It's possible to just walk in and get a table, especially early in the evening. And though prices are higher than those at the average sushi bar, it's possible to put together a terrific family-style meal of three to five shared items without breaking the bank (or necessitating robbing one). Signature black cod with miso is a must. Though many other eateries now do this savory dish of miso/mirin-marinated sablefish, Matsuhisa did it first and still does it best. Also highly recommended are delicate Arctic char with crisp leaves of near greaseless deep-fried spinach; the generous sashimi salad, silky tuna on mesclun dressed with a subtly sweet/salty ginger-soy vinaigrette; and especially a treat for those who won't eat raw fish, Nobu's "New Style Sashimi," thinly sliced fish or beef partially cooked by a brief pouring of hot olive oil. While psychologically the delicate slices seem seared, they retain the moistness and tender texture of raw fish or beef.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®