Because Candace Lopez's TJP was getting all the action from the beach boys and girls bronzing near 22nd Street last summer, we followed the crowd over for a big twenty-ounce lemonade ($1.85). We were astounded by the taste, a kind of adagio of three sensations: tartness (fresh local lemon), sweetness (pure sugar), and a kind of energy boost. There's no caffeine added, so when we asked Candace, she pointed out that the major froth she achieves in the blending enhances the natural vitamin-C properties in her lemon juice, "opening" them and allowing for faster absorption. (Many fighters suck oranges before they go into the ring, so she may be right.) In addition Candace has an impressive collection of tropical-rain-forest smoothies from Brazil. The smoothies, great with vegetable-wrap sandwiches, go for $2.85 for 12 ounces, $3.85 for 20 ounces, and $5.85 for 32-ounce jumbos.
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.
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.

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.
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.
Cars zoom along Biscayne Boulevard, passing the glorious spaceship of a building designed around 1960 by Robert Law Weed. For many years since, Leo's, a car wash and detailing service, has occupied the site, once a General Tire showroom. Now at the behest of restaurant mogul Mark Soyka, Leo's remains but the opportunity to stop in for a tempting pie has been added. And what a pie it is. Straight from the mouth of the imposing brick oven, which would have made the witch from Hansel and Gretel envious, emerge tasty ten-, thirteen-, or sixteen-inch pizzas topped with delicious delights including prosciutto, Portobello mushrooms, spinach, chicken breast, caramelized onions, kalamata olives, fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, and Gorgonzola cheese. Andiamo may mean "let's go" in Italian, but for pizza you wouldn't want to go anywhere else.

Where else can you relive your teenage years by playing vintage video games (still a quarter, natch), munching on some of the city's best pizza, and listening to Led Zeppelin? Even Sunset Place's GameWorks has ditched its Galaga machine and tuned into the current Top 40. But in this perennial oasis of simple pleasures (well, at least till the 3:00 a.m. closing time; 4:00 a.m. on weekends) you can blast aliens to your heart's content while remaining safely tucked back in 1985. And should you need a break from conquering Ms. Pac-Man and singing along to "Stairway to Heaven," there's even a New Times rack right in front.
We know someone else coined the happy little logo "We deliver for you," but we simply insist that Gourmet Station adopt it. Not only do they actually bring your meals to you, they design them to fit your lifestyle. For instance, high-powered execs can get the "Balanced Plan," ten meals for six dollars each (plus tax) per week that ration the proteins, carbs, and veggies. Body-builders and all-around gym pros can get the "Protein Plan," which for $7.50 per meal provides absolutely nothing but the racks -- of lamb, that is. What's that, you say? You're a normal person with an average life? Well, fill up at the Station by all means. Stop in for a choice of homemade entrée, ranging from grilled salmon with lemon-dill yogurt sauce to grilled Nicaraguan churrasco with chimichurri. In the morning the place teems with coffee and muffins; lunchtime it's wraps and sandwiches such as the Italian club -- prosciutto, tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. You can even open an account for "hassle-free billing," a status most of us haven't enjoyed with any home-meal replacement products since we lived at Mom's.

A first-time visitor to this Mexican joint in the historic district of Homestead may be baffled to see Styrofoam coolers filled with ice and bottles of beer dotting the floor next to most tables. But a quick glance at the menu explains it. El Toro Taco doesn't have a liquor license, so the only way to swig a Corona with your meal is to bring it with you, a secret most of the clientele seems to be in on. The BYOB requirement is no deterrent as the place packs a full house on weekends. As soon as you taste any one of several taco selections, you'll understand why. Choose from soft corn or flour tortillas filled with ground beef, barbacoa (shredded beef), chicken, or refried beans. For a real treat try the tacos de bistec -- corn tortillas filled with marinated, grilled steak and topped with cilantro and onions. Prices are very reasonable, the atmosphere is upbeat (you may be treated to a mariachi serenade), and take heart, margarita lovers: With the money you save on drinks you can spring for an appetizer -- a bowl of zesty bean dip or chili con queso (spicy cheese dip) -- and finish your meal with a traditional favorite: tres leches cake. Next time bring a blender! Open Tuesday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Closed Monday.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®