BEST EXPENSIVE ITALIAN RESTAURANT

Casa Tua

We'll put it in the simplest terms: If one wants ingredients such as black truffles, white asparagus, cipollini onions, heirloom tomatoes, artisanal cheeses, Dover sole, and boneless quail, one must dig deep into the pockets. If one desires these comestibles to be prepared in the New World by chefs who have been trained in the Old World, one must cough up the cash. If one wants to sample these dishes in a hidden-gem, secret-garden atmosphere that has as much homestyle charm as Versace's erstwhile mansion, one must forfeit the bucks. But for those who can't wash dishes in case of emergency, don't worry -- there's a Citibank ATM right across the street.

Readers Choice: Café Abbracci

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!)

Step inside the Bird Road location and you'll find yourself in the re-created courtyard of a Nicaraguan hacienda, complete with burbling fountain and guitar music. That's the idea, at least, and if you don't find it convincing, let the excellent food and extremely attentive service at El Novillo ease your nerves until Bird Road's infuriating traffic seems far far away. If that doesn't work, eat a sixteen-ounce "Big Daddy" churrasco -- after that, you won't care where you are. Perfectly cooked churrasco -- seared outside, melting inside -- is the signature at El Novillo, but just about all the food stands out. The "nica-tizers" (all less than four dollars except sampler platters) are a good start for the uninitiated, particularly the vigoron (pork cracklings with yuca) or the fried cheese with slaw and corn tortillas. The prices are quite reasonable (from $12 to $25 for most entrées) but the white tablecloths and courteous waitstaff give El Novillo the air of a four-star restaurant -- or hacienda.

Dining alone is both an art and a science. Therefore the solo diner obviously has a dual appreciation for both the imagination and the intellect. Where else to find the creativity as well as the observational opportunities necessary to keep such a person entertained than at the bar of Two Chefs? This ten-seater is cozy enough to get to know your neighbor but roomy enough to be served a full-course meal. And not just any meal, but one that might include escargot pot pie with smoked pork and sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus salad with Maine lobster and chimichurri, or a flatbread topped with Chinese black bean barbecued shrimp. Nor does the inspired elegance stop short of the wine list, which comprises smartly chosen, internationally renowned vintages that are poured into Riedel glassware. Feel the need to chat with someone about the virtues of the Gary Farrell Zinfandel and how it pairs with the oak-baked portobello with Gruyère and sourdough toast? Seek out the two chefs themselves, Soren Bredahl and Jan Jorgensen -- when two names are on the marquee, it's a pretty good bet that at least one is in the kitchen at all times.

Readers Choice: At home

If you don't order one of the mofongo dishes at Old San Juan Restaurant, order a five-dollar mofongo ball with your entrée. The pork-and-mashed plantain combination is cooked perfectly. Puerto Rican cuisine may not be the pathway to weight loss (lots of pork, lots of pork and chicken cracklings, lots of fried everything) but it is undoubtedly comfort food with warm flavors (garlic and oregano are prominent) and no fiery spices. The restaurant isn't cheap, but with most entrées between ten and twenty dollars, it's far from the most expensive in Miami. The mofongo dishes come with just about everything, from the traditional fried pork to lobster, conch, or octopus. Other menu highlights include the pasteles (a Puerto Rican dumpling stuffed with seasoned chicken or pork and boiled in a green-plantain leaf), and the asopaos, rice stews served with combinations of seafood, meats, and (of course) fried plantains.

Emblazoned on the sign of this Brazilian rodizio-style restaurant is, appropriately, a pig. Indeed this is a restaurant experience not for the faint of heart or stomach (vegetarians should steer clear). Porcao's staff will bring to your table a seemingly endless supply of grilled beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and sausage until you give the signal to stop. The $34.99 (plus tax) dinner also includes a mountainous buffet salad bar, and is an especially good value considering you shouldn't need to eat for the next 24 hours at least. If you have room for dessert, we recommend you share, lest you add avarice to your list of sins. For the less ravenous, try lunch (choice of carne, chicken, or fish, plus the aforementioned salad extravaganza) for $14.90 weekdays from noon to 5:00 p.m. Daytime dining includes a lovely view from the airy dining room of Brickell Key and the bay.

