There are literally dozens of frita joints scattered along Calle Ocho, some of which claim to be the reyes (kings) of fritas while others boast they're the magos (wizards) of the spicy Cuban hamburger (curried beef and fried onion topped with papitas, freshly fried potato shreds). But Fritas Domino has an identity all its own -- it's an original. Recently a fortysomething gentleman walked up to the counter and asked for the managers. He wasn't complaining, he just wanted to say hello. The man wondered if the managers remembered him. He used to work at Fritas Domino's original location, Calle Ocho at Twelfth Avenue. The Espivil family, who opened it in 1961 as a place where exiles could find authentic Cuban food, had given him his first job off the island. The conversation moved from sentimental recollections to fists-down declarations regarding Fritas Domino's stature among Miami frita shops. Referring to a competitor, the former worker emphatically declared, "They say they're kings, but they're not Domino!"

"Frozen yogurt? Who eats frozen yogurt these days?" asked our incredulous editor. Well, if the satisfied crowds at the Beach's yogurt emporiums are any gauge, lots of people. Consequence-free indulgence is South Beach's credo, and a cup of frozen yogurt remains the choice for locals seeking to satisfy their sweet tooth while still keeping a neurotic eye on their waistline. Tasti D-Lite Café, nearby in Mid-Beach, has become a new favorite (its New York City namesake brand is already on the minds of transplanted Manhattanites), but for those seeking to truly have their cake, er, yogurt, and eat it too, Creams 'N Yogurt is tops. Not low-fat but absolutely fat-free, and only seven calories per ounce, it's a tasty yet guiltless treat. Flavors change regularly (just try to find dulce de leche at your nearest TCBY franchise), so why not go back for seconds. Heck, be really bad. Order a large!

On weekends the lines go out the door at this diminutive gelateria. But in the case of this franchise of an Italian operation, it's absolutely worth the wait, even if you can't snag one of its precious few seats. The gleaming, high-tech shop is sparklingly clean without being sterile (even the bathrooms are outfitted with what look like designer fixtures). The staff is outfitted in bright yellow overalls and matching bandanas, and they keep things moving along efficiently. As in Italy, you place your order and pay, then take your receipt to a server who scoops up an artfully shaped mountain of creamy delights from a rainbow-hued selection of flavors. If you opt for a cup instead of a cone, your gelato is topped off with a crisp cookie, a nice touch -- and tasty too. The single portion is already decadently large; the double should satisfy even the greediest -- or do duty as a perfect shared dessert to top off a date in the Grove. Bacio also serves one of the best espressos this side of Roma.

Since both Zabar's and Fairway selfishly expanded their Manhattan stores rather than open branches down here in the sixth borough, Epicure wins this one again. Norman Bros. has more and better produce (designer lettuces like frisée and mâche; genuinely ripe tomatoes) at better prices; Gardner's has more interesting homemade dips and spreads; Arnie & Richie's has more succulent smoked fish; Laurenzo's has a more extensive and reasonably priced selection of wines, fresh fish, meats, fresh pasta, and Italian groceries. But when you consider Epicure's astonishing cheese selection, a bakery that carries everything from bagels to birthday cakes, a vast array of prepared foods second to none, an ever-expanding variety of ethnic specialties (including a recently added chorizo that will reduce Spanish-sausage lovers to tears), general variety (there's even a small but interesting selection of cookbooks), and overall high quality -- albeit at high prices -- it's undeniable that Epicure is still the best all-around, one-stop source for gourmet groceries.

Located directly across from the perennially popular Vacas Gordas, this newcomer to the North Beach restaurant scene is proof positive that man should not live by steak alone. A very friendly brother-and-sister team have created -- with the requisite blue-and-white color scheme and murals on the walls -- an eatery that is light and airy by day and comfortably cozy by night. The first bite of a toasty slice of pita topped with creamy tzatziki dip may tempt one to feast only on appetizers and salads (all made with the freshest of ingredients on site). But don't miss out on the whole snapper or daily fish special -- served simply, with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and herbs -- or the lamb souvlaki, with the big cubes of meat nicely charred on the outside, beautifully pink on the inside. And save room for desserts, several of which are outsourced -- to the owners' Greek mama who lives nearby. If you're in the area for lunch, the $7.50 weekday special is a steal: soup, small Greek salad, and choice of moussaka, pastitio, gyro, or lamb stew.

