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.

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 RESTAURANT FOR A ROMANTIC DINNER

Magnum

Magnum Lounge
We're not exactly sure why, but most people prefer to be romantic in the dark. If that's true for you, then Magnum, owned by Jeffrey's proprietors Jeffrey Landsman and Kurt Schmidt (Jeffrey's has been a perennial winner of this award), is shadowy enough for smooching, shady enough for liaisons of the deliciously illicit kind. Not only is the room dimly lighted in an alluring way, a throaty jazz singer and a back-door entrance off a rather deserted alleyway suggest something concealed, something that says speakeasy, something that whispers romance.

Dogma Grill
Aran S Graham
David Tunnell, who used to be management at MTV's Latin American operation, decided to leave corporate life in the early fall of 2002. By Thanksgiving he'd opened Dogma (the name inspiration came from pal Carlos Carreño), and by Christmas the outdoor shop was packed. Instant Biscayne hipster hangout. That's because Tunnell, who's from Los Angeles, went to some trouble to use only the best ingredients -- Vienna rolls, Hebrew National dogs, and real L.A. chili (which costs twice as much to fly in) -- for the defining Dogma experience: the chili dog. Three hundred of these will go on a slammin' lunch day, most to those kinds of fans you see in the Design District or at the more upscale boho clubs. Designer chairs, retro-contemporary décor, windows everywhere so the kitchen crew can converse with the customers in total equality. Prices: $2.45 to $4.50 (the latter gets you the burrito chili package, which actually has two dogs). Seven days from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Don't let mottos like "home of the $3.99 lunch special with free drink" fool you. Sure, the restaurant's truth-in-advertising bears up -- the midday meal really is that darn cheap -- but Jamaica Inn is about much more than value. It's about authenticity. In other words, the peas and rice? Moist. The stewed oxtail? Meaty. The jerk pork? Aromatic. The curry goat? Spicy. And the Red Stripe? Cold, of course. Which is quite refreshing considering the level of heat activity that is going on in most of the dishes here, but especially in the tamarind sauce that comes on the side -- that stuff can steam-clean your brain. Jamaica Inn? Ja, mon.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®