Big Pink
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.

Shiver's BBQ
Hangout of Homestead regulars and racing fans alike, Shiver's has been operating for most of the last 50-odd years (they took some time out for natural disasters like Hurricane Andrew). It's a typical barbecue joint in that it's shack-shaped and filled with long wooden tables and benches. There are the obligatory old-timey doodads tacked to the walls -- lanterns, horseshoes, cattle horns. One entire wall is covered in a mural depicting a pastoral antebellum landscape that exists nowhere in Florida. In the kitchen you'll find barbecued chicken, beef, and pork, farm-raised catfish, hush puppies, beans, fried okra, even key lime pie and peach cobbler. Most everything is well turned out considering the reasonable prices, with all but the high-dollar meals (like a fifteen-dollar slab of baby-back ribs) falling between four and eight dollars. A five-dollar pork sandwich consists of tender, thin-sliced, smoked pork piled on a bun, with crinkley fries and a side of cole slaw. The warm, peppery barbecue sauce is also on the side. The place is open seven days a week 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

It's always open (24-7); it has a solid bar (with a separate entrance); it's got a no-nonsense load of records that management plays relentlessly -- "I Fought the Law" by the Bobby Fuller Four; "Crazy Arms" by Jerry Lee Lewis; "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers -- wonderfully appropriate for these times. Then there's the real diner food -- pork chops with barbecue sauce, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, green peas, Coke with lemon, all for $12.50. Plus there's the enigmatically beautiful crew: Christine, the statuesque blond waitress; Eloise, the even taller, elegant waitress; Ricky, the little dancer type, Andy, the owner ... And interesting people traffic with informed conversation. It's the reason the ten-year-old Eleventh Street Diner has won before.

Wake up on a Saturday morning longing for a fresh croissant and you're outta luck here. Like most shops in this predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, Brioche Dorée isn't open on Saturday, and you can't pick up your morning pastry fix on the way home from work the night before because the bakery closes, invariably cleaned out of croissants, at 3:00 p.m. weekdays. The place doesn't take credit cards either. But all the inconveniences are worth it. No bakery in Miami-Dade County makes a more melt-in-your-mouth croissant. (Which explains why La Brioche Dorée has taken this award four times previously.) In fact, though the secret is supposedly genuine French butter, which is denser than American supermarket stuff, it's hard to find a croissant even in France that beats Brioche's, so delectable briefly warmed to bring out the dairy richness that applying extra butter at table seems superfluous. Tip: Brioche bakes half-size mini-croissants that are perfect party brunch fare, but these sell out even earlier than the full-size models, so go early, especially on Sunday when the place opens at 7:00 a.m.

BEST INDIAN FAST-FOOD RESTAURANT

Rajas

Décor is unassuming at this downtown lunch room -- it's basically a hole-in-the-wall, albeit a clean and cheerful one -- and most of the roughly dozen dishes served daily are steam-tabled, not made to order, which definitely puts them in the "fast food" rather than "fine food" category. Still, since most Indian food is relatively slow-cooked rather than quickly stir-fried like that of most other Asian nations, it survives the steam table well. Raja's $4.69 combination platter is among downtown's tastiest lunch options. And not merely tasty but absolutely addictive are three South Indian house specialties found neither on the steam table nor in any other Miami-Dade Indian restaurant: dosai, uttapam, and idli. These mouthwatering made-to-order savory, ground-rice pancakes, served with a choice of several stuffings and/or toppings (the rolled potato-filled masala dosa crepe and thicker, onion-packed uttapam are particularly good), plus sides of sambar (a soothing veggie-packed puréed lentil dhal) and spicy/sweet coconut chutney are well worth the ten-to-twenty minute wait.

