BEST RESTAURANT TO DIE IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS

Macau

It always was easy to overlook this hole-in-the-wall eatery, located in a nondescript minimall on NE 167th Street, so possibly you've driven by a dozen times in the last few months without noticing it's gone. But the next time you're in the mood for authentic Chinese food, you will not be able to find any because May Wong's one-woman operation was virtually the only place in the county, save a couple of good dim sum joints, where you could find actual Chinese Chinese food -- not Americanized stuff but rather the dishes only found, outside of China, in sophisticated urban Asian outposts like San Francisco and Vancouver. Delicate sautéed pea sprouts with crab, dry-style or wet (sauced) fresh ho fan noodles, comforting porridge-like ginger-spiked shrimp and mushroom congee, addictive whole salty pepper shrimp (with the heads left on for maximum flavor) on a bed of crunchy-battered Chinese broccoli. You can't continue the list without wanting to run right out and -- but there's no place to run. And don't bother grilling the nice guys from the Thai restaurant that's replaced Macau about a possible new location. We've tried and they don't know. If you're reading this, May, come back! Miami needs you!

The SSC has carried out a number of successful lunchtime sandwich deployments since completing its Design District buildup in late 2002. The Bay of Pig, one of the most effective items in its arsenal, contains the following judiciously selected ordnance: roasted and seared pork loin with grilled onion and mojo marinade, all packed into a baguette. But given the disastrous and deadly April 1961 invasion of Cuba for which it is named, do customers find it tasteless? Co-owner Cesar Canton, whose family carries bona fide anti-Fidel credentials, serves up an anecdote on wry: "A woman recently called up and ordered one for delivery. She goes: 'And could you send it with some air cover this time?'"

Lyon-born Olivier Farrat and partners were South Beach pioneers when they set up this simple, open-air shop back in 1988. Among the first eateries to assuage the hunger pangs of late-night clubbers, La Sanwicherie now is open practically 'round the clock, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. (sometimes as late as 6:00 a.m.). The casual atmosphere -- an extended counter with stools along an alley and across the street from the Deuce -- belies the freshness and quality of the ingredients. Choices are simple: crusty French bread or a croissant and fillings such as roast beef, tuna, ham, turkey (the best seller), cheeses, prosciutto, or smoked salmon. But we say thumb your nose at those who would have us eat freedom fries and try one of the classically French options like pâté, saucisson sec (French salami), or Camembert cheese (combine the last two and you have Farrat's personal fave). Other Gallic touches include tiny cornichon pickles and perfectly executed mustard vinaigrette. There's usually a midday and late-night (2:00 a.m.) rush, but the staff operates like a well-oiled machine, assembling orders lickety-split.

Not many of us think about checking out a Mexican restaurant when we feel like tucking into a stuffed crab-back and sucking the heads of prawns. Perhaps, being stone crab claw- and Key West pink shrimp-centric, we haven't had the exposure necessary to inspire such appetites. Or maybe, being offered mostly central Mexican cuisine here in South Florida, we simply haven't had opportunity enough to appreciate the fact that Mexico has a cuisine deriving from a couple of thousand miles of coastline -- and that's just on the Pacific side, where the town of Puerto Vallarta is located. Fortunately our education is at hand via El Puerto de Vallarta, and we're not just talking about the three R's of fish tacos, but the ABC's as well: avocado-garnished shrimp and snapper ceviche with pico de gallo; botana (appetizers) including shrimp quesadillas and oysters on the half-shell; and seafood caldos (soups) such as the piquant mariscos siete mares, a luxurious combination of seven different types of shellfish served with homemade corn tortillas. Finish off your secondary schooling with bacon-wrapped shrimp or garlic-sautéed lobster and a cool Tecate beer, and you'll be set to graduate with culinary horizons appropriately expanded.

Readers Choice: Joes Stone Crab

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.

This place has been around at least 48 years -- manager Dan Nudge thinks maybe 50 -- way the hell back in the woods and gone without a proper address. It used to be a bait shop on Biscayne Bay just north of the MacArthur Causeway, but was bounced when the Miami Herald built its waterfront eyesore. It still is a bait shop, but there's a whole lot more going on. Owner Jim Luznar likes the scruffy, backwoodsy feel of the site, despite the nearby sewage plant. Now there are palm trees and a gravel drive instead of the muddy path that used to lead up to Jimbo's shack. It's still authentically funky, though. Attracts folks like Bob Dylan when he's around. He'll slouch in for Jimbo's smoked Costa Rican marlin or salmon at eight bucks a pound, and chug down some Natural Ice or Budweiser beer. Nudge explained that the wonderful taste of the fish owes to the smoking process: "Yeah, ya put it in a blind for the night, salted down and sugared and watered, right out back. It's the weather gives us the taste. Yuh cain't man-u-facture that."

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.

Just utter the words "La Broche" and you may find yourself embroiled in controversy. Controversy is La Broche's -- and its cutting-edge Spanish chef Angel Palacios's -- middle name. In fact debate has raged within these very pages about said avant-garde Spanish cuisine and its ingredients. But hey, creativity often stirs controversy, and this offshoot of the famous Madrid mothership is nothing if not creative. You definitely will want to try the Spaniard's signature "foam," used to top many a dish (raspberry foam on cauliflower soup, anyone?). But there's more to La Broche than foam. There are, for example, duck livers and rockfish, confits of lamb and codfish, sweet-potato cappuccino with ginger and coconut, turbot fillet with pork trotters. This is, for Miami, something very fresh and exciting. It is also expensive. But sometimes you have to pay for the best.

Readers Choice: Casa Juancho

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.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®