BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE OF THE BIG APPLE

New York New York

The twin towers of the World Trade Center still stand under a starry sky -- on the giant mural decorating a wall at New York New York. The other walls, clad with posters of Broadway shows such as Dancin', Sugar Babies, and Les Miserables, facsimiles of New York Times front pages, photo stills from feature films, and a ticker flashing the latest news, provide reminders of the city too, as do the booths boasting names such as Broadway and Times Square. But the items on the menu at the 23-year-old eatery are really what offer South Floridians that true bite of the Big Apple. Hot dogs, plain or topped with chili. Potato knishes. Deli sandwiches, including corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, turkey, and killer chicken salad served with coleslaw and a potato pancake. A variety of hot entrées, breakfast items, and a well-stocked salad bar. Bagels, cream cheese, and the ubiquitous Dr. Brown's soda in black cherry, cream, and Cel-Ray. And a refreshing refreshment known as a lime rickey. Rice pudding, colossal apple pie (à la mode with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, if you like), a decadent dense creation dubbed chocolate beast cake, and of course creamy cheesecake bursting with the kind of calories that could only be walked off in a major city. It's food so fine we had to start spreading the news.

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 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.

Power lunch no longer implies Eighties-style business suits meeting over plates of ostrich carpaccio served in white-linen restaurants where the valets earn more than your secretary. If we've learned anything from the dot.com era, it's that sometimes the sweetest deals are scripted in duds that have seen less holey days and sealed not by a slash of the Cross fountain pen but by the clink of two pint glasses topped off with a mousse of India Pale Ale. At Gordon Biersch, one of the only downtown venues to regularly draw the workaday crowd, you can actually find both kinds of players: the stuffed shirt and the beer belly, lunching on pizzas and gourmet salads and fresh-brewed suds. Rest assured they have two things in common -- something on the table and something in the works.

BEST RESTAURANT FOR A ROMANTIC DINNER

Magnum

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.

There's nothing more romantic than a picnic, right? A blanket spread in a secluded seaside nook or beneath a flowering tree. A column of red ants marching across your blanket. Sand flying into your plastic wine glass. And those damn flowers falling into your tuna fish salad. Maybe a picnic's not so romantic after all. You want the greenery, the seclusion, the quiet without all the dirt and pests. And, let's face it, you want a repast that's a little more seductive than what you can cram into a Tupperware tub. So call Perricone's and make a reservation for one of the tables on the back patio. If you really want to get intimate, ask for the wicker chairs beneath the trellis. No one will see you but the waiter when he brings you delectable dishes -- on real dishes. When he's gone, all you'll hear is the whir of the ceiling fans and the sighs of your beloved.

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYINGWhen it comes to subjects of fine-dining debates, La Broche has been a veritable gastronomic epicenter. Just voicing the name of this controversial restaurant is enough to launch earthquakes of opinions, accompanied by tidal waves of whetted appetites and burning fires of curiosity. Indeed the fare that executive chef Angel Palacios prepares at this offshoot of the two-Michelin-star original in Spain can be called nothing less than incredibly avant-garde, highlighted by an array of foams, gelatins, and interesting if not always appetizing parts of animals. When all is said and done -- or eaten, rather -- La Broche isn't any more expensive than the usual prime suspects around town. But when it comes right down to the pork turbot in pea sauce garnished with sea urchin and "empanadas" of trout egg or basil-gelatin lollipops encasing tomatoes and watermelon, which you may or may not find truly exhilarating, you just might be relieved by the saving grace: "At least I didn't have to pay for it."

With a menu of a size that befits its name, Big Pink should be able to satisfy the whims of the most finicky of progeny. Its diner-inspired creations come in gargantuan portions, so you can a) throw junior some scraps off your own plate, b) spare yourself a night's cooking by taking home a doggie bag, or c) order one of the kids' sized options. You may be able to expand their culinary horizons, at least as far as fries are concerned, with Big Pink's scrumptious sweet potato version or the crisp-on-the-outside/creamy-on-the-inside polenta sticks. And you don't have to dress up to do so. Big Pink is supremely casual, and no one will mind if you and the gang troop in wearing flip-flops and bathing suit coverups.

BEST RESTAURANT FOR THE HEARING IMPAIRED

Metro Kitchen & Bar

It could be that the noise level is deliberate, a reflection of the urban name, or accidental, a result of the former Astor Place's mod-Italian renovation. But while there may be quibbling about the motive, there's no question over the decibel level -- it's about as high as the two-story ceiling allows. That said -- or shouted -- Metro possesses a great buzz. Like that created by a horde of honeybees feeding on the pollen of flowers that have been grown on a nuclear-waste dumping ground. But a buzz, nevertheless. And on South Beach, louder is always better.

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

It's not surprising that Norman's remains the Gables's best restaurant. Quite frankly Norman's could give the best restaurants in New York, San Francisco, or Paris a run for their money. What's surprising is that there are still Miamians who haven't been to Norman Van Aken's mega-award-winning, elegant yet friendly place. Sure, it's expensive. But so are many other Miami restaurants that are just upscale meals. Norman's is a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- or would be if it weren't for the fact that no one who's been once can resist going back again and again, to revisit favorite classic dishes such as yuca-stuffed crispy shrimp with sour orange mojo, a zingy 21st-century take on traditional Cuban roast pork, or The Ultimate conch chowder (saffron/citrus-tinged, creamy-smooth, and topped with a rich foam "cloud"), as well as to taste-test the myriad of astonishing new surprises Van Aken always, like a world-class magician, has up his sleeve. Recent new inventions include Brazilian-influenced black-eyed pea acarajé fritters stuffed with blue crab; a "New World" duck duo (mango barbecued duck in a green chili crêpe, plus slices of wood oven-roasted rare duck breast with a cumin/scallion sour crema); and a remarkably innovative sushi trio (think crisp West Coast kumamoto oyster in piquant unagi dressing with Asian shoots, or tuna tartare with quail egg) whose only flaw is that there are only three rather than thirty per serving. Hungry yet? Don't mind us. Go eat. See ya next year, Norman, same time, same BOM category.

Readers Choice: Normans

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®