For some people this tiny, tangy citrus fruit is the key to happiness. And there's no better place to buy joy than the source -- the Tree itself -- where the shelves are dedicated to products flavored with this coveted concentrate: key lime-covered pecans; key lime-frosted graham crackers; key lime marmalade; key lime jelly beans. Diehards can even wash their hair with key lime shampoo and bubble up their baths with key lime soap. But the most obsessed among us probably won't even make it into the shop, given that the patio area contains dozens of potted key lime trees. The three-gallon containers go for ten bucks, and while you might not see limes on the limbs for a few years, it's a good investment nonetheless. Just keep it to yourself. We wouldn't want the canker crowd to get aromatic wind of it.
Despite the fact that conch fritters are a South Florida specialty, diners need to bring their own microscopes to find the conch in fritters served at most seafood eateries. Not at this friendly fish market, which is also an informal restaurant (five Formica tables) and prepared-foods take-out joint. Jim Hanson, a Miami native, makes fritters that are positively packed with super-size chunks of perfectly tenderized conch, as well as onion and both sweet and hot green peppers. The unusually puffy enclosing batter, similar in texture to a light Spanish churro or Seminole fry bread rather than a rough cornmeal hush puppy, is so succulently seasoned you could easily forget to use the accompanying dipping sauce. Don't. The hot-and-sassy concoction, reminiscent of a remoulade, puts the tart back in tartar sauce. With an order of six plump fritters you need only an accompaniment of crisp fresh coleslaw to complete a meal.
I'm not a sorbet kinda guy, you say. I drink tap water, not Perrier. Budweiser, not wine. Relax, okay? After a Lincoln Road meal, an aprés-dining stroll over to The Frieze is an easy way to add a touch of culinary sophistication to your diet. And the folks behind the counter here are more than happy to ease you into your new chichi identity. All you have to do is point and they'll gladly scoop you out a free sample of any of their dozen or so flavors of homemade sorbet. May we suggest a coneful of coconut for starters? Smooth, but not too watery; tart but not tangy -- it's just the thing to cleanse the palate and then to keep you coming back for more. Good thing they pack pints to go.

When it's too late for a full meal but necessary to refuel for the last leg of your long night's journey into the wee hours, the take-out window at La Carreta is the perfect pit stop. For a dollar and a half you can order a steaming cortadito (sugary espresso coffee softened with a big splash of hot milk; also available without sugar) and a warm and flaky pastel de guayaba (guava pastry). If you arrive after the window closes at 2:00 a.m., you can still order at the counter inside the main restaurant. This branch of the local chain happens to be the only one open 24 hours.
The Cuban sandwich is an art form. There are a thousand improvisations, depending on the taste, level of talent, and materials available to the maker. But as with any school or period in the art world, there is a certain archetypal Cuban sandwich, the paradigm for anything that would presume to call itself a Cuban sandwich. Where is such a masterpiece found? It is at Enriqueta's. The archetypal Cuban sandwich has to be on pressed Cuban bread, and it must have just the right combination of ham, pork, swiss cheese, and pickles. How Enriqueta's cooks do it, turning out perfect copy after perfect copy, is a mystery of the creative spirit.
What other North American city would be the source of a soft drink with a South American twist? Miami's own Cawy Bottling Company produces a fizzy elixir made with yerba mate extract. (No, those are not marijuana plants in the logo.) Mate tea, of course, is a wildly popular hot drink in Argentina and is on the rise in the Argentine outpost expanding right here in the southern cone of Florida. Among the herb's fabled effects: a healthy gastrointestinal tract, a strengthened immune system, youthful hair, improved sexual performance, and less stress (not necessarily in that order). But one is not always in the mood for hot tea in 95-degree heat. Hence the cold variant in a can. While the sucrose and corn sweeteners in Materva may undermine the medicinal powers of the mate, one must never underestimate the placebo effect. Anyway you'll be doing your teeth and waistline a favor. The most amazing thing about Materva is that it's produced in this sugar-crazed town but is far less sweet than Coke, Pepsi, and their uncola counterparts.
From what we've experienced, Bamboo Garden doesn't do anything different for its take-out customers than it does for its in-house clientele. And therein lies the compliment. The staff is equally courteous whether you're sitting down for dinner or standing and staring absently at the fish tank while you wait for it. The condiments -- duck sauce, soy sauce, Chinese mustard -- are just as free-flowing, along with homemade fried noodles. And the execution of the garlic eggplant with sliced pork, the kung po squid, or the beef chow fun with black bean and pepper doesn't veer away from excellence, whether you're consuming it on the spot or taking it home for spot-on take-out dining. The name may say Bamboo but the effort made here is hardly wooden.
Casa Juancho, a Calle Ocho institution that has taken the award for Best Spanish Restaurant several times over the years, is all dark woods and moody lighting, brick walls and tile floors. The strolling musicians, formally attired waiters, and hanging hams will make you think you've stumbled into some Iberian period drama. Oh yes, and the tapas are exquisito. Casa Juancho's extensive menu features 31 tapas items, from serrano ham, blood sausage, fried or grilled calamari, shrimp, squid, mussels, octopus, and beef tips to roasted or fried peppers, mushrooms, and sheep's cheese. Many of the dishes are deeply flavored with garlic and olive oil. Prices range from a $6 plate of pulpo a la gallega (octopus) to $15 for the fritura malagueña (mixed fried seafood plate). The restaurant is owned by the Felipe Valls family of Versailles and La Carreta fame, so expect a mix of Cuban power brokers and tourists looking for a Miami experience. Open Sunday through Thursday from noon to midnight. Friday and Saturday till 1:00 a.m.

This place, which is technically located in a pocket of unincorporated Miami-Dade County just across the street from Coral Gables, has old James Dean pictures and everything Fifties -- fried chicken, meaty chili, big portions, and no regrets -- and also serves the best milkshake we've had since childhood visits to the Wildwood Diner up in New Jersey. That's because Marie Burg is from Philly, where they put a little extra in the shake. Two huge scoops of Cisco ice cream (but only vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, the classics), whole milk, half a minute in the blender, and God knows what else. (Marie ain't talking.) "The most important thing," she says, "is you've got to get that feeling like when we were kids and hanging outside the diner, you know? When everything counted soooo much? That's the secret." Marie somehow gets it in there, and she charges only $2.95. What could be bad? Picnics is open 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; Saturday till 5:00 p.m. and Sunday till 3:00 p.m.
Every chef extraordinaire knows that one key ingredient to serving outstanding French fries is a magnificent little metal container. That is what they arrive in (with a paper liner) at this savory little slice of France near Sunset Drive, thus keeping them warm all the way through your exquisite bowl of mussels in white wine and shallots. There is nothing nice about cold, soggy fried-potato fragments. At Café Pastis the hot, yellow-white, and slightly crispy outside keeps the robust flavor and hearty texture steaming on the inside. They're so good you might also want to have a little grilled New York steak with green peppercorn and cognac sauce with them.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®