Chances are you've never seen a drag queen dive into a crowd and "surf" her audience. Less likely is the chance of seeing female impersonators yank each other's wigs off during performances, pull out their falsies, and riff off one another in wickedly hilarious comedy that skewers racial, ethnic, and sexual themes. Marytrini, Sophia Divine, Teresita la Bella, and Charito, a.k.a. Las Divas del Jacuzzi, do that and more. These Cuban queens are revolutionizing drag performance in the divaest of diva showplaces in Miami. Instead of simply lip-synching cheesy Latin pop, a mainstay for Miami drag performers, Las Divas use their own voices to impersonate Spanish-language TV personalities such as Laura Bozzo, Marta Susana, and Cristina Saralegui. Their live versions of television commercials, such as Ingles sin Barreras and Labelle Beauty School, are far funnier and edgier than anything you'll see on television. Meanwhile, they mix in juggling unicyclists, dancers, and, of course, more drag queens.

What do you get when you put jumpy African rhythm with juicy reggae and Haitian soul? One of the few Haitian bands that Miami can still call its own. This compas band has kept the Creole flavor pumping through a steady bass, conga, and keyboards for years now and has gained a level of sophistication in the process. Don't get fooled by the leather jackets and motorcycles on the cover of their latest live album. These guys still have a soft side to their music that's smooth and infectious.

MICHELLE BERNSTEIN

AZUL, 500 Brickell Key Drive (Mandarin Oriental Hotel), Miami ,305-913-8358

Michelle Bernstein is that rarest of Miami creatures: a true native. Which is why last year she was honored as Best Local Girl Made Good: "After working for others and then co-owning a short-lived but ambitious venture (The Strand), Bernstein took a major leap: She left South Beach for Brickell Key and the luxe Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Within a year Esquire magazine named her restaurant, Azul, the best of 2001. The Food TV network hired her to host a series on tropical foods. And the Vita-Prep people picked her for an advertisement that numero uno trade mag Food Arts featured prominently. Can any other native make that kind of claim to national fame?" So what's left to say? Well, only that Bernstein's Azul has since received the American Automobile Association's highest commendation: the Five Diamond Award. No other Miami-Dade restaurant can boast that distinction.

BEST PLACE FOR FRESH FRUIT

I probably sound like a princess for saying this, but Epicure is my favorite place for fruit. The colors are vibrant, the fragrance hits you when you walk in the door. What kills me is that I buy a huge amount of produce on a daily basis for the restaurant and I never get such beautiful fruit as Epicure does. Not just that, they get seasonal fruits before we do. I patiently wait for cherry season, plum and peach season, and sure enough, Epicure is loaded with not just the fruit I search out but specialty types like white cherries, sugar plums, and doughnut peaches. They make a honey tangerine juice that is addictive.

BEST MONTH TO BE IN MIAMI

Being a Miami native, there is definitely one month that sticks out in my mind: December. Where else can you spend Christmas on the beach? There is a certain magic in the air. The tourists are here scrambling for their SoBe purchases, the restaurants are boisterous and hopping, the sun is shining, and we have a total of, say, eight days to wear our best winter couture.

BEST PLACE TO SAVOR THE FLAVOR OF MIAMI

I cannot imagine showing off our city's flavors without first stopping at El Palacio de los Jugos. I marvel in their fruit juice selection (made to order), from sugar cane to tamarind to papaya-coconut. As you try to make a fruit-drink decision, the chicharrónes call out your name like a little devil on your shoulder. Take no more than two steps and the fresh mariquitas (thin slices of green plantain) are being thrown into the fryer. They're placed into a little bag so you can attack the crispy critters on your way home. But don't leave just yet -- the best part of this little jewel is the pan con lechon (shredded pork on bread). Ask for a little extra mojo while you're at it. Savoring these Latin flavors is part of our lifestyle; it's what I grew up with and what I live for.

BEST CHEAP THRILL

One of my greatest thrills in Miami is a very personal one. I started going down to Homestead when I was four, to the various U-pick fields, as I do today. First wed stop at the field where you can pick tomatoes, warm and fragrant from the vine. Then corn on large stalks and lettuces of different types. But the best part was (and is) the strawberries. Oh, the strawberries! A group of Old German Baptists run a place called Knaus Berry Farm, which has the sweetest, juiciest, biggest strawberries youve ever seen. The best part: Once youre done picking, you stop at the roadside stand to gorge on strawberry shakes made with fresh strawberry ice cream and the just-picked strawberries. Its the most intense frozen-strawberry smoothie you can ever imagine. But dont go anywhere yet. They also sell big hot cinnamon buns fresh from the oven.