Cane Á Sucre's version of the caesar isn't a big heaping mess of lettuce, cheese, garlic, dressing, and miscellaneous other items. It's a straightforward presentation of fresh romaine lettuce chopped into small squares, lightly topped with grated asiago cheese and tasty garlic croutons. A cup of homemade caesar dressing and a remarkably good, buttery piece of baguette arrive on the side. The result is light, simple, and tangy, with the cheese in sharp contrast to the lettuce, and that's before you add the dressing (to taste). In a world of fattening excess, Cane Á Sucre -- a charming combination café, bakery, and European sandwich shop -- consistently produces this classic salad with much-appreciated restraint.

Readers Choice: Christys

Located directly across from the perennially popular Vacas Gordas, this newcomer to the North Beach restaurant scene is proof positive that man should not live by steak alone. A very friendly brother-and-sister team have created -- with the requisite blue-and-white color scheme and murals on the walls -- an eatery that is light and airy by day and comfortably cozy by night. The first bite of a toasty slice of pita topped with creamy tzatziki dip may tempt one to feast only on appetizers and salads (all made with the freshest of ingredients on site). But don't miss out on the whole snapper or daily fish special -- served simply, with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and herbs -- or the lamb souvlaki, with the big cubes of meat nicely charred on the outside, beautifully pink on the inside. And save room for desserts, several of which are outsourced -- to the owners' Greek mama who lives nearby. If you're in the area for lunch, the $7.50 weekday special is a steal: soup, small Greek salad, and choice of moussaka, pastitio, gyro, or lamb stew.

Bahama Breeze
Even in a city filled with authentic Caribbean cuisine, suburbanites flock to the reliable Bahama Breeze chain for fine fakin' Jamaican food. Sometimes the wait is more than an hour -- not necessarily a problem if you spend it drinking in the huge outdoor bar area. The draw is the reliable quality of the food, from the goat cheese or ceviche appetizers to the steak or ropa vieja entrées. There are, unfortunately, some of the inevitable chain restaurant gimmicks in evidence; servers aren't waiters, they're "tour guides," and they dress in garish color-coded tropical-pattern shirts (although managers, oddly, have even worse shirts than waiters). One tip: The restaurant is so popular that parking is a serious problem, especially on weekends. Call in advance.

Readers Choice: Cheesecake Factory

Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant
Some might think Gordon Biersch is a contradiction in terms: a national chain of microbrew pubs. After all, a good microbrewery by definition is local and individualistic. Yet each Gordon Biersch pub, be it the latest in Miami or the first in Palo Alto, concocts its own beer. That's worthy of note. G-B's brew is delightfully fresh-made from Hallertauer hops, two row barley, and a special yeast strain imported directly from Germany. Generally Gordon Biersch has at least three staple beers on tap and two additional ones that are seasonal. We recommend the Golden Export, which is almost always available. Lightly hopped but surprisingly full-bodied, this beer is perfect for hot summer days. If you don't like drinking on an empty stomach, the food here is tasty. The décor is full of wood and leather, dark and spacious to create an atmosphere of comfortable elegance. There are even metal tables outside so you can enjoy a bottoms-up view of Brickell Avenue.

Cumin and tomato are the starring flavors in the heaping bowls of chili served at Picnics at Allen's, but the atmosphere at this Fifties-style pharmacy and lunch counter steals the show. Owners Marie and Jerry Burg are personable without being obsequious (an attitude mirrored by the waitstaff), creating an atmosphere that seems more like a real neighborhood restaurant than a self-conscious retro re-creation. Jerry, who cooks the chili, says good-quality ground beef and huge helpings make the chili ($3.95 for a bowl with generous portions of onions and cheese on the side) popular. He also admits that even the "spicy" chili isn't firehouse hot. "I don't like to make it so hot you can't taste it -- that's what the Tabasco's for." Tiny Tabasco bottles line the counter, where patrons can sit on spinning chrome and vinyl stools and make like they're headed for the sock hop, or cross the black-and-white checkerboard floor to sit at one of the cushy booths. "The recipe is one of those things that get handed down through the years," says Marie, "although [original owners] the Allens used hot peppers in theirs, and we don't do that." A Picnics at Allen's milkshake (the 2002 New Times Best Milkshake winner) is the perfect cure for Tabasco overapplication.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®