Versailles Restaurant
Photo by Phillip Pessar via Flickr Creative Commons
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.
Bahamian Pot Restaurant
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.
Casa Juancho
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.

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.
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.
Café Pastis
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.
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.
Maybe it's because they make so much coffee here (all the classics except the hot brown water served at many "American" restaurants) that the café con leche at Versailles is so fresh and rich. Maybe they use some special machine. Maybe it's coffee beans from a special plant smuggled out of the Sierra Maestra 43 years ago. Better not to think. Just drink.
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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.

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Best Of Miami®