What it lacks in location -- stuck as it is in the corner of a strip mall -- it more than makes up for in goodies, which explains why Renaissance has won five Best of Miami awards over the years. From scones to San Francisco sourdough. From empanadas to a chicken sandwich on focaccia with roasted red peppers. They make it there. And they make it memorable. Sit inside at the bar and soak up the aromas. And if it takes awhile to reheat that croissant, don't fret. The microwave isn't broken. It's warming the way it should be: in the oven.

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In terms of upscale "New Indian" cuisine, an innovative, lightened-up approach to traditional Indian food, Miami as yet has nothing that modern. But many dishes at Imlee come close; even the bargain buffet lunch is largely a custom-cooked affair rather than the usual collection of steam-tabled stuff that, at most Indian eateries, sits, stewing itself into increasingly soggy submission as the afternoon wears on. Try kadai shrimp, five seriously fiery fresh jumbo shellfish cooked perfectly tender and coated with rich, reduced tomato sauce. Equally electrically spiced is paneer jahlfrezi, a take on classic chili-spiked chicken jahlfrezi with custardy pressed yogurt cheese substituted for poultry; even more imaginative paneer pakora, nothing like normal pakoras, uses rectangles of firm fried paneer to enclose savory spiced spinach stuffing. For vegetarians, malai kofta, cloud-light nonmeat "meatballs" in a smooth but intriguingly tongue-tingling cream sauce, will be a wonder. Imlee's sleekly spare décor, immeasurably less embarrassing than that at most Indian joints (which tend toward either dumpiness or Last Days of the Raj excess), makes the place entirely appropriate for an elegant date or dignified business dinner, as well as a casual night out with family or friends.

Readers Choice: House of India

Jimbo's
This place has been around at least 48 years -- manager Dan Nudge thinks maybe 50 -- way the hell back in the woods and gone without a proper address. It used to be a bait shop on Biscayne Bay just north of the MacArthur Causeway, but was bounced when the Miami Herald built its waterfront eyesore. It still is a bait shop, but there's a whole lot more going on. Owner Jim Luznar likes the scruffy, backwoodsy feel of the site, despite the nearby sewage plant. Now there are palm trees and a gravel drive instead of the muddy path that used to lead up to Jimbo's shack. It's still authentically funky, though. Attracts folks like Bob Dylan when he's around. He'll slouch in for Jimbo's smoked Costa Rican marlin or salmon at eight bucks a pound, and chug down some Natural Ice or Budweiser beer. Nudge explained that the wonderful taste of the fish owes to the smoking process: "Yeah, ya put it in a blind for the night, salted down and sugared and watered, right out back. It's the weather gives us the taste. Yuh cain't man-u-facture that."

This comfortable Cuban restaurant at Galloway and Sunset Drive bears the spirit of La Carreta without the teeming hordes and with a much more refined décor (no grease on the leather booths). Their café con leche is a staple for neighborhood aficionados of this milk-and-coffee combination. What makes it better than other places? Well, for one thing they use whole milk unless you ask for low-fat. That may not do much for the love handles, but it bodes well for café richness. Also the Cuban coffee and warm milk are served separately so customers can mix to their liking. Added plus: The waitresses speak fluent English, so drive up from Pinecrest even if you're an old Cracker and talk like it.

BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE OF THE BIG APPLE

New York New York

New York New York Restaurant
The twin towers of the World Trade Center still stand under a starry sky -- on the giant mural decorating a wall at New York New York. The other walls, clad with posters of Broadway shows such as Dancin', Sugar Babies, and Les Miserables, facsimiles of New York Times front pages, photo stills from feature films, and a ticker flashing the latest news, provide reminders of the city too, as do the booths boasting names such as Broadway and Times Square. But the items on the menu at the 23-year-old eatery are really what offer South Floridians that true bite of the Big Apple. Hot dogs, plain or topped with chili. Potato knishes. Deli sandwiches, including corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, turkey, and killer chicken salad served with coleslaw and a potato pancake. A variety of hot entrées, breakfast items, and a well-stocked salad bar. Bagels, cream cheese, and the ubiquitous Dr. Brown's soda in black cherry, cream, and Cel-Ray. And a refreshing refreshment known as a lime rickey. Rice pudding, colossal apple pie (à la mode with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, if you like), a decadent dense creation dubbed chocolate beast cake, and of course creamy cheesecake bursting with the kind of calories that could only be walked off in a major city. It's food so fine we had to start spreading the news.