BEST REASON TO LIVE IN MIAMI

There is one good reason why I'll probably always consider Miami my home: the passion. Our city is smoking hot from the sizzling sun, combined with beautiful people, zestful food, and a fusion of many different languages, cultures, and music. Behind all these is a passion that is incomparable. We cook with our hearts, dance with zeal, speak in voluminous tones. Our achievements are accomplished by following our hearts more than our minds. If we don't believe strongly in something, with our hearts and souls, it probably won't even be attempted. Our clothing is bright, our senses alive, and we strive to let ourselves show.

RECIPE

CHOCOLATE MOLE PAINTED FOIE GRAS OVER PORT GASTRIC BRAISED CHERRIES

1 teaspoon ground ancho chiles

1 teaspoon ground almonds

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of Hawaiian sea salt

1 cup extra-bitter chocolate, melted in a double boiler

Combine above ingredients and keep warm over hot water until just before serving; use a paintbrush to "paint" the mole onto a white plate.

In a pan, sear a 3-ounce piece of fresh foie gras. When golden, place foie gras into a cold pan, set aside.

In the hot pan with foie fat add:

1/4 cup pitted cherries

1/4 cup port wine

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Reduce until it coats the back of a spoon.

Heat the foie gras in the oven at 350 degrees until medium rare to medium, approximately 3 to 4 minutes, until it feels soft when you press lightly on it. If there is hardness, heat for 2 more minutes. Glaze the foie gras with a little extra chocolate. Place 2 tablespoons of sauce in the center of the "painted" plate. Top with the chocolate-glazed foie gras. Top the foie with a little sea salt and serve immediately.

Most electronic music doesn't say much, literally. If there are lyrics involved, the vocals treatment has more to do with melody and tone than the meaning of the actual words. But Miami's Cuban/German "beat molester" likes to add some say to his sway. In Chopped Zombie Fungus, released on local label Schematic, Von Schirach (his real and way cool name) has a few requests: "whip me down, make me hurt, make me bleed, touch my tit, slap my ass, take it down, drink my milk, hurt me down, squeeze my ass, slap my tit, swallow it, eat my cheese." It used to be that whenever dance music was silly, it never knew it. Thank God for guys like Von Schirach and albums like this, where you can be intelligent without the pseudo-sophistication of Euro trance and deep house (nobody's funny on Ecstasy or cocaine). It isn't just lyrical antics that make this album so lovable; Von Schirach takes the time to deconstruct sound and rhythm into a Dadaistic collage of chaotic noise. Many tracks call for a patient, attentive ear. The sounds are manipulated obtusely and through water-drop syncopation. To say most of these songs are offbeat is as much an understatement as the term for this genre: Intelligent Dance Music. But break-beating ravers and club kids should have no fear of the forward experimentalism soaking much of this release; Von Schirach includes a bassed-up dance track, the happily titled "Boombonic Plague," perfect for rump shaking and pelvic thrusting, if you're into that kind of thing.

Armando Christian Perez reflects Miami in a way no rapper ever has, because the ones who've made names for themselves on these city streets were usually black, not Cuban. But Perez, a.k.a. Pitbull, is not about to go Cuban retro. He's all about today's hard knocks. Pitbull spits quick-witted, reality bass rhymes that tell the Miami tale, as he knows it firsthand. It was Miami's hip-hop godfather himself, Luther "Uncle Luke'' Campbell, who saw the significance of Pitbull four years ago. Campbell signed the rapper, took him on the road, and pitched him to everyone. This year, the 22-year-old who peddles his CDs on Liberty City streets is going to blow up. And he promises he's bringing the 305 with him. He made good on that promise last spring, when his hit "Welcome to Miami," an insider's ode to the Magic City, pushed its way into heavy rotation on Power 96 (WPOW-FM 96.5). Now Pitbull prepares to promote his upcoming album, Expect the Unexpected. His approach to stardom isn't cut from the American Idol cloth. His concrete stare gleams determination, and his tattoo that says "Hate Me and Suffer" is a stern warning to those who'll stand in his way.

Readers Choice: Lee Williams and the Square Egg

There have been any number of local rock outfits that have graced Miami's stages in search of national glory or just the heart of Saturday night. But few caused as much of a ruckus -- and then promptly disappeared -- as the Eat. Its debut single, 1979's "Communist Radio," still has die-hard fans guessing at its political sympathies: pro-Fidelista rant or anti-commie screed? Of course naming your record label "Giggling Hitler" should give some indication that the Eat wasn't devoted to any philosophy save offending as many people as possible. Which is exactly what its brief existence managed to do: another single in 1980, a disastrous East Coast tour, and (to hear the leather-jacketed survivors tell it) plenty of fights and tense club dramas sparked by patrons none too fond of this new "punk" thang the Eat was blasting out. And that was it. By the mid-Eighties, the Eat was consigned to the dustier pages of history; a brief 1995 reunion is best left forgotten. What the band left behind, though, is "Communist Radio"'s throat-grabbing immediacy, a ferocious meld of sing-along choruses and piercing guitar work that add up to one of the choicest slices of garage-rock glory this side of "Louie Louie." But don't take our word -- sightings of "Communist Radio" regularly fetch upward of $500 on eBay from collectors desperate to snatch a copy of punk's Holy Grail. Sure, musicians such as Charlie Pickett or Nil Lara may be more, ahem, technically accomplished. And characters like Marilyn Manson and the Mavericks may have gone on to greater financial success. But no other Miamian has yet to stake his or her claim to immortality so authoritatively in barely two and a half minutes of joyous scree.

