Paquito's Mexican Restaurant
Aran S Graham
The festively decorated Paquito's, its rooms festooned with a combination of folksy and kitschy decorations, dishes up genuine Mexican cooking the likes of which you'd find in a good fonda south of the border. Traditional fare ranges from a sopa de tortilla, sopes (small round cornmeal discs topped with refried beans and shredded cheese, served as starters), the classic chocolately rich mole poblano with chicken, tamales, and a real stick-to-your-ribs, homestyle dish, chilaquiles (pieces of tortillas soaked in sauce, topped with chicken and cheese). Margaritas are good but beer is a better accompaniment to food, and Paquito's carries a number of brands, among them the amber Pacifico as well as darker brews Negra Modelo and Bohemia. Desserts include standard Latin sweets like flan but also include crepas de cajeta -- cajeta is apparently an obscenity in certain South American quarters, but in Mexico it means dulce de leche de cabra (goat).

Readers Choice: Dos Amigas

Café Del Mar
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!)

Whole Foods Market
Whether you're looking to satisfy your craving for vegan fare or for soups that extend beyond the chicken-noodle and clam-chowder variety, Whole Foods Market is the place to go. Besides interesting items such as Mediterranean beef stew and spinach orzo soup, it features an expansive array of prepared vegetable dishes, from tofu pad thai to raspberry tofu diablo to a delightfully tangy eggplant à la napolitiana (red peppers drenched in olive oil and vinegar stuffed into an eggplant). Or if you're into down-home cookin', the market offers healthy portions of piping-hot meat loaf, barbecued and fried chicken, sweet corn, stuffing, steamed vegetables, and lots of other hot foods.

The Original Daily Bread Marketplace
Courtesy of Daily Bread Marketplace
The Mazzawi family has been dishing up falafel and shish tawook (chicken gyros) to Miami residents since 1975. Grab a spinach pie and browse the market's aisles for every conceivable Middle Eastern delight, from fresh-baked pita to tahini to a wide selection of olive oils, spices, nuts, and even, um, lifestyle accessories like hookahs. Word to the wise: If you buy a hookah, make sure you purchase some pistachio baklava. You'll regret it later if you don't.

BEST RESTAURANT FOR A ROMANTIC DINNER

Magnum

Magnum Lounge
We're not exactly sure why, but most people prefer to be romantic in the dark. If that's true for you, then Magnum, owned by Jeffrey's proprietors Jeffrey Landsman and Kurt Schmidt (Jeffrey's has been a perennial winner of this award), is shadowy enough for smooching, shady enough for liaisons of the deliciously illicit kind. Not only is the room dimly lighted in an alluring way, a throaty jazz singer and a back-door entrance off a rather deserted alleyway suggest something concealed, something that says speakeasy, something that whispers romance.

Dogma Grill
Aran S Graham
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.

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

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®