El Novillo
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.

The River Seafood & Oyster Bar
The River offers a taste of the ocean from the four corners of the Western oyster world. This bar/restaurant serves the cool freshly cracked ones from the coasts of Washington, Oregon, California, Prince Edward Island, New England, and the Florida Panhandle. A tasty flourish comes with the choice of jalapeño relish, Asian mignonette, and the traditional horseradish with cocktail sauce. Most oysters are $19/dozen; the Apalachicolas (from Florida's Gulf waters) run $10/dozen. They're all half-price during happy hour, 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. During the week the place (located in the Fishbone Grille's old space) is open for lunch and dinner (kitchen closes at about 10:30 p.m.). On Saturday hours are 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. or so. The joint is closed on Sundays, so if you're jonesing for oysters after church, you'll have to hit Shuckers or Smith & Wollensky.

Lynda Hull: "Sometimes after hours of wine I can almost see the night gliding in low off the harbor." Judith Berke: "The trees were wine and the sky was wine, and everything that wasn't the wine, was wine." Heather McHugh: "The wine glass fills with sun, a slow bright bomb. The mob in me sits still." So you see that the poets have spoken, and once they have spoken, must in some way be heard. Who was listening? Vino in Coconut Grove. Vin Amante and Flûte in South Beach. Joseph's Brasserie and Wine Bar in Sunny Isles. These wine and champagne bars, among others, have heeded the call to the vine and debuted within the last year to offer restless Miami residents a welcome alternative to martinis. Consider them the natural alternative to Ritalin. And now the mob in all of us can sit still.

Epicure Gourmet Market & Cafe
Alejandra Cicilia
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.

Einstein Bros Bagels
There is a secret to serving good coffee that goes beyond the beans, the roast, and the water. Here it is: temperature. And those comical, corporate Einstein Bros. have figured this out. So they start each pot with a blend of Central and South American beans, roasted to a light brown, and they brew the java with water that is between 190 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. (For those who skipped middle-school science: The boiling point of water is 212 degrees F.) Then, when the coffee is made, specially calibrated heaters under each urn hold the coffee at 175 degrees. That's hot. Oh, and if the brothers' employees are paying attention to company directives, they are also brewing up fresh coffee at least every hour, even if that means dumping out a full 1.5-gallon urn, according to Ron Savelli, the chain's vice president of menu development. Of course bagels, sandwiches, and soups are also available. But the allure here is coffee. Hot and fresh, Mel's Neighborhood Blend is perfection.

Black-truffle-stuffed tubes of foie gras, $58 bottles of aged balsamic vinegar, tiny round tins of salty black fish eggs -- these are pleasant things to consider, especially if you're sitting at a marble counter, nibbling a delicious smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese sandwich and contemplating the department stores around you as they employ entirely new adjectives to describe pants. This is something you should do if you find yourself caught in mall land, feeling a bit light-headed and susceptible to the marketing onslaught. Find the Caviar & More kiosk. Order one of the array of small sandwiches served on French rolls, such as the aforementioned salmon for $2.29, a cheese manchego for $1.92, or even the foie gras sandwich for $12. There is also a caviar menu, with one- or two-ounce portions served with toast points, maybe a little crème fraîche. The caviar runs from a modest $6.50 an ounce for salmon roe to top-of-the-line Beluga (here the Huso Huso, a "smooth and pearly" Russian caviar that costs $71 an ounce if you eat it at the counter).

This is for sure a men-in-suits from an around-the-way Brickell firm kinda place. But the Capital Grille is also known for classic steak-house cuisine amid relaxed elegance, raising steaks to a level of excellence. In state-of-the-art meat lockers, short loins of beef are naturally dry-aged for fourteen days in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment. Steaks are hand-cut daily, well seasoned, and grilled to desired temperature. The result is an extraordinarily flavorful and tender steak you'll probably need help finishing.

Casita Tejas Mexican Restaurant
Tacos are simple concoctions, usually containing only three or four ingredients, so the little things -- a sprinkle of fresh cilantro, a squirt of lime juice -- can make a big difference. At Casita Tejas the difference is the meat. The chicken, ground beef, and pork tacos ($6.50 for any combination of three with rice and beans) all have well-marinated, good-quality meat, and the chefs at Casita Tejas take care not to overcook. But the steak tacos ($7.50 for three with rice and beans) are the reason to eat at Casita Tejas. Perfectly cooked flank steak slices -- not the dried-out shards of meat you find at so many taco stands and restaurants -- are marinated for twelve hours, though Casita Tejas manager Veronica Corona won't divulge the ingredients in the secret marinade. The restaurant has been a staple on Krome Avenue for fifteen years. The sunny interior looks out, via wall-length windows, onto Homestead's main drag (for what it's worth). Corona isn't troubled by the view across a parking lot at rival restaurant El Toro Taco (the 2002 New Times Best Taco winner). "We've been here so long," she shrugs, "people know us and we're constantly busy."

Sit in a booth, or sidle up to the counter and enjoy a massive repast with any and all combinations of the breakfast staples that make you want to go right back to bed: ham, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, eggs, biscuits, gravy, grits. Chuck Wagon breakfasts provide the caloric intake you would need for ploughing your fields or rounding up cattle (rather than sitting at your terminal, wondering if co-workers can hear your stomach gurgle through the cubicle walls). Breakfast is available all day, and specials last from 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. Daily specials include a two eggs, grits, and bacon breakfast for $2, and omelet and breakfast combos that change every day, but hover around the $4-$5 price range.

Miami Subs Grill
Why are Miami Subs' fries so addictive? First of all, they're more visually appealing than the pale-yellow "freedom" fries dished up at other fast-food joints. Miami Subs cooks its fries until they're a golden, resonant brown. That means they're always crunchy and never underdone like those of so many competitors. But the real attraction, the reason you can't help coming back repeatedly for these rail-thin spuds, is the secret seasoning that imparts a memorable yet mysterious flavor -- a little spicy, a little exotic. Miami Subs honchos will not divulge the precise recipe, and that's fine. Who wants to try this at home anyway?

Readers Choice: McDonalds

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®