Standing around a smoke-filled dive for hours on end as a band blasts away is great when you're twentysomething. But as anyone who's caught shows at the Jackie Gleason or the Gusman can attest, there comes a time in a hipster's life when he just wants to, well, sit down. So how can an, ahem, aging fellow catch some cutting-edge live music without enduring aching joints? Just follow the lead of a handful of local promoters who have been booking exciting up-and-coming acts into this overlooked (and city-owned) Little Havana gem, an honest-to-gosh theater. The Manuel Artime has great sightlines (the sloping floor means no bad seats) and free parking -- which adds up to a stress-free evening out. In fact the musicians who get the chance to hit the Artime's stage often seem just as excited as the crowd to be in such an august (yet unpretentious) hall. Not every gig here has been on the order of last fall's transcendent Bright Eyes show. But even a train wreck like the Miami debut of Cat Power -- where song after song literally came apart -- was received as a novel experiment gone awry, instead of two hours of your life you'll never get back. And how often can you say that about bad art?

Last year Volumen Cero won Best Local Rock Band. So why is it pop this year? Musically the quartet, whose name translates to Zero Volume, tries on everything from power pop (the hit single "Hollywood") to Sixties-influenced Brit-pop. Frontman Luis Tamblay's voice is moody and evocative and versatile. The band's ability to play around with genres instead of bashing out garage and punk rock draws comparisons to similar-minded bands like Blur. That doesn't mean Volumen Cero is pop, per se, but rather that it is pop-minded enough to know it takes more than one approach to make a great album -- which, in this case, would be last year's Luces.

Readers Choice: Inner Voice

One of the Nineties' more beloved Miami underground rock outfits returns with a vault-scraping collection: previously unreleased studio sessions from 1997, a live-on-WLRN-FM set from 1992 (yes, Virginia, WLRN once aired rock and roll amid the NPR gabbing), and from that same year, a raucous live show from the now-defunct Beach club Washington Square. As this CD's title implies, the Holy Terrors have disbanded (keep your eyes peeled for the latest Interpol video on MTV and you'll spy Terrors drummer Sam Fogarino thumping away), but the music here is by no means of historical interest only. Underneath the paint-peeling Pixies-ish onslaught of guitars, and singer Rob Elba's often-shrieked vocals, is an unerring sense of songcraft. If nothing else, this was a group that knew a killer pop hook definitely makes the bitter medicine go down. For old fans, this archival release is a welcome reminder of the Holy Terrors' fearsome attack. For newcomers, it's proof the words Miami and genuinely exciting rock haven't always been mutually exclusive.

Speaking of love, it's hard not to amour Rose Max when she sings, for example, "Speaking of Love" ("Falando de Amor") or any of those Brazilian jazz standards that make us so happy we could cry. One night she woos you with her bossa nova and samba amid the couches and candlelight of the Van Dyke Café's dreamy upstairs room. On another her renditions of Seventies pop songs in the cheesy bar at Porçao get you and your sisters cluster-dancing, arm-waving, and singing along. Husband Ramatis Morães provides Max's lush bed of guitar chords. Whatever the venue, everybody is in seventh heaven; that is, major-seventh and minor-seventh, those magical chords that can at once relax, energize, sadden, and enrapture, as master Brazilian songwriters Antonio Carlos Jobim, Newton Mendonça, and others discovered. Max, a native of Rio de Janeiro, was practically singing before she was born. Her great-grandfather was conductor/composer Cupertino de Menezes and her grandfather guitar player/composer Manuel de Menezes. She moved to Miami in 1993 and a decade later she gives her sultriest seminars at the Van Dyke, where she and Morães play with a full drum-bass-piano rhythm section. She appeared out of nowhere, as goes the Toni Bellotto and Nando Reis classic "Pra Dizer Adeus" ("To Say Goodbye"), which she delivers on her recently released first CD. "You never saw me alone, you never heard me cry," it continues. "You make it hard to imagine whether it's too early or too late to say goodbye." It is always both once Max has begun to sing.

Readers Choice: Melody Cole

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®