You won't find fresher fish anywhere in town than at this simple, cement-floor shack by the fishing boat docked at Watson Island (except maybe at the fish shack next door, but Casablanca has more variety and takes credit cards). You also won't find bigger crowds, not even at velvet-rope clubs. But this is a pretty pleasant bunch. So dump your friends or family under the trees along Government Cut to watch the cruise ships sailing by, and picnic on Casablanca's fresh seafood salad and fruit drinks. Go in and grab a whole fish from one of the dozens of iced bins packed with many variations on the usual suspects seen in town: black grouper, much more succulent than red; not just yellowtail but mutton, mangrove, and hog snappers. There's also a fabulous shellfish selection. Line up with the other fish schleppers at the cash register, pay, and decide what you want done with your catch: scaling, cleaning, filleting, whatever. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes later your fish will be ready. Tip the flashy filletmeisters in back a buck or two and they'll cheer like you just won an Oscar.

Miami actually has many great Asian groceries, including a treasure trove on 163rd Street between Biscayne Boulevard and I-95. But big Lucky is best for one-stop shopping. The canned and bottled goods include not just standard soy-sauce-at-bargain-prices stuff for Asian aficionados but Lee Kum Kee's excellent XO sauce, several types of non-oyster oyster sauce for those who don't eat shellfish, and Longevity brand full-cream condensed milk for the ultimate key lime pie. The produce department has a full selection of Asian greens like snow-pea tips, fresh water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots -- even durian, the fruit that tastes like heaven but smells like hell. There's a fish department where you can see some of 'em swimming. Refrigerated cases contain a mind-boggling assortment of prepared dumplings, many in party-perfect mini sizes, and an assortment of Chinese-style sausages including near-legendary Sun Ming Jan brand from Brooklyn, whose secret ingredient is gin. Herbal and ritual remedies are stocked for those seeking health, luck, love, whatever. You'll also find a sizable selection of dishes and eating and cooking utensils. Cookbooks are on hand for those who haven't the vaguest idea what to do with the items they're buying. The clincher: If Lucky's overwhelming bounty renders you too weak to wok home, Miami's best dim sum joint (Kon Chau) is in the same mall.

Larger than the sign marking the Norman Brothers name on the front of the store are the red letters just below that exclaim, "The Fresh Approach." Words the proprietors live by. Any doubts? Check out the mouthwatering prepared foods (smoked ribs, rotisserie chickens, meat loaf), impeccable seafood and meat (including USDA prime-dry aged beef), tempting baked goods (pastries, breads, fine chocolates), top-shelf deli items, enticing fruits and vegetables, and refreshing juices and fresh-fruit shakes. A bit pricey, yes, but weekly specials guarantee you won't go home empty-handed.

Ask any number of Cubans if they'd rather sip their coffee sitting down or standing up and without hesitating they'll almost always reply: Standing up, from a ventanita. For all you non-Spanish speakers (and the six of you know who you are), that's a window, specifically one belonging to a Cuban restaurant servicing the caffeine-craving masses on the sidewalk. The reason for this is that the cafecito ritual is as much about socializing as it is about downing the black ambrosia. The ventanita at El Pub, located at the symbolic center of Miami's Cuban exile community -- Calle Ocho -- provides ample opportunity to press the flesh with the locals. The viejos on their way to and from Domino Park. The men leaving Nene's barbershop with fresh haircuts and even fresher gossip. The local politicos. This is a veritable window onto the world.
This delightful Jamaican joint is located in the heart of old downtown. A tall glass of this not-too-sweet elixir, which the proprietors brew themselves, costs two dollars. The (nonalcoholic) liquid is bracingly delicious and a healthy tonic for our stressed-out, urbanized bodies as well. Stop in for a refreshing energy boost between meals or sit down and sip it as you enjoy a tasty plate of oxtail, curry goat, cow foot, jerk chicken, red peas, or numerous other specialties from the island. The menu also features homemade lemonade for $1.60. Open for lunch and dinner.

Take double handfuls of berries, vine-ripened to their perfumed peak under the infinite South Florida sun. Add some of the richest cream available, a touch of sugar so sweet it was worth sacrificing the Everglades, some pure spring-water ice. Churn. What do you get? Only an addiction as powerful as Sex and the City. Give in. It's a guilty pleasure, but somebody has to make it.

Modest little tables with checkered plastic tablecloths. Replicas of meats and cheeses hanging from the ceiling. Classic black-and-whites of Sophia Loren, Frank Sinatra, and the cast of The Godfather. Slightly tacky paintings of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and other famous Italian sights. Cheap food available on a cafeteria-style serving line. Sounds like a cliché to avoid, except that this scene is hidden within Laurenzo's, the Italian grocery and deli that's been a fixture in North Miami Beach for nearly 40 years. Here's what to do: Drop in for lunch, sample from the freshly made and delicious varieties of spaghetti, ravioli, and lasagna, then scoot over to the aisle where fresh flour and egg pastas are made several times a day. Maybe now you'll have a better idea what to choose from the impressive array -- fettuccine, tortellini (and oni), ravioli, fusilli, pappardelle, gnocchi. Just deciding among the bright coils of drying linguine is tough. What should it be? Black pepper? Spinach? Wheat? Tomato? Squid's ink? Oh, what the heck. Try 'em all.
C'mon, an overpriced sushi joint? We only have about a hundred of those, so why reward a new one? Well, friends, try out Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's dishes and then come back and tell us it wasn't worth every penny. So what if some whine about the décor. People! Style over substance has been Miami's cement shoes for too long. And so what if the super-fresh sashimi melted in your mouth so quickly and deliciously you almost forgot you just ate it. And who cares if chopsticks were used as weapons for the very last crumbs from the black codfish with miso. It doesn't matter. What does matter is this: Miami finally has a Matsuhisa masterhouse to return to over and over again for more of the same. For the first time in a while, a restaurant has opened that can truly contend with the best of the best.
No, it's not really about the drinks. You've had those before. And it's not really about the décor, which is clean and fine but not spectacular. It's also not about the specials, because there aren't really official hours for happiness here. It's about the only reason people seek out happy hours to begin with: the scene. What? On Miracle Mile in the stuffy Gables, you might sneer? Yup. There's a new dawn in that part of town and it's raising a toast at the new Houston's after work. Good mix of cocktails, ages, ethnicities, sexes, economic positions. The men and women behind the bar are friendly, as are the people sitting next to you. Starting late in the afternoon on Friday often you won't find a stool or even standing room, so the party spills out into the street. If you need further proof this isn't the Gables of old, consider: Once you've downed your after-work libations, you can move on to other attractions. Huh? Life after 8:00 p.m. in the City Beautiful? Yes, truly a new dawn.

This is truly the hole-in-the-wall that has it all. Almost indistinguishable from the other storefronts along this part of North Miami Avenue, Clive's makes its mark at the cozy counter set up with great Jamaican favorites like curry goat, oxtail, and cowfoot. With ample food packed on a five-dollar special, this is a can't-miss deal every afternoon. The chicken is cooked to diner perfection and the curry is a smooth blend that avoids the fire-alarm spices of other native cuisines. The mood is laid-back, with a pleasant Mrs. P taking good care of the customers and a small radio pumping out reggae sounds. You just may catch Clive's fan Lenny Kravitz taking in the scene. Clive's is great for take-out but just as nice for a midafternoon stop to take it easy.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®