Emblazoned on the sign of this Brazilian rodizio-style restaurant is, appropriately, a pig. Indeed this is a restaurant experience not for the faint of heart or stomach (vegetarians should steer clear). Porcao's staff will bring to your table a seemingly endless supply of grilled beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and sausage until you give the signal to stop. The $34.99 (plus tax) dinner also includes a mountainous buffet salad bar, and is an especially good value considering you shouldn't need to eat for the next 24 hours at least. If you have room for dessert, we recommend you share, lest you add avarice to your list of sins. For the less ravenous, try lunch (choice of carne, chicken, or fish, plus the aforementioned salad extravaganza) for $14.90 weekdays from noon to 5:00 p.m. Daytime dining includes a lovely view from the airy dining room of Brickell Key and the bay.

Epicure Gourmet Market & Cafe
Alejandra Cicilia
Epicure may not be the best-in-the-county for every individual cheese type. For instance, though the homemade cow's-milk mozzarella balls are admirable, Laurenzo's have a more pronounced fresh-dairy milkiness. But the variety at Epicure is unbeatable, and includes not just popular faves like Brie but aficionado faves such as powerfully pungent Epoisse. Prices ain't cheap (many cheeses are $15 to $20 per pound), but who's counting when you're talking about hard-to-find finds like imported raw-milk cheeses, AOC cheeses (appellation-controlled, like wine), and even more unbelievable, a sizable selection of truly gourmet kosher cheese, including some unusual French imports: flavorful mimolette cheddar, a rich 60-percent matiere grasse Brie, and a nice sheep's milk brebis. The crowded cheese counter contains artisanal cheeses from all over the western world: numerous rarities from French cheesemaker Chantal Plasse, including Salers (a kicked-up-several-notches unpasteurized milk take on industrially produced Cantal); farmhouse cheddars ranging from English (Keene's) and Irish (Tipperary) to Vermont (a four-year-old Grafton). Up on the top shelf, with related dairy products like crème fraîche and a hung Greek yogurt so thick dieters will never miss sour cream, you'll find Epicure's own cheese creations, like scrumptious pesto/pignolia-dressed string cheese, and a goat cheese spread with orange rind ideal for tea sandwiches (and which makes cream cheese taste positively anemic). Just when you've finished loading up your cart, having called the bank on your cell phone to arrange to mortgage one of the kids, you turn 90 degrees and realize there's a whole separate counter of goat cheeses you haven't even considered.

Readers Choice: Epicure Market

Kon Chau
Maureen Aimee Mariano
Bigger and better known -- as well as, for sure, better looking -- Tropical Chinese just a few blocks away is a tough act to beat when it comes to dim sum, China's traditional teahouse lunch/brunch. But although Tropical's dumplings and other "small plates" are mostly just as tasty, casual Kon Chau rules when it comes to authenticity. Truly serious fans can even feast on chicken feet (the trick is to not munch but suck the things like lollipops, concentrating on the fabulous black bean sauce rather than the tiny toenails). For the rest of us, there are over 60 steamed, stir-fried, stewed, or grilled selections, some sweet but most savory, with dumplings predominating: delicate steamed cilantro-spiked pork or shrimp har gau, wrapped in near-transparent pasta; more substantial large round raviolis stuffed with shiitakes, shrimp, and Asian garlic chives; addictively chewy cheoung fun, super-succulently sauced rice noodle crêpes filled with beef, pork, or shrimp. Especially impressive are hard-to-make holiday items like taro and turnip cakes, but even the simplest congees (variously flavored rice porridges) and roast pork or Chinese sausage buns seem more skillfully made than at most places in town ... or in New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, possibly even Hong Kong.

El Palacio de los Jugos
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
One word: atmosphere. Rumble your way to the counter for a jugo. Feel the ice-cold, fresh-fruit flavor -- papaya, cantaloupe, piña colada, orange-carrot, guanabana -- roll down your throat. But then take a look at your mixers -- the rice and beans, roasted half-chickens, and flans -- and head to the back to enjoy it all. Yeah, you'll likely consume some exhaust fumes with your ice-cold strawberry juice and tamale, but the light Cuban music and chatter will calm your soul and soothe your taste buds.

Baleen
This upscale seafood restaurant, now guided by Arturo Paz (former chef Robbin Haas is said to be readying his own place in the Gables), wows diners each week with its sumptuous spread. Be prepared for the killer price tag of $36 per person. If you can snag a table on the elegant outdoor terrace with its magnificent view, however, the sting of the sticker price will be soothed by cooling breezes of the bay. Great option for a special treat, out-of-towners, or when someone else is paying. Reservations highly recommended.

One measure of the popularity of this place's wings is the fact that you must order them early on high holy days such as title fights, national championships, or the Super Bowl. Otherwise you could wait hours, so heavy is the demand. And no wonder. These are the meatiest wings in town. Unbreaded and grilled to nongreasy perfection, they're served in huge wooden bowls for party gorging. The toughest decision is always the dipping sauce: special, buffalo, or Miami Heat, which has been known to leave burn marks. The prices are popular too: 16 pieces for $10; 25 pieces for $12.50; and multiples of ten after that.

Tap Tap
The space looks so funky, the crowd so cool, the music just right -- please don't bring the mango salad long before a lone bottle of beer, and have those be the only two "dishes" in front of your group for the next hour! Alas, that was the way it was. No amount of cajoling or directing could bring any rhyme or reason to the order of appetizers, main dishes, drinks, or God forbid water that arrived at the table. Welcome the new Tap Tap! Same funky Haitian art, same cool crowd, but new management that understands the golden word: service! Is it too cold for you in the back room? Zoom, up to the front. The jerk is particularly good today, says the waitress, but are your mojitos sweet enough? Finished with your coconut spinach appetizer? Then I'll bring your main dishes. Jaw dropping, you wonder if it's drugs, or whether you may have been mistaken for someone powerful. But then hospitality surfaces again, and not just for you. After stuffing yourself to the limit, there's still griot left on the plate. No need to waste it. Take it home. Okay, says your waitress, but remember, that means less to eat for the dumpster dog.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®