To most people "comfort food" means something that's reassuring because it's what we ate when we were kids. Oddly, though, most restaurants' idea of comfort food is meat loaf. How many modern moms made meat loaf? TV dinners are more like it. Why were these especially comforting? For one thing they were served in conveniently compartmentalized trays that kept sauces and juices and flavors separated. For another they became associated with an indulgent adolescent pleasure: zoning out in front of the tube. The problem with the TV dinners of yore, of course, was the actual food they contained. But Big Pink's TV dinners, a different special each day, present no problems in that regard. The food does sound like the old standards (turkey, pot roast, eggplant parmesan, fried chicken) but one bite and you know it's the real thing, not some processed gunk from an assembly line. The mashed potatoes are real. The vegetables are fresh, not frozen. The macaroni and cheese features firm pasta and cheese with real character. The crisp chicken is creatively coated with panko. Desserts include items such as red velvet cake and key lime pie instead of those tiny old Styrofoam brownies. And thanks to Big Pink's delivery service, this updated version of the TV dinner from your past can be placed right in your lap -- just as dear old Mom did lo those many years ago.

It's what Long John Silver's pretends to be but never has been: good seafood on the fly. Capt. Crab's has the fish sandwiches (fried and grilled), the shrimp, conch, clam chowder, and so on. But especially notable in this little shack of a fast-food restaurant are the crabs. A moist and delectable crab sandwich goes for $6; a bucket of heavenly garlic crabs ranges from the one-pounder at $8.50 to the jumbo tub (four pounds) for $29. Pair it with a cold beer, sold by the bottle at the drive-though window, and a two-dollar key lime pie and you're good to go. The drive-thru is open 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

There aren't a lot of chili restaurants in Miami-Dade County, despite the presence of chili in various forms on numerous menus. In fact it's probably safe to say there are no places in Miami-Dade where you can find traditional chili. This void forces us to travel up to Broward County to push a renowned style of chili available only at Skyline. If you know anyone who's ever lived in Cincinnati, or if you've visited the Queen City yourself, then you know that chili is a staple of the diet there and that the type of chili they serve is unlike chili anywhere else. It's nearly as thin as water and is served atop a plate of spaghetti. Accompaniments include a mound of shredded cheddar cheese and/or onions and/or plump red kidney beans. The recipe is a closely held secret but we think we taste chocolate and cinnamon in there somewhere. Skyline is the dominant chili chain in Ohio, founded in 1949 by Greek immigrants Nicholas and Alexandra Lambrinides. Thankfully one of the Lambrinides grandsons migrated to Florida and brought some outlets with him. Skyline is an acquired taste, that's for sure. And for those who've acquired it, the drive north is well worth it.

It seems such an easy dessert. No intricate baking techniques, no rare ingredients, no specific occasion or purpose. And yet it saddens to know how often this creation can turn out so awfully wrong. A perennial favorite among "Best of Miami" readers, Joe's Stone Crab sticks to some trusted basics from a closely guarded recipe and delivers one hell of a slice of homemade key lime heaven. Cool, creamy, and with just the right tartness from the choicest limes, this pie gets the nod over some fair competition. The crust is a straightforward but delicious graham cracker. No whipping cream is used to desecrate the delicate yet rich filling. And the color is correct: not gaudy green but rather a slightly pale, sour-apple shade. The only chink in this pie's armor is the fact that Joe's closes for the summer, leaving its fans to pine away until fall. It's worth the wait. A nine-inch pie costs $18; by the slice it's $4.95.
For some people this tiny, tangy citrus fruit is the key to happiness. And there's no better place to buy joy than the source -- the Tree itself -- where the shelves are dedicated to products flavored with this coveted concentrate: key lime-covered pecans; key lime-frosted graham crackers; key lime marmalade; key lime jelly beans. Diehards can even wash their hair with key lime shampoo and bubble up their baths with key lime soap. But the most obsessed among us probably won't even make it into the shop, given that the patio area contains dozens of potted key lime trees. The three-gallon containers go for ten bucks, and while you might not see limes on the limbs for a few years, it's a good investment nonetheless. Just keep it to yourself. We wouldn't want the canker crowd to get aromatic wind of it.
Despite the fact that conch fritters are a South Florida specialty, diners need to bring their own microscopes to find the conch in fritters served at most seafood eateries. Not at this friendly fish market, which is also an informal restaurant (five Formica tables) and prepared-foods take-out joint. Jim Hanson, a Miami native, makes fritters that are positively packed with super-size chunks of perfectly tenderized conch, as well as onion and both sweet and hot green peppers. The unusually puffy enclosing batter, similar in texture to a light Spanish churro or Seminole fry bread rather than a rough cornmeal hush puppy, is so succulently seasoned you could easily forget to use the accompanying dipping sauce. Don't. The hot-and-sassy concoction, reminiscent of a remoulade, puts the tart back in tartar sauce. With an order of six plump fritters you need only an accompaniment of crisp fresh coleslaw to complete a meal.
I'm not a sorbet kinda guy, you say. I drink tap water, not Perrier. Budweiser, not wine. Relax, okay? After a Lincoln Road meal, an aprés-dining stroll over to The Frieze is an easy way to add a touch of culinary sophistication to your diet. And the folks behind the counter here are more than happy to ease you into your new chichi identity. All you have to do is point and they'll gladly scoop you out a free sample of any of their dozen or so flavors of homemade sorbet. May we suggest a coneful of coconut for starters? Smooth, but not too watery; tart but not tangy -- it's just the thing to cleanse the palate and then to keep you coming back for more. Good thing they pack pints to go.

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.
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.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®