The emphasis is on "nuvo" here, as Haiti-born chef/owner Ivan Dorvil puts his own spin on the cookery of his homeland with updated, more sophisticated versions that reflect his own training in Montreal and influences picked up at various stints during his career. That said, the traditional pumpkin soup haitienne is just that, hearty fare that spells comfort food for those with Caribbean roots. Friendly and personable, Dorvil will patiently walk you through the menu and his specials, and then disappear into the kitchen to whip them up. He is sure to come back out later to monitor your progress and chat in the pleasant dining room decorated with folk art and burlap curtains. Not yet open a year, Nuvo Kafe will, we hope, manage to stick around.

Sure the place is a hole in the wall. But it's a cool hole in the wall, and in South Beach a seven-ounce burger at any kind of cool place is going to average at least a couple of bucks more than Baby's $5.50 ($6.50 for a cheeseburger) -- plus you don't know what quality of meat you're getting. At local promoter/fast-food impresario Tommy Pooch's place, the beef is 100-percent certified Angus, and tastes so full-flavored by itself that no accouterments are necessary. Accouterments are, however, a strong point at Baby's. Burgers come with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, condiments, and choice of bread (egg roll, Texas toast, or hoagie roll). Cheeseburgers come with a much bigger selection of cheese than usual: American, cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, provolone, even bleu cheese or feta. An extra 50 cents for a generous grilled onion garnish puts the burger over the top, and accompaniments of real (not frozen reconstituted-potato) French fries and an exquisite, handmade vanilla-bean milkshake puts you in hamburger heaven. (Important note: Do spring for a full-size burger; the 2.5-ounce "baby burgers," unlike their big sibs, are too small to be reliably cooked to diners' desired degree of rareness.)

Readers Choice: Fuddruckers

Ideally the best source for quality natural foods and health-related products would be a local operation, not a national chain. Unfortunately most independents offer little more than a small selection of tired produce and prepared foods that look healthy but not like anything you'd actually want to eat. National giant Whole Foods carries a big selection of the best. Produce sparkles, the section including not just the expected mesclun mixes but gourmet greens as well: frisée, ruby chard, various colored kales. There's a sizable selection of fresh fish, including Florida lobsters in season (at a decent price) and sushi-grade tuna and salmon that is truly trustworthy. The meat counter carries beef cuts that are not just free of antibiotics for good health but nicely marbled for good taste. Sometimes, if you're quick enough, you'll find top-rated Eberly free-range poultry. Prepared foods are plentiful and delicious. The wine selection is thoughtful, with many unusual choices and helpful descriptive cards to eliminate the intimidation factor. Lots of ethnic food. Lots of vitamins and chem/cruelty-free cosmetics. And most crucial in a health-food store, chocolate from El Rey, a Venezuelan producer of single-source chocolate that arguably is the world's best-tasting -- and of course chock full of those healthy antioxidants that are the real reason we eat the stuff.

Though this small café is named for the soft pseudo-ice cream it serves from a machine in the back (three flavors daily), the frozen dessert, which is not as gross as most cream-free "ice cream," is not the main attraction. What packs the place every weekday (closed weekends) are its tasty salads, wraps, and sandwiches made with extraordinarily fresh produce. Homemade sauces that are light but highly herbed substitute for butter, mayo, and high-calorie salad dressings. The tart, nutty, totally nongloppy sesame sauce coating the al dente noodles makes Tasti's pasta salad especially tasty. Everything served is meatless, though some items feature dairy and/or fish ingredients (a very light egg salad; a strongly tarragon-tasting tuna salad), and everything comes enclosed by, or accompanied by, fresh house-baked breads. During South Florida's three annual weeks of winter, the healthy homemade soups (different daily) are substantial, satisfying stuff too.

Readers Choice: Natural Chicken Grill

The only fresh variety of pasta regularly on the menu at this teeny restaurant is the pappardelle, which alone is worth a visit. Otherwise you'll have to take your chances when you go (low risk, high return). During a recent dinner there, these broad, melt-in-your mouth noodles were starring in two of the tempting daily specials. Should your dining companions fancy something else, the spaghetti or pretty much anything else on the menu will set them to rights. Given that the word is out on the consistently delicious Italian food dished out nightly, if you've got a hankering, you'd better call ahead. Mangia bene!

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®