Emerald Coast Chinese Gourmet Buffet
George Martinez
Something for everyone and plenty of it. That's why you'll often find a line of patrons waiting for a table during peak hours. We're talking chilled snow-crab legs, shrimp, and mussels. Eel, salmon, and California sushi rolls. Barbecued ribs, sweet-and-sour chicken, egg rolls, dumplings, stir-fried veggies. Prime rib, black-pepper steak, General Tso's chicken. A salad bar, six different soups. Eight flavors of hard-packed ice cream, Black Forest cake, miniature coconut tarts, chocolate-dipped fruit. An exhausting array of more than 100 items spread over seven serving stations. Unfettered access to the buffet will run you $7.50 to $11 (on weekends) for lunch and $14 to $17 for dinner. You can also order food à la carte for special dietary requirements. Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 2:30 p.m. on weekends. Dinner is served 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Sunday, and on holidays. Friday and Saturday dinner service continues until 10:30 p.m.
El Palacio de los Jugos
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Chicken slow-roasted the Cuban way, with just the right touch of salt, pepper, and maybe a little mojo, is not that hard to find in Miami. But try to find better than here for the price: two dollars for a large breast with wing attached. Pick up a carton of moros and a bag of tostones and the family is well-fed for about ten bucks. But while you're here at the juice palace, have a look around. This place may have begun as a little roadside juice stand, but it's now a major Latino marketplace for foodstuffs and socializing. Lechon for sandwiches, of course. But also fruits and vegetables, tamal, uncooked black beans, chilled coconut, cheeses, and a unique fried rice. Have a coffee or a watermelon cooler and sit outside under the trees, though not too close to the troubadour on the electronic keyboard. And now watch Miami go by. Not just the guy in the parking lot with the hand-tooled belts and guajiro hats arrayed on his car, but all the rest of multiethnic Miami ebbing and flowing along the street that is at its heart.
Chefs of all stripes like to say that with regard to cuisine, quality is in the details. For the Cuban gourmet one measuring stick for refined gastronomy is to be found in the mariquitas (curly, long, plantain chips). Casa Romeu's are el maximo: soft and fluffy, not crispy and burned like at some places. Another culinary barometer is the sopa de pollo (chicken soup), which Romeu's customers wistfully remember for days, sometimes weeks. Somehow they even make people rave about the congrí, a seasoned mixture of rice and beans. Romeu regulars are especially fanatical about the picadillo (a juicy, piquant concoction of ground beef, onion, peppers, and spices) and the bistec empanizado (breaded steak). Located about a mile north of Miami Lakes, the restaurant opens at 7:00 a.m. and closes at midnight. ¿Qué más tu quieres?
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.
Yes, Nuevo Siglo is "decrepit-looking," as noted in the New York Times. In fact it looks pretty much as decrepit as most of Havana, Cuba. Sitting at the counter on a balmy winter afternoon, a coffee-scented breeze wafting in from the window open to the cacophony of Calle Ocho, you feel a little like you're lunching in your tia's funky kitchen in Centro Habana. Your tia who can always comfort you with a bowl of savory chicken soup, who seems to effortlessly produce plate after plate of really good Cuban food, such as roasted pork and chicken, picadillo, oxtail (sometimes goat, lamb, or shrimp) accompanied by perfect yuca or maduros, and of course plenty of rice and the potaje of the day -- black beans, garbanzos. Nothing fancy, just a solid meal a lo cubano. The menu changes daily and the entrées go fast. A big lunch can run you five to seven dollars. There are also some decent breakfast specials.
Nemo Restaurant
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.
Proprietors of so-called American steakhouses take note: We're just a wee bit tired of the strip-sirloin-and-creamed-spinach routine. That's why we've turned to the products of the asador, the grill room located between the double dining rooms at Graziano's. Like American steak places, Graziano's serves the bare bones -- beef à la carte -- but the flavor of Argentine hardwood and the juiciness sealed in by a slow-turning rotisserie make the cuts of meat incomparable. Nonbeef main courses include suckling pig and gigantic Patagonian shrimp, also hot off the asador. Add starters like quickly seared blocks of Provolone, homemade sausages, or grilled sweetbreads, and a wine list so comprehensive even enophiles get confused, and what's left to say but grazie?
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.

Shula's Steak House
Many people aren't even aware of the place, which isn't so surprising. This stretch of Collins Avenue, dominated by high-rise condo buildings, hardly seems a likely locale for a classy restaurant. But here is Shula's, tucked away near the back of the Alexander, far from the bustling crowds, the perfect setting for a dining room conducive to privacy. Here there are no clanging plates, noisy diners, or obtrusive music. Here you and your guest can slip into a plush banquette and recede from the world, almost literally invisible. Here the waitstaff is discreet and respectful. Here you won't be thoughtlessly interrupted. Here, as you indulge the decadent menu, you can say what you really think and no one but your intended listener will hear.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®