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!

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.

Since opening in June 2002, Juliet and Jeffrey Wall's friendly little ice cream parlor just west of South Dixie Highway has been pretty steadily packed with people who appreciate the kind of ice cream they wished they'd had as kids: not air-inflated supermarket swill and not designer gelatos but classic creamy, comforting, country U.S.A.-style stuff with a slightly elastic quality reminiscent of Turkey's justly famous frozen dondurma. There's something for everyone, including a few sugarless flavors, among Wall's almost 30 daily choices: lush vanilla, fresh-fruity mango, bracing lemon sorbet, seriously fudgeholic triple chocolate, even playfully alcoholic (actually alcohol-free) beer-flavored stout ice cream -- best paired with a pretzel cone, one of a half-dozen kinds of cones. You can eat inside the cottage-style establishment, but there's also an outdoor area for nostalgic sorts who quite rightly feel that an old-fashioned American ice cream cone tastes better in a sunny summertime parking lot, licking and chatting with other drive-in patrons.

Readers Choice: Swensens Ice Cream Parlor & Restaurant

BEST INDIAN FAST-FOOD RESTAURANT

Rajas

Décor is unassuming at this downtown lunch room -- it's basically a hole-in-the-wall, albeit a clean and cheerful one -- and most of the roughly dozen dishes served daily are steam-tabled, not made to order, which definitely puts them in the "fast food" rather than "fine food" category. Still, since most Indian food is relatively slow-cooked rather than quickly stir-fried like that of most other Asian nations, it survives the steam table well. Raja's $4.69 combination platter is among downtown's tastiest lunch options. And not merely tasty but absolutely addictive are three South Indian house specialties found neither on the steam table nor in any other Miami-Dade Indian restaurant: dosai, uttapam, and idli. These mouthwatering made-to-order savory, ground-rice pancakes, served with a choice of several stuffings and/or toppings (the rolled potato-filled masala dosa crepe and thicker, onion-packed uttapam are particularly good), plus sides of sambar (a soothing veggie-packed puréed lentil dhal) and spicy/sweet coconut chutney are well worth the ten-to-twenty minute wait.

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

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®