So a serious lack of funds, not to mention a rather scary war and that strange respiratory outbreak across the world, have prevented you from making it to Thailand this year. We're not crying for you. We have our own little piece of Thailand right here. We sit peacefully among the orchids listening to the tranquil gurgling of a waterfall. We munch on curry puffs and crispy noodles and jumping shrimp. And if we're feeling pyromaniacal, we order the satay and cook our beef or chicken over the flame of a tiny hibachi. Then we load up on signature dishes like the Star of Siam (breaded, marinated chicken cooked with chili sauce and mixed veggies) or the massaman curry, tender meat or seafood accompanied by cashew nuts, plus chunks of avocado and onion in a curry/coconut milk sauce. We satisfy the noodle jones with the always-comforting pad thai. Each day we return for lunch and dinner, and lunch and dinner, and lunch and dinner again. No wonder we can't afford to travel!

Readers Choice: Bangkok Bangkok

Sit down at the counter and take a load off, brothers and sisters. Slow your heart rate with mellow reggae, fruit juice, and a salad. Emperor Haile Selassie stares down at you from the walls, regal and peaceful. Gentle philosophy is mixed into the smoothies. "It's the right way to live," claims the Rastafarian behind the counter. "I might die of pollution or an accident, but never from eating wrong."

Dining, technically speaking, refers to the evening repast. Scotty's is best enjoyed mid-to-late afternoon, when the lunch crush is over. Take refuge from the sun under the green-and-white canopy. Order up a bucket of ice-cold beers to accompany a dolphin sandwich or a burger (the menu is blissfully straightforward and unrefined), and soak up the view of the marina, bay, and Key Biscayne in a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere.

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

Smitty's has been scrambling eggs since 1941. Sit on one of the 22 spinning stools at the horseshoe-shaped counter and watch the waitresses pour steaming cups of coffee as you find yourself eavesdropping on conversations all around you. The city is waking up, ready for another hot, brutish day in paradise. Revel in the humanity at Smitty's, among the cops, construction workers, and shirt-and-tie guys who are all in it with you. The waitresses, of course, know your name. What more could you ask? How about two eggs, two pancakes, and three strips of bacon for $2.99 (on special). They've also got omelets, waffles, grits, and biscuits-and-gravy dishes that'll run you four to five bucks. Open weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Smitty's has been scrambling eggs since 1941. Sit on one of the 22 spinning stools at the horseshoe-shaped counter and watch the waitresses pour steaming cups of coffee as you find yourself eavesdropping on conversations all around you. The city is waking up, ready for another hot, brutish day in paradise. Revel in the humanity at Smitty's, among the cops, construction workers, and shirt-and-tie guys who are all in it with you. The waitresses, of course, know your name. What more could you ask? How about two eggs, two pancakes, and three strips of bacon for $2.99 (on special). They've also got omelets, waffles, grits, and biscuits-and-gravy dishes that'll run you four to five bucks. Open weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

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.

Tropical Chinese Restaurant
Photo by Andrew Meade
A perennial favorite in the dim sum category, Tropical -- surprise -- also serves a great din-din. Traditional dishes include Hong Kong-style roast pork flavored with five-spice and then roasted; seafood-spinach soup; and always crisp, always succulent Peking duck. But innovative items are equally reliable, if unusual -- flounder pan-fried with peppercorns and jalapeños and served with bananas marinated in rice wine, for example, offers interesting counterpoints of textures, as does cherry-plum chicken wrapped with diced water chestnuts and fresh bamboo in egg-white crêpes. A healthy wine list replete with floral Rieslings adds to the fine-dining effect, giving aficionados of all kinds reason to make Tropical an evening as well as morning destination.

Casola's Pizza
George Martinez
Big, saucy, greasy, and cheesy, a pizza pie any other way wouldn't be baked at Casola's. The pizza place tucked between Little Havana and Coconut Grove has fattened neighborhood rugrats and late-night bar-hoppers looking for a sobering slice for 21 years. The pizza slices are huge, New York style, and come in pairs for $2.85. Most patrons don't leave full, they walk out bloated. Here, it's all about the cheese -- quality mozzarella with a playful, elastic texture, not drippy or sinewy. Ask for extra cheese and you might not find the crust. Casola's actually stems from an old Boston pizza war. Back in the Seventies, Ramon Casola and Augustine Buñuel were rivals there, but each respected the other's pie enough to open Casola's together. The hungry mouths that congregate around the open-air pizza stand help them get along fine. They have a good relationship with customers too. There's always a plate of free sample pizza squares for those waiting on an order. But watch it: Hands snap toward the complimentary servings like piranhas. If you have your hand in the wrong place you might lose it, and you'll need both of them to handle the slice you're waiting on.

Readers Choice: Casolas

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®