Delicias is a delightful little neighborhood eatery housed in an unremarkable building on Miami's main drag. The food is good and reasonably priced. The tables are covered in Peruvian blankets protected by glass tops. A tragic telenovela quietly plays itself out on a television mounted high on the wall. An old man sits at the counter, slowly finishing his fish soup. And you are sitting at a table near a window, about to order a fresh, expertly prepared ceviche. This place has six varieties (all marinated in lemon juice): octopus, shrimp, fish, shellfish, and combinations. Order it and a drink to go. Take the lot and walk east, down to the water's edge. Eat your grub and gaze out onto Biscayne Bay.

There is a secret to serving good coffee that goes beyond the beans, the roast, and the water. Here it is: temperature. And those comical, corporate Einstein Bros. have figured this out. So they start each pot with a blend of Central and South American beans, roasted to a light brown, and they brew the java with water that is between 190 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. (For those who skipped middle-school science: The boiling point of water is 212 degrees F.) Then, when the coffee is made, specially calibrated heaters under each urn hold the coffee at 175 degrees. That's hot. Oh, and if the brothers' employees are paying attention to company directives, they are also brewing up fresh coffee at least every hour, even if that means dumping out a full 1.5-gallon urn, according to Ron Savelli, the chain's vice president of menu development. Of course bagels, sandwiches, and soups are also available. But the allure here is coffee. Hot and fresh, Mel's Neighborhood Blend is perfection.

Even in a city filled with authentic Caribbean cuisine, suburbanites flock to the reliable Bahama Breeze chain for fine fakin' Jamaican food. Sometimes the wait is more than an hour -- not necessarily a problem if you spend it drinking in the huge outdoor bar area. The draw is the reliable quality of the food, from the goat cheese or ceviche appetizers to the steak or ropa vieja entrées. There are, unfortunately, some of the inevitable chain restaurant gimmicks in evidence; servers aren't waiters, they're "tour guides," and they dress in garish color-coded tropical-pattern shirts (although managers, oddly, have even worse shirts than waiters). One tip: The restaurant is so popular that parking is a serious problem, especially on weekends. Call in advance.

Readers Choice: Cheesecake Factory

Epicure may not be the best-in-the-county for every individual cheese type. For instance, though the homemade cow's-milk mozzarella balls are admirable, Laurenzo's have a more pronounced fresh-dairy milkiness. But the variety at Epicure is unbeatable, and includes not just popular faves like Brie but aficionado faves such as powerfully pungent Epoisse. Prices ain't cheap (many cheeses are $15 to $20 per pound), but who's counting when you're talking about hard-to-find finds like imported raw-milk cheeses, AOC cheeses (appellation-controlled, like wine), and even more unbelievable, a sizable selection of truly gourmet kosher cheese, including some unusual French imports: flavorful mimolette cheddar, a rich 60-percent matiere grasse Brie, and a nice sheep's milk brebis. The crowded cheese counter contains artisanal cheeses from all over the western world: numerous rarities from French cheesemaker Chantal Plasse, including Salers (a kicked-up-several-notches unpasteurized milk take on industrially produced Cantal); farmhouse cheddars ranging from English (Keene's) and Irish (Tipperary) to Vermont (a four-year-old Grafton). Up on the top shelf, with related dairy products like crème fraîche and a hung Greek yogurt so thick dieters will never miss sour cream, you'll find Epicure's own cheese creations, like scrumptious pesto/pignolia-dressed string cheese, and a goat cheese spread with orange rind ideal for tea sandwiches (and which makes cream cheese taste positively anemic). Just when you've finished loading up your cart, having called the bank on your cell phone to arrange to mortgage one of the kids, you turn 90 degrees and realize there's a whole separate counter of goat cheeses you haven't even considered.

Readers Choice: Epicure Market

We grew concerned when we got no response to a letter sent to Willis Loughhead at Bizcaya Grill. We were inquiring about his interest in being one of eight chefs to host a "Personal Best" page in Best of Miami. A follow-up call elicited this: He was out of town and wouldn't return before our deadline passed. Out of commission was more like it. A bit more research revealed that he had been in a very serious car accident on the Julia Tuttle Causeway -- cut off by a driver who then disappeared. A slick roadway and an unforgiving guardrail left Loughhead with a broken nose and about 100 stitches in his face and head. The traumatic experience and slow recovery (now nearly complete) provided him with a new perspective on some of the best things about Miami. For instance, Best Natural High: "Walking away from a car wreck. I didn't get more than four steps or so, but at least I could stand. That, and endorphins." Best Emergency Room: "Miami Heart. It's never crowded." Best Plastic Surgeon: "Dr. Mark Broudo. From now on I'll send all my business to him." Best Medicine: "I don't know her name, but the ER nurse was pretty cute."

