Arnold's Royal Castle
Why go out for a burger you can make at home? And let's face it about those big fat "gourmet" burgers: With few exceptions anyone can buy and broil half a pound of prime beef with impressive results. What one cannot duplicate at home is your classic Castle burger, a roughly two-square-inch, two-bite patty not quite as thin as a communion wafer and producing perhaps not quite the same degree of spiritual ecstasy among true believers. But let's just say that Castles are an illusory experience one couldn't ever duplicate at home, probably because no home has a grill with a zillion years worth of accumulated grease on it. White Castles are the classics, of course. These aren't available down here, however, except in inferior frozen form in supermarkets. But still performing (live and in person!) since 1939, just a block west of I-95 in Miami, is Arnold's Royal Castle, where the succulent square slider is still supreme, and still sliding smoothly off the grill into $3.40 six-packs. Each diner will need at least two packs, unless you don't mind driving back an hour later -- which is always possible; Royal Castle is open 24 hours daily.
Les Halles
True to its origins, this Parisian bistro stocks a healthy number of red wines to counteract all those high-fat cheese and meat offerings. But the so-called French Paradox isn't what Brasserie Les Halles is all about. Indeed the eatery, which highlights different regions of France such as the Loire Valley and Alsace-Lorraine, offers an exceptional number of vins blanc as well. Looking for something appropriately matched to the rabbit roasted in mustard sauce? A cool Chateau de Maimbray Sancerre is a good option. A little bubbly to celebrate a special occasion or maybe just to wash down a bowl of moules marinières? The 1990 Pommery Cuvée Louise is a delicious choice -- and priced at $165 is just a bit less expensive than other lists around town. Of course if you believe nothing fits a French bill like an order of steak frites and a glass of Bordeaux or Burgundy, then at Brasserie Les Halles you'll always be in the money.
Ortanique on the Mile
Photo courtesy of Ortanique on the Mile
When they had their place called Norma's on Miami Beach, partners Delius Shirley and executive chef Cindy Hutson built a reputation as masters of Jamaican cuisine, in part because Delius's mom Norma was their mentor, and the tiny kitchen in the Lincoln Road eatery limited the number of ingredients that could be kept on hand. But when the pair moved their operation to Coral Gables a few seasons ago, the name changed and the menu expanded to reflect the possibilities of a larger work space. Now, says Hutson, liberated from whatever the category of Jamaican bistro might mean, she is giving culinary expression to a wider menu that she thinks of as "cuisine of the sun." That might include dishes with Asian or South American origins. But Hutson's basic culinary education remains Jamaican, the restaurant's coolly elegant décor is still Caribbean, and the food is still divine. Jerked pork and lamb patties are often on the menu, but so too are Thai dishes, or curries, or something from Colombia that calls for coconut milk or ginger. Ortanique, by the way, is a sweet hybrid citrus that comes from crossing an orange and a tangerine, a fitting symbol for a restaurant unlike any other.
A pie they could have served proudly at Connie Corleone's wedding reception. Slices that could pass muster with Don Vito himself, thwarting pizza wars that would have rubbed out all those who employ fancy-schmancy ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, and goat cheese. For the past fifteen years the masters at this tiny eatery have been turning out a simple crisp thin or thick crust coated with smooth tomato sauce, chewy mozzarella cheese, and myriad everyday toppings such as pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, anchovies. The fabulous fare is made-to-order, so understand it takes a bit of time. Ultimately patience pays because it's a pizza you can't refuse.
We hereby present this new eatery with the ABS Award -- that being Anything But Starbucks. In this coffeehouse-blighted town any signs of new life must be encouraged. So go past the deli counter and up the stairs studded with circles of light. At the top you'll find the bookstore area, featuring regularly scheduled author readings and signings as well as ultrahip black-and-white décor. There are couches and animal-print recliners for lounging, or café-size tables and chairs for lounging and dining. Or sit outside under the umbrellas and watch the world go by. The usual lattes and cappuccinos are offered, and since this place is also a bar, so are Irish coffee and Caribbean Magic (involving light and dark rum). Let the hanging-out commence.
