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.
Les Halles
Among the leisure class in 1789 France, heads rolled. Among the leisure class in 2002 Miami, the rolls get passed -- around a table. Quite appropriately French bread is served during Les Halles' Revolutionary Brunch, which carries the economical price of $17.89, in tribute to the year French peasants revolted. And the little people are treated regally to a multi-course affair. First with an effervescent pink kir royale (champagne with a touch of crème de cassis). Next with one of many savory appetizers including a tasty mélange of warm portobello mushrooms, potatoes, and goat cheese or crêpes filled with ham or seafood. Traditional brunch favorites such as eggs Benedict, omelets, and French toast, along with heartier dishes like steak tartare and salade niçoise, make up the list of main courses. Silky chocolate mousse, crème brélée, and profiteroles are among the rich desserts. In an eminently democratic move, brunch can be had from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Vive la France!

Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop
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.
The key to being a fine Italian eatery is to effectively deliver high-end cuisine without losing the rustic charm and culture of the Italian countryside. Though some may argue Il Tulipano lost much of its charisma after moving from North Miami to its new digs in the Grove, the same cannot be said for the delectable Tuscan dishes that dress Old World staples with the finest of modern touches. From the exquisitely prepared fresh asparagus and mozzarella-tomato-basil appetizers to the homemade pasta entrées, Il Tulipano specializes in serving up classical sustenance. Not to be missed are the tender veal and the seafood-laden linguine, each perfect examples of northern Italian cuisine. Add stellar wine selections and decadent desserts (an apple tart both rich and savory), and it's clear that Il Tulipano has earned this award.
Bruschetta & Co.
This outstanding eatery just beyond the Doral Country Club delivers a cuisine one would expect in one of those hard-to-find, five-table family restaurants. With a head chef, Iggy, able to cite Milan as one of his training stops, you know you're getting the real deal and plenty of it. From traditional antipasti (dressed just enough to add style but not so much to become silly) and homemade pastas to fresh seafood dishes, Bruschetta covers every Italian base, including its bread namesake, and has room left over to experiment. The specials vary, obviously, but if available do not pass on the sea bass (entrées are usually between $14 and $19). Also worthy of note is the bold and tasty pears with cheese. Of course no Italian dinner would be complete without dessert. And if sweets are your thing bring a healthy appetite -- the after-dinner treats are decadent, original, and well worth the guilt.
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.
Bamboo Garden
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.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®