Yes, Nuevo Siglo is "decrepit-looking," as noted in the New York Times. In fact it looks pretty much as decrepit as most of Havana, Cuba. Sitting at the counter on a balmy winter afternoon, a coffee-scented breeze wafting in from the window open to the cacophony of Calle Ocho, you feel a little like you're lunching in your tia's funky kitchen in Centro Habana. Your tia who can always comfort you with a bowl of savory chicken soup, who seems to effortlessly produce plate after plate of really good Cuban food, such as roasted pork and chicken, picadillo, oxtail (sometimes goat, lamb, or shrimp) accompanied by perfect yuca or maduros, and of course plenty of rice and the potaje of the day -- black beans, garbanzos. Nothing fancy, just a solid meal a lo cubano. The menu changes daily and the entrées go fast. A big lunch can run you five to seven dollars. There are also some decent breakfast specials.
Nemo Restaurant
The problem with most Florida raw bars is Florida oysters, which come from the Gulf Coast and other locales where the water is so warm the wan, flaccid southern belles come out of it practically precooked and tasting mild to the point of nothingness. Not at Nemo, where the nightly selection of three to four varieties includes nothing but crisp cold-water beauties. According to chef/owner Michael Schwartz, there's usually at least one from British Columbia, such as refreshing Fanny Bays, whose unique sweet-and-salty taste and pronounced cucumber finish accent their typically Canadian brininess. Often there are Pacific Northwest oysters -- kumamotos or plump, creamy-rich Hog Island Sweetwaters -- and sometimes even eastern U.S. oysters from Long Island. An important plus for those who love oysters but don't love living dangerously (and risking the bacterium responsible for 1992's notorious nine oyster-related deaths in Florida): All Nemo oysters are farm-raised. By the way Nemo does serve other raw-bar items, and of course it is first and foremost a full-menu restaurant. But the friendly staff welcomes those who just want oysters. The interior "food bar," where diners can watch chefs work, is a fun place for shellfish, though a difficult place to resist escalating to a major meal.

Within the world of Cuban-style black beans there are many variations. The beans ought to be fresh and the seasonings tasty, but after that opinions diverge. What seasonings and in what combinations? Garlic, of course. But what about onions, green pepper, salt, pepper, cumin, even tomato sauce? This restaurant, a Little Havana fixture for 27 years, enjoys the talents of long-time chef Guillermo Martinez, who has found a formula that works. This includes garlic, green peppers, olive oil, and white sherry, according to restaurant manager Orestes Lleonart, Jr. Ah, but there's more. And that part is a secret. "The rest," says Lleonart, "is what only the cook knows." Dig into a bowl of black bean soup for $2.50.
Proprietors of so-called American steakhouses take note: We're just a wee bit tired of the strip-sirloin-and-creamed-spinach routine. That's why we've turned to the products of the asador, the grill room located between the double dining rooms at Graziano's. Like American steak places, Graziano's serves the bare bones -- beef à la carte -- but the flavor of Argentine hardwood and the juiciness sealed in by a slow-turning rotisserie make the cuts of meat incomparable. Nonbeef main courses include suckling pig and gigantic Patagonian shrimp, also hot off the asador. Add starters like quickly seared blocks of Provolone, homemade sausages, or grilled sweetbreads, and a wine list so comprehensive even enophiles get confused, and what's left to say but grazie?
Just to avoid confusion and, hopefully, controversy (as if!): This category involved a judgment call not just between ceviche eateries but between traditional and nuevo-ceviche styles, with the nod going to the new kid in town. Citrus "cooking" of seafood was invented centuries ago by South American Indians and, the point being preservation, involved long marination (at least two hours, usually much longer). Citric acid marination for longer than about twenty minutes changes the whole texture of fish, however -- an often nice but not necessary transformation, now that the world has fridges. Hence nuevo ceviche, where chefs marinate raw fresh fish only briefly before serving, resulting in a sort of South American sushi. And Sushi Samba is supreme at this style, owing to superior saucing. For a comprehensive course in "Modern Ceviches 101," try the mixed ceviche/tiradito assortment of eight different preparations, based on both market and chef's whim but including possibilities like fluke dressed New World AmerAsian-style with ponzu and grapefruit; slightly seared toro fatty tuna with lemon, lime, and red daikon radish; an almost Italian carpaccio-like baby yellowtail with black truffle oil; or salmon with either Dijon mustard/miso marinade or smooth strawberry/key lime sauce, with a red onion garnish.

Shula's Steak House
Many people aren't even aware of the place, which isn't so surprising. This stretch of Collins Avenue, dominated by high-rise condo buildings, hardly seems a likely locale for a classy restaurant. But here is Shula's, tucked away near the back of the Alexander, far from the bustling crowds, the perfect setting for a dining room conducive to privacy. Here there are no clanging plates, noisy diners, or obtrusive music. Here you and your guest can slip into a plush banquette and recede from the world, almost literally invisible. Here the waitstaff is discreet and respectful. Here you won't be thoughtlessly interrupted. Here, as you indulge the decadent menu, you can say what you really think and no one but your intended listener will hear.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®