BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

The Honey Tree

Honey Tree
Alexandra Rincon
Gleaming white, spongy, and about as tasty as a giant sugar-free marshmallow, tofu isn't exactly the most appealing ingredient. But place it in the capable hands of the chefs at the Honey Tree and tofu is transformed into something entirely different: It's eminently edible. Grilled tofu in tamarind peanut sauce, Indonesian tofu stir-fried with vegetables, curried tofu triangles. Hungry yet? Each weekday the six-year-old market (and three-year-old deli) offers several freshly made dishes for lunch that you can eat in or take out. Mouthwatering and healthy vegan and vegetarian specialties can include penne pasta tossed with tomato sauce and soy sausage, sautéed spinach with mushrooms, and kale and potato patties topped by chunky tomato salsa. A hearty soup of the day, fruity smoothies, and delicious desserts such as nondairy chocolate mousse pie and carob- and walnut-studded banana bread are also available. Sold by the pound, the eats are often gone by late afternoon. So if all else fails, you can choose some organic produce from a small fridge and settle down for a healthful meal from one of the freezers. The friendly folks who surround you will make you feel as good as the food.
Shorty's Bar-B-Q
Anais Alexandre
Maybe it's the seasoning that's developed from years of repeated cooking on the grill and in cast-iron pots that makes the food at Shorty's taste so good. If the crowds of hungry patrons lined up at all hours outside the log-cabin-looking Dadeland eatery are any indication, the restaurant, founded in 1951, continues to dish out the same lip-smacking chicken and ribs it always has. Various combinations of meat and poultry are offered, but for those not inclined to the juicy, Flintstone-size slabs, a selection of substantial sandwiches beckons. Barbecue beef or pork, chargrilled chicken breast, and tender beef brisket are served on a bun, accompanied by crinkle-cut French fries (creamy coleslaw dotted with zingy celery seed comes with the brisket). A sweetish red barbecue sauce or a smoky-brown homemade mixture provides embellishment. Baked beans, potatoes (sweet and white), garlic bread, and perfectly cooked ears of corn (plain or drenched in butter) are among the starchy sides. With courteous, efficient service and grub this good, Shorty's is bound to be around another half-century.
South Beach is known as sushi central, and it is arguably true that a greater concentration of very good Japanese restaurants can be found on any square mile of Beach than anywhere in the U.S.A. Still, visiting Japanese chefs, local Asian foodies, and others in the know head west to this small spot in a fairly downscale shopping mall for Miami's most authentic Japanese fare -- especially Matsuri's daily specials, dishes rarely found elsewhere like foie graslike (and nonfishy) monkfish liver in spicy broth, or shisamo, succulent salt-broiled smelts stuffed with their own "caviar." And well worth the drive by itself is Matsuri's selection of toro, buttery belly tuna often seen on sushi-bar menus but almost never available: silken chutoro (particularly tasty in negitoro, a steak tartare-esque preparation of chopped toro and scallions, topped with a quail egg), and even more marbled otoro, the ultimate in sushi/sashimi decadence.
A Grove favorite for years, Paulo Luigi's is a testament to the importance of consistent quality. Serving up outstanding Italian cuisine in hearty portions, the restaurant delivers the best traditional dishes, such as a decadent chicken marsala, while spicing up more modern fare with selections like a mozzarella-drenched shrimp Parmesan. Recent changes to Paulo Luigi's bar area are welcome. Once a legendary sports bar, it has been upgraded to a cozy lounge that will attract nightcrawlers eager for a down-tempo shift from the overbearing Beach scene, as well as diners who want to linger after a satisfying meal.
Fernando Lopez is an artist. He writes screenplays and sculpts, and he believes someday he'll make it as a filmmaker. But seven years ago his wife Belkis talked him into opening a juice shop, and that has provided a living for the couple and their three young children. Fernando's artistic sensibilities and Belkis's culinary talents have also made their little restaurant a popular stop for the work-week crowd that appreciates lunchtime specials such as turkey peccadillo and veggie lasagna. The storefront café gives off a time-capsuled Seventies vibe, thanks in part to Fernando's colorful artwork on the walls and the aroma of steaming vegetables and tamari. But also featured on the menu are luscious smoothies and vegetable-juice combos to cure every ill, from arthritis and acne to indigestion and impotence. And if you don't know what ails you or just what you need, Fernando is not shy about making an instant diagnosis. Open for breakfast and lunch, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Whole Foods Market
What's the most vital thing needed in a health-food store? Great cookies! Whole Foods' cookies are fashionably huge but also full of the natural ingredients natural women and men crave, like butter. Chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin are fab, but the chewy sugar cookies are especially addictive. Incidentally, the store's other stock is superior too: a mammoth selection of crisp fruits and veggies, including local and hard-to-find produce like frisee, plus organic seeds and herb plants, sparkling fresh fish, top-brand poultry, and meats both usual and unusual (buffalo burgers). There is kid-friendly health food such as Fran's fun frozen line of fish and chicken nibbles shaped like starfish and dinosaurs, and a selection of esoteric wines and beers that would do an upscale specialty liquor store proud. Also available: a huge choice of vitamins and natural cosmetics at very fair prices, as well as a prepared-foods department featuring dishes that not only look drop-dead gorgeous but taste great. Even the tofu! But really, it's the cookies that count.