Tacos for breakfast? Sure! Lunch? Yes! Dinner? Absolutely! Heck, tacos and all manner of authentic Mexican eats can be had any time of the day at Roberto's in the heart of Hialeah. This 4-year-old offshoot of the 33-year-old San Diego-based chain that counts more than 50 outlets nationwide (including Cutler Ridge, Kendall, and another in Hialeah) is open 24/7. For those who simply cannot contemplate another trip to Taco Bell, Roberto's offers made-to-order tostadas, enchiladas, chimichangas, quesadillas, burritos, tortas, and tacos. Not to mention a choice of ten inexpensive (most cost around $4.95) and enormous combination plates served with rice and refried beans. Sides include chips and cheese and silky guacamole. Frosty Mexican beverages such as cinnamon-almond-rice blend horchata, tamarind nectar, and hibiscus-flower derivative jamaica are the perfect thirst-quenchers. Oh, about that breakfast: A variety of breakfast burritos and combo plates that feature rice, tortillas, and beans make for a tasty and filling first meal.

Know this going in -- Novecento is not another version of the same-old, same-old Argentine steak house. In fact it has more in common with the typical Parisian bistro, and we could praise it just for breaking out of the stereotypical parrillada box alone. Fortunately we can also laud it for offering Alton Road residents artistic salads such as the artichoke hearts, frisée, haricots verts, grapefruit, and toasted almonds tossed in a honey-lime vinaigrette, and fish dishes including grilled tuna with yuca, sliced onions, jalapeños, cherry tomatoes, sliced avocados, and chimichurri salsa. Which is not to say that the eatery isn't a meatery -- beefier entrées range from entrecote a la pimienta (steak with peppercorns) to medallones de lomo (filet mignon medallions in a Malbec reduction), with rib eyes and skirt steaks and lamb chops thrown in the mix, too. But the presentations are more sophisticated than the slab of skirt steak on a plate that we're used to seeing, and the side dishes, such as sweet potato purée or root vegetable gratin, rate a bit higher than mashed spuds or rice. As does Novecento, a much-needed addition to the area, in general.

Homestead may seem an unlikely location for an Asian grocery, but Sau Leung explains the simple reason why she and husband Tim, a Cantonese couple from Hong Kong, wound up peddling Sri Racha sauce in a town known for taco stands and pickup trucks. "We used to live in Kendall, but Homestead is much nicer. The people are nicer." Fair enough -- the traffic's better, too, although Sau admits that a dearth of customers is starting to cause business problems. "There's a little bit more Thai and Vietnamese people coming to Homestead, but most of them work in farming so they don't need to buy vegetables from us." In addition to a prodigious supply of produce, Tim's shelves are stocked with multitudes of fish and oyster sauces, won ton and egg roll wrappers, sesame oils, spices and spice mixes, noodles, even Asian dishware and paper lamps. If you're coming from Kendall, buy a six-pack of Kirin for $7.50 -- it should last about as long as it takes to navigate the traffic home.

A mensch, as defined in Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, is "someone of consequence," of solid character. This could also serve as the definition of a bagel -- a real bagel, that is, chewy enough to provide challenge, not those puffed-up pillows sold by supermarkets and most bagel chains, many of which don't even bother boiling their sissy specimens before baking them. For a bagel with guts you go to the source -- H&H Bagels of New York, by many accounts the world's absolute best. (Visit www.hhbagels.com to learn more.) Though the mid-Miami Beach branch of the originally NYC-based Tasti D-Lite chain makes most of its tasty baked goods in-house, the owners are wise enough to not mess with perfection. Their bagels are flown in from H&H. These are bagels that provide resistance to the teeth and honest yeasty flavor that comes from its own dough, not from blueberries, chocolate chips, or other frou-frou additions. They are mensch bagels, and in providing them, Tasti D-Lite has done Miami's human mensches a mitzvah.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®