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

Covertly it lurks in the refrigerated case, concealed among the soft drinks and ice teas. The double agent of desserts, it is rich yet somehow light and not off-puttingly eggy. A quivering homemade creation that is simultaneously rico and suave. See, the real secret at the Secret Sandwich Co. is not the sandwiches but the desserts, especially the flan. And now that we've told you, we'll have to kill you.

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!

Yuca, plantain, papaya, all the subtropical specialties you could want: Frutería Los Girasoles is a way for Miami residents to partake of Homestead's bounty of fresh produce without having to make the drive (or at least not the entire drive). Produce prices stand out, but shoppers can also choose from an array of citrus marinades, tamarind candy, chilies of all shapes and sizes -- dried and fresh -- or knickknacks like the sculpture of a sombrero-clad stereotype napping under a cactus. The store is still pretty far south on Krome Avenue, but the selection and prices are worth the effort (and besides, it's scenic). On a recent weekend plum tomatoes went for a dollar per pound, a dozen ears of corn cost three dollars, and patrons swamped the orange stand, bagging dozens at the six-for-a-buck price.

Two Chefs
Dining alone is both an art and a science. Therefore the solo diner obviously has a dual appreciation for both the imagination and the intellect. Where else to find the creativity as well as the observational opportunities necessary to keep such a person entertained than at the bar of Two Chefs? This ten-seater is cozy enough to get to know your neighbor but roomy enough to be served a full-course meal. And not just any meal, but one that might include escargot pot pie with smoked pork and sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus salad with Maine lobster and chimichurri, or a flatbread topped with Chinese black bean barbecued shrimp. Nor does the inspired elegance stop short of the wine list, which comprises smartly chosen, internationally renowned vintages that are poured into Riedel glassware. Feel the need to chat with someone about the virtues of the Gary Farrell Zinfandel and how it pairs with the oak-baked portobello with Gruyère and sourdough toast? Seek out the two chefs themselves, Soren Bredahl and Jan Jorgensen -- when two names are on the marquee, it's a pretty good bet that at least one is in the kitchen at all times.

Readers Choice: At home

Homestead may seem an unlikely location for an Asian grocery, but Sau Leung explains the simple reason why she and husband Tim, a Cantonese couple from Hong Kong, wound up peddling Sri Racha sauce in a town known for taco stands and pickup trucks. "We used to live in Kendall, but Homestead is much nicer. The people are nicer." Fair enough -- the traffic's better, too, although Sau admits that a dearth of customers is starting to cause business problems. "There's a little bit more Thai and Vietnamese people coming to Homestead, but most of them work in farming so they don't need to buy vegetables from us." In addition to a prodigious supply of produce, Tim's shelves are stocked with multitudes of fish and oyster sauces, won ton and egg roll wrappers, sesame oils, spices and spice mixes, noodles, even Asian dishware and paper lamps. If you're coming from Kendall, buy a six-pack of Kirin for $7.50 -- it should last about as long as it takes to navigate the traffic home.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®