The performance ran late, you got to talking, but still you're really hungry. Miami, unlike Miami Beach, isn't chock-a-block full of kitchens open past 10:00 p.m., so where to head? Of course, how could you forget! But better hurry over to Versailles before it gets too crowded. In fact lines snaking outside the restaurant after midnight are not unusual, and those lines include children and grandparents. A plate of ropa vieja might hit the spot, or a simple medianoche sandwich, made for exactly this hour. The lights are bright inside, the mirrored décor adding even more luminosity, and at some point you won't know whether it's midnight or noon. And of course it doesn't matter. This most famous of Cuban restaurants has defied changes in time in many other ways, so sit back and order a café con leche. Tomorrow may never come.
A lot of people just can't eat breakfast anywhere else, especially if they're Caribbean-born. The fried, boiled, or stewed fish plus grits and johnnycake are too good. (The typical eggs, bacon, and grits special for $3.50 is no slouch either.) But the real reason everyone comes here is they get to jonesing for the fried conch. Many never even bother to try the other entrées. That's okay, but one day you'll be ready for a taste of the chicken (fried, steamed, baked, or barbecued), oxtail, pork chops, ribs, or the aforementioned fish dishes. And that's when you'll know you can't go wrong. (Prices are a little higher than they need to be, but do you hear anyone complaining?) One more thing you'll learn: Macaroni and cheese was invented here.
On the menu at Touch, desserts are graced with the definitive title "finishing touches." As if sweets are only to be enjoyed at the end of a meal. Well, at the risk of sounding like a sugar addict, we recommend the sinful selections created by pastry chef Dominique Pereira, a native of Lyon, France, be considered fare for any hour. Banana-and-berry bread pudding accented with honey-lavender syrup for breakfast sounds good. Fruit is important. Instead of filet mignon as an evening meal, why not a thick three-chocolate (white, milk, and dark) layered mousse? Chocolate is chock full of antioxidants. Caramelized bananas paired with silky ice cream makes the perfect late-night snack. Dairy products promote sleep. Good thing the kitchen at Touch stays open until midnight (1:00 a.m. on weekends). Now, if we could only get them to serve breakfast and lunch.
South Florida's Mexican restaurants are known for their extensive menus, kitschy décor, mariachi bands, and spicy salsa. Well, this one's only got the last to its name. The décor is bare bones and in truth not altogether comfy, with bar stools and a couple of tables comprising the majority of the seating. Nor does the menu take more time to read than a comic book, given that there are only about a dozen items from which to choose. Point is, though, these twelve dishes rock North Miami with a decidedly Latin beat. Yucatan soup, chicken stock flavored with lime, is worthy of standing alone as the sole appetizer. Follow it with a burrito Maya, filled with pork in aromatic pibil sauce, or authentic tamales wrapped in corn husks and steamed to perfection. Burritos Grill Café doesn't supply fancy eats, but it does make beef tacos al pastor to order, and no one is playing a guitar in your face as you stuff it.
While this eatery's name seems to suggest something far simpler than fine dining, things are not always what they seem. Shoji's stuff is not standard sushi but rather neo-Japanese/New World fusion food -- and very fine indeed. Instead of the standard sushi-bar faux-crab sunomono, for instance, there's snapper ceviche with sake, citrus, sweet peppers, onion, cilantro, and masago, available alone or on a sampler plate with equally imaginative ceviches of hamachi, salmon, and scallops. Forget California rolls; makis here include spicy lobster roll (huge lobster chunks plus mango, avocado, scallion, salmon caviar, and spicy shiso leaves, with jalapeño-spiked mango purée substituting for the usual sushi-bar chili catsup) and a melt-in-your-mouth crispy oyster roll, a shrimp tempura roll gone to heaven: deep-dried cold-water oysters plus cucumber, lettuce, masago, chili mayo, and capers. Yes, South Beach's other upscale sushi eateries (like Nobu) have similarly imaginative dishes, but they don't do take-out. And none of them for sure have pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith's desserts. The homemade ginger ale float probably wouldn't survive a doggy bag, but astonishingly subtle green tea cheesecake and soufflé-light warm chocolate cake will.

While Miami has plenty of Chinese/American chop suey joints, as well as one-step-up places serving honey-garlic chicken that's less old-fashioned gloppy but no less Americanized, our town has few eateries that offer authentic Chinese food. This very nongentrified but very welcoming little spot, located in an unprepossessing mini-mall, does. Salty pepper shrimp -- crisp-coated whole crustaceans served like soft-shell crab, shell and head on for maximum flavor, on a bed of crunchy-battered Chinese broccoli -- is a must-not-miss. Macau's ho fan, broad noodles that are sautéed with various other ingredients either dry-style or wet (sauced), have a chewy texture that makes them far more interesting than the lo mein normally found in American Chinese eateries. Those needing comfort food will find it in congee, difficult to find almost anywhere in America outside major Chinatowns: a delicate savory rice porridge garnished with a variety of meats and veggies. In its humble heart, this is classic Cantonese.
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.
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!

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.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®