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.

ROB BOONE

METRO KITCHEN & BAR, 956 Washington Avenue (Hotel Astor), Miami Beach, 305-672-7217

At an early age this Midwesterner had a hunch there was more to life than meat and potatoes. Those instincts drew him to culinary school in Madison, Wisconsin, which led him to the respected Steven Wade's Café in Milwaukee. Then a big break -- working under celebrated chef Charlie Trotter in Chicago. That, in turn, led to several years in Coral Gables with Trotter's former employer, Norman Van Aken. By the time he left Norman's, Boone was the restaurant's chef de cuisine. Next stop: South Beach, where he became executive chef of the extravagantly ambitious pan-Asian experiment called Bambú. Cameron Diaz may have been its celebrity proprietor, but Hotel Astor owner Karim Masri was the main man. Bambú's life was short but intense, and after it closed, Masri installed Boone at the helm of Metro Kitchen & Bar, the instantly popular new restaurant downstairs at the Astor.

BEST PLACE FOR FRESH FRUIT

Tropical Delights in Homestead hands down grows the best and most amazing certified organic fruit. Lots of different and rare things among the crops.

BEST CHEAP THRILL

Jumping the fence really late at night to take a swim in the pool that's next to my Uncle Harold's pad in the Gables. (That would be the Venetian Pool.)

BEST NOT-SO-CHEAP THRILL

Getting caught while attempting the cheap thrill.

BEST PLACE TO SAVOR THE FLAVOR OF MIAMI

Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, for everything from great food, fashion, and a really fine wine store -- Wolfe's Wine Shoppe.

BEST LOCAL LANDMARK

Joe's Stone Crab.

BEST REASON TO LIVE IN MIAMI

My wife and I love it in Miami. We're planning on raising our soon-to-arrive child here. We love that Miami is so diversified, a place for everybody to live and mix with tons of different cultures and people. This city helps keep me creative.

RECIPE

CHOCOLATE AND CARAMEL KYANDE WITH PISTACHIO DIPPING SAUCE

Yields: About 36 pieces

Ingredients for the kyande:

20 ounces milk chocolate

5 ounces dark chocolate

14 ounces whipping cream

7.2 ounces ground hazelnut powder

7 ounces ground pistachios

3.5 ounces clarified butter

1 can of dulce de leche (made from sweetened condensed milk)

10 sheets of phyllo dough

Clarified butter for brushing phyllo dough (approximately H cup)

Powdered sugar for caramelizing

A blowtorch

Kyande preparation:

Toast the hazelnut powder and ground pistachios in a 250-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until toasted. Reserve. Melt the chocolate in a stainless-steel bowl over a double boiler. Remove and add the toasted and reserved ingredients. Slowly drizzle and whisk in the cream and clarified butter and allow mixture to cool to a firm yet pliable room temperature. Then pipe the mixture into quarter-inch-diameter pieces using a pastry bag and pastry tip. Top with a thin line of the dulce de leche. Freeze overnight, then cut into 1-inch pieces. Freeze again.

Cut the phyllo into individual squares (about 4-by-2 inches). Put a piece of the chocolate mixture in the middle of a piece of phyllo, brush phyllo with clarified butter, and wrap and twist the ends to form a piece of candy (kyande). Continue with the rest of the chocolate mixture. Refrigerate for a half-hour when rolled. Dust generously with powdered sugar, caramelize with a blowtorch, and serve accompanied by the dipping sauce.

Ingredients for the pistachio dipping sauce:

2 cups of high-quality pistachio purée

2 cups crème anglaise

Blend above ingredients thoroughly.

Robert Is Here, the venerable and sprawling fruit and produce stand that everyone passes on the way to Everglades National Park, is home to the finest tropical fruit and ice cream concoction you'll ever find. Just take a number (there's usually a line for the shakes) and choose from the selection of mango, papaya, guava, strawberry, banana, and whatever else the staff has on hand.

Along with Michelle Bernstein, Willis Loughhead headed South Florida's "hottest rising young chef" list for years -- enough years that a new name for the list (say, "hottest aging young chefs") seemed imminent. Quick moves from a brief stint at Tantra through her own venue at South Beach's Strand to Azul at the Mandarin Oriental finally vaulted Bernstein from "rising" to "respectable." But Loughhead, her Tantra successor, gamely stuck it out there, cooking serious food in a silly venue, for three years. When the new Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove opened this past September, however, its flagship Bizcaya Grill offered Loughhead a chance to get seriously serious. Ritz decorum, as well as supervision by dining-operations chief Roberto Holz from Germany, means that Loughhead's creative impulse is somewhat trimmed here. But the overall result is most interesting. Menu items like an heirloom-tomato salad with fig carpaccio reflect Loughhead's New American passion for locally produced, seasonal ingredients. Sautéed foie gras with Doktorenhof vinegar showcases Holz's classy Old World influence; and a "simply grilled" list enables diners to indulge their own creative impulses by pairing premium-quality meats or fish with a choice of imaginative sauces (lobster basil Hollandaise, Barolo wine/foie gras butter, saffron aioli, many more). An elegant outdoor courtyard and an indoor dining room accented by muted music also make Bizcaya a best bet for a business lunch or dinner.

Readers Choice: Caf Tu Tu Tango

Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House
"I feel like I've stepped back into Brooklyn, circa 1961," observed a Jersey-based visitor upon entering the Mecca of Miami delis. Rascal House was established in 1954, so the visitor wasn't too far off. Weekends and around holidays it can be a madhouse, although an organized one, as the clientele (which skews toward the blue-rinse, polyester-clad of a certain age) shuffles through lines divided according to the size of the party. The food is not always 100-percent fabulous, but one can forget minor transgressions when starting in on sour pickles, tangy coleslaw, and a slice of buttered challah bread. Almost without exception, portions are huge, whether it's the pot roast, a regular sandwich (never mind the sky highs!), or homemade desserts such as the chocolate bobka, guaranteed to keep you on a sugar high for at least two days.

Readers Choice: Wolfie Cohens Rascal House

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.

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.

Los Gallegos
At some point several years ago, tapas acquired cachet, the kind of overpriced yuppie fodder that turns up on menus where it has no business. Los Gallegos, serving its namesake Spanish cuisine from a cozy Bird Road location for more than a decade, has seen that trend come and go, but it keeps supplying excellent, fairly priced food in an unpretentious setting. The restaurant has the feel of a family joint, right down to the checkered tablecloths and friendly service, and prices for the tapas dishes (between four and ten dollars) are just as congenial. Of particular note: chorizo served sizzling in a hot skillet, and airy croquetas bacalao.

Cafe Ragazzi
Alexandra Rincon
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!

It depends on who you ask, what's in stock, or how well you count. But the list at Graziano's, a fab Argentine steak house that is lined with wine racks, runs between 450 and 600 bottles. That's a lotta grape juice, sugar, and much of it is tasty South American stuff -- Argentine Malbec, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, and so on -- that goes oh-so-well with the beef roasting on the asador. In the mood to really spend? Graziano's stocks Italian wines even the collectors wish they had in their cellars. In fact take a look around, 'cause you're probably sitting next to someone who knows what wine is all about. Just make sure you ask the waiter how much your neighbor's vintage might cost before you splurge on the urge to follow suit.

Readers Choice: The Forge

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®