Big Squeeze Juice Bar
So you need a spirulina fix and don't have lots of time? If you're anywhere near North Miami Beach you'll be well advised to zip over to the fastest little health-food place in town. Okay, so the menu also offers gyros and French fries. Don't worry. You'll find a large variety of smoothies, fresh-pressed vegetable juices, and vegetarian entrées. For thirteen years this roadside stand has been attracting healthy eaters with its ramshackle charm and laid-back atmosphere. If you crave something with a kick, be sure to order Amos's famous "roots tonic," a chilled brew described by one waitress as tasting "like living hell." Despite a bouquet reminiscent of gasoline (and with a similar burn), this mighty elixir -- made on the premises with a combination of roots and barks and served in a shot glass -- will kick you into high gear and launch you back on the highway of life bursting with energy.
Soyka
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.
First of all, there is not now and never will be anything remotely comparable to a fresh, warm Krispy Kreme glazed. So forget that. But on the local doughnut scene, Donut Connection is making a very important contribution and deserves every one of its many contented customers. The contribution? This cheery little place on busy 163rd Street is about the only remaining doughnut shop in the county that has not been gobbled up by that huge chain that sells good coffee and mediocre donuts. Donut Connection's product is top quality, and the selection of pastries, muffins, and doughnuts can't be beat. The mango- and guava-filled are sinfully tasty, and their cake doughnuts, many varieties, are the absolute best.
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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!

Fresco California Bistro
George Martinez
There's something invigorating about tree-shaded Coral Way, especially after it leaves the dusty hustle of Miami on its way to the Gables. Just a few blocks from the Brickell financial district, Fresco California Bistro offers a cool, unhurried respite for lunch. And for a refreshingly light summer lunch nothing beats the bistro's crisp caesar salad: fresh romaine lettuce, nicely balanced oil-garlic-egg dressing, Parmesan cheese, and croutons made from Fresco's tasty bread, a hunk of which comes with the salad. Not bad for $5.25. Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 to 10:30 p.m. Friday dinner hours till 11:00 p.m. Saturday noon to 11:00 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Casa Paco
Spanish-packaged goods greet you at the door. Decorative ceramics line the wall. Have a seat. Order a pitcher of sangria from the friendly waiter. Peruse the menu. It suggests some expensive items: newborn eels from Spain sautéed in olive oil and garlic; roasted baby suckling pig; grilled surf and turf. But most of the dishes at Casa Paco are as reasonably priced as they are delicious. Paella -- chicken and rice or rice with seafood. Special house chicken -- a tender half-boneless grilled bird smothered with onions, lime juice, butter, and pepper served with white rice and fried sweet plantains. Several types of fresh fish (snapper, salmon, mahi-mahi, monkfish) and shellfish prepared in countless ways. Spanish and Basque omelets. After you've devoured dinner, your belt may be two notches looser but dessert is a must. A long list includes flan, rice pudding, homemade ice cream, and crema catalaña, its candied sugar topping hiding a creamy custard beneath.
Icebox Cafe
This cozy and casual café, one of the few locals' hangouts left in the vicinity of Lincoln Road, is more than just a bakery, particularly after two welcome improvements: expanded restaurant hours and acceptance of credit cards. If you're looking to impress the folks at home with pastries you can pretend you made yourself, there's no better place in town to get goods to go. You won't find any of those puffed-up pastries that look so polished yet taste like shoe polish. Here it's just old-fashioned quality. That's not to say everything at the Icebox is basic. Two of the best offerings are pretty fancy: party-perfect petits fours and a remarkably rich yet light almond/praline/butter-cream dacquoise. The pound cakes evoke days when bakers literally meant a pound of butter. Common carrot cake, often far too heavy, is moist but subtle. Coconut cake -- the classic among two or three layer cakes featured daily -- will convert coconut loathers to lovers. And for those whose idea of ice-cream cake has come from supermarket frozen-food cases, the Icebox's namesake masterpiece could well be a life-changing experience.

Rocky's Cheesesteak and Cheeseburgers
Pity the hamburger. The poor patty has been subjected to more abuse and gratuitous puffery than any dish deserves. A barely edible version is available at any number of fast-food establishments for as little as 99 cents. Or you can shell out twenty bucks for one at the Park Plaza Hotel in New York. Between these two extremes are the countless $5.99 to $12 models, some better than others but all, at the end of the day, just hamburgers. Which is the whole point: Is there no place left where a person can go for an honest burger at an honest price? Five ounces of cooked ground beef on a fresh bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and if one is so inclined, a slice of melted cheese (maybe even a few strips of bacon), all for a price that seems proportional. Whatever happened to the all-American hamburger stand, that icon of the Fifties and Archie comic books, that great symbol of democracy and all that was good and right in our nation? Well, the genre is alive and well in North Beach. Rocky's Cheesesteak and Cheeseburgers may not be a "stand" in the technical sense -- it's actually a corner storefront with both indoor and outdoor seating -- but it feels like one. Walk in off the street, plunk yourself down on a stool or chair, and order up. The menu includes grilled chicken sandwiches and cheesesteaks, but it's the burgers people go for. We recommend, in particular, the sourdough, which comes with melted Swiss and is served on sourdough from one of Miami's best bread factories. That one will run you a whole four dollars (as opposed to two dollars for the regular burger). Follow it with a slice of gourmet cheesecake -- flavors include Oreo cookie, guava, dulce de leche, and strawberry -- for $2.50. Feel guilty? Leave a big tip.

Scotty's Landing
Scotty's fish sandwich is an ode to simplicity. A slab of fresh dolphin grilled to perfection and served on a bun with lettuce and tomato. Tartar sauce on the side. Eat it while sitting on Scotty's long wooden deck overlooking Biscayne Bay. Just beware the sharks. No, not in the bay. Miami City Hall, right next door.
Supermarket cheese sections often are criticized for their shrink-wrap items, mass-produced and factory-packaged hunks of cheese that taste like so much sawdust. We're not going to lie: Milam's has some of that stuff in stock. But it also has cheese that's been cut from an actual wheel on the actual premises -- Jarlsberg that's still fresh enough to be pliable, bufala mozzarella so new it's still coming together as a curd. In addition the gourmet market carries some harder-to-source products, including white Stilton with apricots and kasseri, a malleable, just-pungent Greek cheese that too often falls under the shadow of its sister feta's salad fame. And then of course there are the cheese-board byproducts: smoked mackerel, sopressata and other Italian sausages, and dips the likes of jerk shrimp with black bean or chicken with lemon-cilantro. So you'll pay a little more for indulging your superior dairy cravings, both in the wallet and in the waist. Talk to the hand. It's wielding the cheese knife.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®