Pan-seared scallops
Pan-seared scallops
In terms of franchising, chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa is hardly the Hard Rock Café, but a dozen restaurants worldwide is at least a mini-empire -- and that loss of control when the head honcho isn't in the kitchen most often means the loss of high standards. But both the food and the service at South Beach's Nobu are absolutely extraordinary. Unlike New York's more formal Nobu, this spot, though located in the glam Shore Club, is intended as a more casual hangout. It's possible to just walk in and get a table, especially early in the evening. And though prices are higher than those at the average sushi bar, it's possible to put together a terrific family-style meal of three to five shared items without breaking the bank (or necessitating robbing one). Signature black cod with miso is a must. Though many other eateries now do this savory dish of miso/mirin-marinated sablefish, Matsuhisa did it first and still does it best. Also highly recommended are delicate Arctic char with crisp leaves of near greaseless deep-fried spinach; the generous sashimi salad, silky tuna on mesclun dressed with a subtly sweet/salty ginger-soy vinaigrette; and especially a treat for those who won't eat raw fish, Nobu's "New Style Sashimi," thinly sliced fish or beef partially cooked by a brief pouring of hot olive oil. While psychologically the delicate slices seem seared, they retain the moistness and tender texture of raw fish or beef.
Man does not live by bread alone. But if he did, he'd do it here. Rosemary bread. Onion rye. San Francisco sourdough. Sesame semolina. Raisin pecan. And more. Baked fresh every day and laid out in heaping piles on a metal rack for your perusing and consuming pleasure. Get thee to this bakery. Life is short.
Norman's
Surprise! (Not.) It's him, for the umpteenth time. In fact this year we considered permanently renaming this award "Best Restaurant in Coral Gables Except for Norman's," to be fair to some of the Gables' other eateries, several of which could top Best lists in any town where Norman Van Aken wasn't cooking. Naturally if Van Aken were a normal chef, such a drastic step wouldn't be necessary. After a decade or so of garnering America's major culinary awards, he'd either be diluting his talent by franchising Norman's nationally or coasting on his many past greatest-hit creations like a culinary golden-oldies radio station. But Van Aken is still cooking day in and day out at the same address. His signature dishes like citrus-spiked creamy conch chowder with saffron and toasted coconut (updated in recent years with a hip foam "cloud") taste as terrific as ever. And imaginative new dishes -- "Seared Raw Tuna Trio with Three Cool Fillings" (braised oxtails, chilled crab salad, and shiitake mushrooms); seared foie gras on Venezuelan corn cake with cachaca-laced exotic fruit chutney; a sly and scrumptious take on surf and turf featuring rare tuna and beef mignons with three sauces (Bordelaise, Bernaise, and aigrelette); warm guava tarte Tatin; and an assortment of new tropical ice creams made with rare imported fruits from the Amazon -- indicate that Van Aken shows no sign whatsoever of burning out and giving the Gables' other chefs a shot at this award for many years to come.
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Imlee is a most welcome addition to a somewhat inconsistent local Indian-restaurant scene. In fact this pleasant newcomer (less than two years old) definitely raises the standard for all Indian restaurants in South Florida. Lovers of the subcontinent's magnificent cuisine (even if, like most of us Miamians, they're limited in the breadth of their connoisseurship) can now partake of some of the best Indian food to be found anywhere. Of particular note is Imlee's nuanced and sometimes innovative treatment of vegetables, legumes, and paneer (a tofulike cheese staple). The classics -- chicken tikka masala, chicken makhani, lamb vindaloo, shrimp Madras curry, among many others -- are acutely spiced and exquisite. The service can be a little slow sometimes, and the appetizers and breads aren't always perfect, but those are small complaints beside the general state of euphoria induced by a meal at Imlee.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®