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

What's the point of Cuban coffee without Cuban conversation? One fuels the other, high-octane caffeine igniting chatter that is usually loud, hurried, and emotional. Versailles's walk-up window, a local landmark if ever there was one, is as close to the heart of the Cuban spirit as you can get without boarding a boat and heading south. It is the quintessential café cubano experience in Miami. And here they know how this volatile catalyst should be served -- black as pitch, lots of sugar, and steaming hot.

Readers Choice: Versailles Restaurant

The Fish House
From 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. every weekday the Fish House showcases its excellent fresh-fish selection with an earlybird special for seafood lovers. Fresh fillets of all their fish -- from yellowtail to grouper to tilapia -- along with a side (try the excellent coleslaw) are just $7.99. The only catch is the parking lot. There's nowhere near enough room in the lot for all the cars, so patrons park on the sidewalk and in the median between Miller Road and the strip mall where the restaurant is located. It's worth the hassle.

Picanha's Grille
This establishment again reaps kudos (for the third year in a row) for its winning combination of traditional cuisine (with a good selection of fish for the noncarnivores in your crowd), festive atmosphere, and dangerously delicious caipirinhas. Get down with your samba self during the live music and dance shows on Friday and Saturday nights (Picanha's hosts karaoke nights on Thursdays). During the week it's dinner only. Weekends they open the doors at noon to those who come for a leisurely lunch that well may include the traditional feijoada.

Chef/owner Alan Hughes took his velvety foie gras off the menu for a month or two, but customer demand for it was so high he had to reverse his decision. What makes his concoction so delicious is the simplicity of it. Hughes uses French goose livers, but says Californians make excellent ones as well. The key, he says, is to sear a steak from the fatty goose liver very hot, but because it is primarily fat, you don't want it so hot that it "renders," or melts. Served on a brioche, drizzled with port wine concentrate, and priced at a very reasonable nine dollars, it is an outstanding gustatory experience. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday.

Even at excellent sushi bars, the best that diners can expect at meal's end is some red-bean or green-tea ice cream out of a carton. At Shoji Sushi, where Hedy Goldsmith reigns as pastry chef, the green tea flavors a to-die-for white chocolate cheesecake with blackberry coulis, or a crème brûlée accompanied by sake gelee, candied kumquats, and a lacy brown rice tuile. Goldsmith, an honors graduate of the Culinary Institute of America's first Baking & Pastry Arts class, is also in charge of the desserts at the other two restaurants in Myles Chefetz's one-square-block South Beach eats empire, upscale New American Nemo and all-American diner Big Pink, and at each of the three very different eateries, the sweets flawlessly suit the mood. Nemo regulars would riot if Goldsmith's warm chocolate pudding cake in a rich sweet cream puddle were ever removed from the menu. Big Pink people would sooner allow ya to step on their blue suede shoes than to leave the table without a big chunk of Elvis's favorite red velvet cake -- here even more heavenly than in The King's current place of residence. Let's face it: the woman is not a pastry chef, she is a Dessert Goddess, capital letters totally intended.

Readers Choice: Cheesecake Factory

Happy "tin" anniversary! Yup, it's been ten years that PT has been in business, which means that a decade has gone by since we first awarded this outstanding Pacific Rim restaurant in our annual issue. Indeed, to our knowledge, not a single year has gone by without chef-owner Jonathan Eismann, who helped revolutionize Lincoln Road dining, being mentioned in some capacity -- whether for Pacific Time or another venture of his (Pacific Heights, PT Café, Westside Diner). But while the traditional gift for hanging in thus far is something made out of tin or aluminum -- the Happy-Anniversary.com Website suggests tin lanterns from Mexico, fireplace accessories, or woks (we're not joking, though we suspect they are) -- Pacific Time will have to settle, at least in theory, for paper.

Readers Choice: Joes Stone Crab

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®