Andiamo Brick Oven Pizza
Courtesy of Andiamo!
Cars zoom along Biscayne Boulevard, passing the glorious spaceship of a building designed around 1960 by Robert Law Weed. For many years since, Leo's, a car wash and detailing service, has occupied the site, once a General Tire showroom. Now at the behest of restaurant mogul Mark Soyka, Leo's remains but the opportunity to stop in for a tempting pie has been added. And what a pie it is. Straight from the mouth of the imposing brick oven, which would have made the witch from Hansel and Gretel envious, emerge tasty ten-, thirteen-, or sixteen-inch pizzas topped with delicious delights including prosciutto, Portobello mushrooms, spinach, chicken breast, caramelized onions, kalamata olives, fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, and Gorgonzola cheese. Andiamo may mean "let's go" in Italian, but for pizza you wouldn't want to go anywhere else.

We dare you to call up a restaurant at random and ask how much they'd charge you for bringing in your own bottle of wine. We guarantee you'll be quoted a price of no less than ten dollars and probably at least twenty, all for the hard work the waiter has to do to uncork and pour your chosen label. After all, why should the management let you enjoy a vintage from your private cellar when they can charge you triple the wholesale cost for one you don't really care about? Not Su-Shin. This sushi place simply doesn't care about what you bring in -- Petrus or plonk. They'll still charge two dollars per customer. Let's say for argument's sake you've brought with you a nice Riesling that goes really well with Asian flavors and you spent, oh, $12 on it. For a romantic dinner for two you'll be paying an additional four dollars for the privilege of drinking it with your meal. That's a grand total of $16. (The same bottle, if the restaurant offered it, would probably be listed at $25 or more.) So what does Su-Shin know that its colleagues don't? Only that customers are likely to spend twice that on, say, uncooked tuna.
Steve's Pizza
Where else can you relive your teenage years by playing vintage video games (still a quarter, natch), munching on some of the city's best pizza, and listening to Led Zeppelin? Even Sunset Place's GameWorks has ditched its Galaga machine and tuned into the current Top 40. But in this perennial oasis of simple pleasures (well, at least till the 3:00 a.m. closing time; 4:00 a.m. on weekends) you can blast aliens to your heart's content while remaining safely tucked back in 1985. And should you need a break from conquering Ms. Pac-Man and singing along to "Stairway to Heaven," there's even a New Times rack right in front.
Jimmy's Eastside Diner
Photo by Aran S. Graham
It's got the casual, been-there-forever feel of a neighborhood hangout. The green-and-brown color scheme is oddly appealing, and the place looks bright and friendly. Diner ambiance minus the dinginess. No need to settle for a table and chairs -- it's all booths. And breakfast, naturally, is served all day, featuring monster omelets and refreshing honesty from the waitstaff: "Have the hash browns. The home fries have been sitting all morning." Hey, if this spot's good enough for the Bee Gees, it's good enough for you.
Gourmet Station
We know someone else coined the happy little logo "We deliver for you," but we simply insist that Gourmet Station adopt it. Not only do they actually bring your meals to you, they design them to fit your lifestyle. For instance, high-powered execs can get the "Balanced Plan," ten meals for six dollars each (plus tax) per week that ration the proteins, carbs, and veggies. Body-builders and all-around gym pros can get the "Protein Plan," which for $7.50 per meal provides absolutely nothing but the racks -- of lamb, that is. What's that, you say? You're a normal person with an average life? Well, fill up at the Station by all means. Stop in for a choice of homemade entrée, ranging from grilled salmon with lemon-dill yogurt sauce to grilled Nicaraguan churrasco with chimichurri. In the morning the place teems with coffee and muffins; lunchtime it's wraps and sandwiches such as the Italian club -- prosciutto, tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. You can even open an account for "hassle-free billing," a status most of us haven't enjoyed with any home-meal replacement products since we lived at Mom's.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®