When South Beach superstar chef Michael Schwartz left the eatery he co-founded, Nemo, last year, local media meticulously tracked his every post-Nemo burp (literally -- a burp's length being about as long as Schwartz's much-ballyhooed tenure at Bal Harbour's Atlantic House lasted). No such attention has been accorded to new Nemo head honcho Mike Sabin. Why? Maybe because Sabin isn't really new, just newly on top; he was actually the first cook hired when Nemo opened in 1995 -- which makes his succession seem same-old-same-old. In between his original Nemo time and now, though, Sabin garnered mighty impressive cooking credits, at Pacific Time and five restaurants in the Mark Militello empire locally, as well as a stint at Virginia's Inn at Little Washington, considered by many pro foodies to be the nation's top kitchen. Nevertheless, since returning to Nemo Sabin has demonstrated remarkable restraint, displaying eagerness rather than ego-tripping. He added some of his own innovative, boldly spiced Mediterranean-influenced fusion dishes to the menu, but retained the house-cured salmon/sprout rolls, the grilled Indian-spiced pork chop, the outstanding raw bar/shellfish platters, and all the other beloved favorites Nemo's regular customers count on. This respect for long-time patrons, as well as Sabin's meticulous attention to detail, almost superhuman energy, and just plain talent, make him worthy of much more notice.

One measure of the popularity of this place's wings is the fact that you must order them early on high holy days such as title fights, national championships, or the Super Bowl. Otherwise you could wait hours, so heavy is the demand. And no wonder. These are the meatiest wings in town. Unbreaded and grilled to nongreasy perfection, they're served in huge wooden bowls for party gorging. The toughest decision is always the dipping sauce: special, buffalo, or Miami Heat, which has been known to leave burn marks. The prices are popular too: 16 pieces for $10; 25 pieces for $12.50; and multiples of ten after that.

Cumin and tomato are the starring flavors in the heaping bowls of chili served at Picnics at Allen's, but the atmosphere at this Fifties-style pharmacy and lunch counter steals the show. Owners Marie and Jerry Burg are personable without being obsequious (an attitude mirrored by the waitstaff), creating an atmosphere that seems more like a real neighborhood restaurant than a self-conscious retro re-creation. Jerry, who cooks the chili, says good-quality ground beef and huge helpings make the chili ($3.95 for a bowl with generous portions of onions and cheese on the side) popular. He also admits that even the "spicy" chili isn't firehouse hot. "I don't like to make it so hot you can't taste it -- that's what the Tabasco's for." Tiny Tabasco bottles line the counter, where patrons can sit on spinning chrome and vinyl stools and make like they're headed for the sock hop, or cross the black-and-white checkerboard floor to sit at one of the cushy booths. "The recipe is one of those things that get handed down through the years," says Marie, "although [original owners] the Allens used hot peppers in theirs, and we don't do that." A Picnics at Allen's milkshake (the 2002 New Times Best Milkshake winner) is the perfect cure for Tabasco overapplication.

Most conch fritters should be called "conch-flavored fritters," so little actual shellfish is represented. In fact, calling them conch-flavored would even be stretching it since the main taste impressions most of these deep-fried balls leave are: 1) traditional leaden cornmeal batter, no doubt invaluable in Florida's pioneer days when fritters doubled as cannonballs to knock out the Spanish armada; 2) too much too-old grease; and 3) too many chili peppers to mask the taste of too-old grease. At Captain Jim's fish market/eatery, in contrast, the fritter batter is fried puffy-light (like a Spanish churro, Italian zeppole, Seminole fry bread, or AnyStateFairUSA fried dough) in oil almost as fresh as the place's fish. And that is saying something. There are indeed jalapeños for heat, as well as sweet green peppers for crunch, but never enough to overwhelm each fritter's generous haul of big, chewy-yet-tender conch chunks. Each order comes with six fritters, and the only sane reason to not get two or three orders is that you want to save room for Captain Jim's simple but superb shrimp scampi.

Wake up on a Saturday morning longing for a fresh croissant and you're outta luck here. Like most shops in this predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, Brioche Dorée isn't open on Saturday, and you can't pick up your morning pastry fix on the way home from work the night before because the bakery closes, invariably cleaned out of croissants, at 3:00 p.m. weekdays. The place doesn't take credit cards either. But all the inconveniences are worth it. No bakery in Miami-Dade County makes a more melt-in-your-mouth croissant. (Which explains why La Brioche Dorée has taken this award four times previously.) In fact, though the secret is supposedly genuine French butter, which is denser than American supermarket stuff, it's hard to find a croissant even in France that beats Brioche's, so delectable briefly warmed to bring out the dairy richness that applying extra butter at table seems superfluous. Tip: Brioche bakes half-size mini-croissants that are perfect party brunch fare, but these sell out even earlier than the full-size models, so go early, especially on Sunday when the place opens at 7:00 a.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®