For the past 38 years, Sarussi has offered the biggest Cuban sandwich in town: fifteen inches long and a good four inches tall. What makes owner Humberto Betancourt such a culinary genius is not mere size, however. It is his top-secret hot sauce. Piquant but not spicy, the peppery condiment gives this full meal of a sandwich a unique flair. Hints of Tabasco, mojo, tomato sauce, and some unidentified salsa reportedly smuggled in from Costa Rica. Intelligence sources say he prepares the sauce in a secure bunker beneath his heavily guarded home. Direct questions about the ingredients are met with icy stares, then mocking laughter. Good try.

Paquito's Mexican Restaurant
Aran S Graham
The festively decorated Paquito's, its rooms festooned with a combination of folksy and kitschy decorations, dishes up genuine Mexican cooking the likes of which you'd find in a good fonda south of the border. Traditional fare ranges from a sopa de tortilla, sopes (small round cornmeal discs topped with refried beans and shredded cheese, served as starters), the classic chocolately rich mole poblano with chicken, tamales, and a real stick-to-your-ribs, homestyle dish, chilaquiles (pieces of tortillas soaked in sauce, topped with chicken and cheese). Margaritas are good but beer is a better accompaniment to food, and Paquito's carries a number of brands, among them the amber Pacifico as well as darker brews Negra Modelo and Bohemia. Desserts include standard Latin sweets like flan but also include crepas de cajeta -- cajeta is apparently an obscenity in certain South American quarters, but in Mexico it means dulce de leche de cabra (goat).

Readers Choice: Dos Amigas

Café Del Mar
Maybe it's because in this neck of the woods (one block outside Miami Shores) you used to get mighty thirsty until this restaurant picked up a liquor license over the summer. Maybe it's because the bartender and the owner and the waiter all greet you as you arrive. Maybe it's because they hold live music nights. Maybe it's because the mixture of seafood and pasta is so tasty. Maybe it's because, if you visit a few times, you're sure to know someone at a table or the bar. Maybe it's because the fish-net nautical theme can't be beat. Most likely it's a combination of all of the above. Most likely you're going to be glad everyone knows your name as you fork up those mussels and sip your martini. (On Wednesdays, ladies, your first one is free!)

Whole Foods Market
Whether you're looking to satisfy your craving for vegan fare or for soups that extend beyond the chicken-noodle and clam-chowder variety, Whole Foods Market is the place to go. Besides interesting items such as Mediterranean beef stew and spinach orzo soup, it features an expansive array of prepared vegetable dishes, from tofu pad thai to raspberry tofu diablo to a delightfully tangy eggplant à la napolitiana (red peppers drenched in olive oil and vinegar stuffed into an eggplant). Or if you're into down-home cookin', the market offers healthy portions of piping-hot meat loaf, barbecued and fried chicken, sweet corn, stuffing, steamed vegetables, and lots of other hot foods.

The Original Daily Bread Marketplace
Courtesy of Daily Bread Marketplace
The Mazzawi family has been dishing up falafel and shish tawook (chicken gyros) to Miami residents since 1975. Grab a spinach pie and browse the market's aisles for every conceivable Middle Eastern delight, from fresh-baked pita to tahini to a wide selection of olive oils, spices, nuts, and even, um, lifestyle accessories like hookahs. Word to the wise: If you buy a hookah, make sure you purchase some pistachio baklava. You'll regret it later if you don't.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®