Rusty Pelican
Photo courtesy of Rusty Pelican
You're a high-dollar lawyer in a city that breeds them and business is good. Then one day, that risky, somewhat shady Latin-American venture you got your biggest client to invest in goes rotten -- bloody coup rotten. He's angry and he's outside your office right now. Your mind is blank, your palms sweaty, your stomach growling. Growling? Ah yes, it is lunchtime. Might as well make your last meal a good one. Striding purposefully out of your office, you sweep your client along to your car, promising that everything will be explained over lunch at the Rusty Pelican. The tension begins to leave your shoulders as your silver Lexus climbs the modest curve of the bridge between the mainland and the Rickenbacker Causeway. You spot the restaurant thinly disguised as a rustic shack. A few minutes later, you're walking into the maritime coolness of the place, where you promptly duck into the bar. Your client parks his fat butt at a table by the window and stares moodily at a yacht bobbing nearby. You take the bartender aside and order oysters, escargot with blue cheese, and two very dry martinis. Back at the table you contemplate the city skyline etched into pale blue across the shallow end of Biscayne Bay -- and think, as you always do, how beautiful Miami is from a distance.

Forget about St. Pauli Girl. Switch to San Noy, which means young girl in English. This pilsner is not only more delicious but also "ring gold" in color and "morning fresh," according to the menu notes. It is one of six types of beer brewed at this miraculous eatery featuring indoor and outdoor seating. If you feel like a sweeter exotic taste, try the Thai Woman (Ying Thai), a brown rice bock that is "malty." Also on that side of the spectrum is a Cheers (Chai Yo), a light bock made from corn, and Flower (Dog Mai), an amber-colored wheat. Serious beer connoisseurs will delight in the copper-colored and hoppy Chang Mai, which is named after a city in northern Thailand, and the Rutting Elephant (Chang Baah), a dark bock. If you're feeling really heady, you can order one of the Orchid's beer cocktails, such as the Dancing Lady: brown bock mixed with orange juice and allspice. Taps run till 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

BEST WATERFRONT RESTAURANT YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

The Commons

The Commons
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How about a dockside patio with an unobstructed view of both the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay? How about a Thursday- and Friday-night happy hour with the stars above, a fresh breeze, and sixteen-ounce glasses of Bass & Co. Pale Ale on tap? Tucked into a science lab and classroom building at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key, this bar-cum-eatery began life as a cafeteria for students who might have cared more about describing the life cycle of Ocyurus chrysurus -- that's a yellowtail snapper to you -- than eating one. But then the caterer Parties By Pat took over the kitchen, decorated with some palm trees and pastel murals in the dining room, and invited in the public. Open only for breakfast and lunch, from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, the Commons specializes in grilled chicken, gourmet pizza, and affordable sandwiches, explains manager José Martinez. The bar is open only Thursday and Friday from 5:00 to about 10:00 p.m.

Forget the goofy name. Roasters, as it's called by most customers, is hard-core, straight-up deli fare. Breakfast is an array of the basics: thick French toast, eggs (or egg whites, perhaps), toast, bagels, lox, and such, all accompanied by orange juice squeezed fresh. The lunch menu features meaty deli sandwiches and the best matzo-ball soup around. The restaurant's owners strive to make their deli a place where locals can gather and feel among friends, sort of what the late lamented Wolfie's was like in Miami Beach in its heyday 35 years ago. Roasters has succeeded spectacularly. It's where Kendall and Pinecrest come to nosh.
Pelican's on the Pier
Aran S Graham
Calling the Pelican a restaurant may convey the wrong impression. It's a thatched-roof, open-air, low-cost, shorts-and-sandals throwback to a different era, perched high above the sand on the Newport's fishing pier (known to old-timers as the Sunny Isles pier). The north side offers table seating. We recommend the south side. Tall cocktail tables attached to the pier railings accommodate three stools each. Grab one to catch the southeasterly summer breeze and behold the sweeping view down the coast. Turquoise water, white sand, deep blue sky, a distant cruise ship heading to sea. It's sensational at sunset. The Pelican's menu favors burgers over seafood, but if you ask for the freshest fish and have it simply prepared you can't go wrong, especially with an Italian pinot grigio or German Riesling (no bottle more than $15). The kitchen is open till 9:00 p.m. seven days a week. You can park at the foot of the pier but it's expensive. Better to use the public parking up the road and across the street.
This is a humble little spot, a bit down on the heels, but the fresh and plentiful fare makes up for the lack of décor. The star in Holy Family's firmament of classic dishes is its divine pwason gwo sel, a whole fish, usually snapper, prepared and fried in a traditional Haitian style. Also without blemish are the lanbi, or conch, in a Creole-type sauce, and legim, a spicy mixture of vegetables and usually meat. The basic diri ak pwa, rice and beans, are good enough to make up a whole meal. There is one dish missing, for religious reasons, from Holy Family's menu: griot, or fried pork. The restaurant's faithful don't mind at all.
Despite the name, Hernandez looks like an old-fashioned neighborhood butcher shop, a mom-and-pop operation bordering an industrial neighborhood in Hialeah. Nothing very notable about the place. Except that the best roast pork on the planet can be had there. You have to call or visit ahead of time and tell them what kind of pig you want: A 40-pounder? 60-pounder? Bigger? A 100-pounder? No problem. Then tell them when you would like the pig to be ready: Next Saturday? Sunday? Fine. On that day, all you have to do is keep your eyes from popping out at the gorgeous, bronzed porker they'll slide out of their bread oven for you, drenched in mojo, face down, spread eagle on a large metal tray. Crackly, crunchy skin on the outside. Moist, piping-hot meat on the inside. Take it home. Feed a hundred people. Tell them you cooked it yourself. Squeal with delight.

Khoury's Mediterranean Restaurant
Humble chickpeas are transformed by the application of secret spices, herbs, and the old Khoury family magic. But don't ask chef/owner Maroun Khoury for the recipe. Over his many years in the business he's developed a reputation in that regard for being a Lebanese version of the Soup Nazi. So just plunk down $3.99 for an appetizer order, maybe with some hummus on the side, and enjoy this crisply fried treat. Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday; till 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday.

BEST PUERTO RICAN RESTAURANT

Benny's appetizer list is like a dim sum of Caribbean cuisine. Bacalaitos (flat cod fritters), alcapurria de masa (ground beef in fried plantain dough), tostones rellenos (fried plantains sliced and stuffed with your choice of shrimp, lobster, or squid), and the list goes on. You may not want mondongo (beef tripe) with your mofongo (mashed stuffed plantains) but owners Benny and Wanda will recommend it with snapper, yellowtail, or kingfish. Just south of the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds, Benny's opens at noon, and the slightly cheaper lunch menu is out until four o'clock Monday through Friday. The place closes at 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe
The empanada is to many South American countries what the cheeseburger is to heartland America: the most popular grab-and-go meal and a cultural icon. These fried or baked dough pockets stuffed with a variety of meat or vegetable fillings are abundant at bakeries all around Miami, but few establishments serve them as fresh and authentically Argentine as Confiteria Buenos Aires Bakery & Café. The fried, ground-beef version (jazzed up with bits of hard-boiled egg, green olive, and spices) is the winner. Its baked cousins -- available with chicken, spinach, or ham and cheese -- with their flaky crusts, are equally delectable. Take a dozen home for the family. Better yet, linger inside this warm and bustling café and have them with a Quilmes (Argentine beer) while enjoying the swirl of activity created by the Bonarense transplants who flock here for a taste of home. Open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®