No one along the Boulevard of Broken Dreams that is Biscayne has done more to beautify the strip than florist Geraldo Rios. While the police mount sweeps of hookers and tricks and pimps, and city bureaucrats issue code-violation fines, Rios has taken his own initiative to improve his block by decorating the two-story building that houses his shop with hundreds of stuffed bears and other fuzzy friends to celebrate Valentine's and Mother's Day. Rios's decorations are not just beautiful, they're a kind of public service for all of us who forget about our sweeties and, heaven help us, even our mothers on these special days. The sheer excess of Rios's decorations reminds us of the approaching holiday -- and his special 24-hour schedule allows any errant son, daughter, or lover to drop in and pick a bouquet on the fly.

Readers Choice: Trias Flowers, Antiques & Gifts

A misnomer if we've ever seen one. Dan had a lot of loyal customers, so when Manfred and Josephine Wenzel immigrated here from Germany and took over the business 26 years ago, "We didn't change anything," Mrs. Wenzel says today. Completely utilitarian shop space, with all the artisan tools Mr. Wenzel brought from the old country, where he studied camera repair for three and a half years in the great German tradition: "No computers! Za more sophisticated za camera, za more trouble! I'm an old man from za old school! [Film] transport and electronic shutter speed are complicated." It's why virtually all of Miami's professional photographers patronize Dan's. Wenzel, of course, will work on digitals, which he predicts will take over completely in ten years. He's sophisticated in not wanting to name a "best" camera, but his voice rises when you mention Rolleiflex and Voigtlander, two traditional German camera manufacturers who, like Leica, set the standard. "Right now we're in business. Later, when za digitals vin, I'll sit at home and vatch the pool through the back door. But not yet!"

Brightly colored beaded flags depicting vodou gods, snakes, and apparitions decorate the walls of Papa Paul's emporium of the spirits in Little Haiti. The flags drape above vitrines full of powerful objects such as wood-carved saints, hand-stitched satin kerchiefs in myriad hues, and cloth dolls with no faces. Painted maracas, devotional beads, and various perfumes and tonics for luck, love, and batting down evil spirits all can be found here. Papa keeps things friendly and welcoming, especially to the uninitiated. He also has space available for private consultations. If you're lucky, you might receive a tour of the back room -- a spacious garage decorated with worship murals used as a temple. You'll be luckier still if you are able to witness one of Papa's intense and beautiful ceremonies performed there.

Not much separates scooter rentals. Most are located on South Beach, often in small storefronts, and rental rates don't vary that much. Groov-E-Skootz, however, stands out for its selection of scoots for sale, in-store and online. In the gas-powered arena, they carry lots of Kymco's models, but also have Moskito and Hyosung. Among the electrics you'll find Bladez, City Bug, X-port, Currie, Charly, Schwinn, and X-Caliber. Also mini-gas scooters from Bladez and Go-Ped, plus electric bikes by E-Go and Voloci. As if that weren't enough, Groov may be unique in that you can also dance for your scooter. That's right. Every few months the store sponsors a break-dancing contest and the winner (these guys are really good) takes home a scoot.

It's hard to believe that Worldwide News stands alone in this major metropolitan area as an excellent, independently owned resource for newspapers and magazines. Other contenders like South Beach's News Café come to mind, but Worldwide trumps them by carrying an enviable selection of small-print 'zines, foreign publications, trades, and nudies. It doesn't have everything, so you may have to go to Borders to pick up the latest issue of the Village Voice. Yet Worldwide's continued dominance in this category (more than seven awards) speaks volumes about its admirable collection of titles and the frustrating lack of good competition for magazine lovers.

Crown, a frequent Best of Miami winner, relocated its Coral Gables store in September, and the new spot -- just a couple of blocks away from the old -- lives up to Crown's well-deserved reputation. Whether you're interested in wines (Crown took advantage of the increased shelf space at the new location to improve on its heralded selection), booze, or beer, the place remains in a league of its own. For a little something to go with your beverage purchase, check out the food. "We have a huge deli counter, with fresh baked bread and eight artisanal cheeses," says Crown wine consultant Fred Barger. "Pâté, fresh caviar -- you name it."

Readers Choice: Crown Wine and Spirits

Books & Books
Courtesy of Books & Books
The eternal winner, and deservedly so. Given that so much of the overall retail scene is dominated by chain stores, and that in books the competition is especially stiff, it's heartening that Books & Books has managed to survive, indeed thrive. The store deserves kudos for its informed staff, its hosting of a wide variety of book-discussion groups, its hefty schedule of author readings and other events (of which a fair number are in Spanish, including the just-launched readings for niños), and its gem of a main store, with its delightful courtyard. And unlike the cafés at a number of the national bookstore emporiums, which have about as much charm as a college student center, the café at Books & Books is a decidedly pleasant enhancement to literary pursuits.

Readers Choice: Books & Books

Think science is boring? Then check out Dr. Einstein's, where you can pick up all kinds of nifty gear, from videoscopes to books on Elvis, Rubik snakes, and Hoberman toys, a weirdly charming set of building blocks inspired by Legos. The prices are affordable and there's a wide selection appealing to all ages. So when you think toys (at least Dr. Einstein's toys), don't just think kids.

KLIME KOVACESKI

CRYSTAL CAFE,726 41st Street, Miami Beach, 305-673-8266

Crystal Café regulars, and there are many, enter through the rear door. They know it's closer to nearby parking. They also know they can poke their head into the kitchen on the way up front and say hello to chef/proprietor Klime Kovaceski, who will stop whatever he's doing to offer greetings. That won't be the last they see of him, though. At some point he'll be tableside, ensuring that guests in his cozy restaurant are happy. It's classic Old World charm from a warmly sincere Old World native. Kovaceski hails from Macedonia, where cooking wasn't his only passion. For a period he was also one of the region's most celebrated rock musicians. He still cherishes his guitar, but today it yields to his restaurant (www.crystalcafe.net), whose "New Continental" cuisine has gained national recognition and made Crystal Café one of Miami's finest dining establishments.

BEST LOCAL LANDMARK

Joes Stone Crab

Respect the everlasting: Ninety years in this business is an eternity. Joe's boasts, besides the best stone crabs and some great seafood, a precision-trained staff the size of city hall who perform like a slick military machine. No wonder U.S. presidents have waited patiently for a table at this American icon.

BEST DINING TREND

Casa Tua

Admire the beautiful: Casa Tua is a gorgeous place to dine, and the cuisine is fresh and clean. Turning a house into a restaurant may not yet be a new trend but certainly places like Casa Tua are helping Miami to become a more sophisticated dining metropolis.

BEST NOT-SO-CHEAP THRILL

La Broche

Recognize the brilliant: La Broche's chef, Angel Palacios, is just that. Two decades ago most of the great chefs were Europeans. Nowadays our homegrown chefs can compete successfully in any competition anywhere. But Palacios's cuisine proves that the Europeans are as inventive as ever -- still a culinary force to be reckoned with.

BEST PLACE TO SAVOR THE FLAVOR OF MIAMI

Normans

Applaud the very best: Norman Van Aken's restaurant reflects South Florida culinary history in the making. You can see the dynamic complexity of Miami on his plates, every one of them.

BEST REASON TO LIVE IN MIAMI

I moved to the U.S.A. in 1984, but if I had a choice, my birth certificate would read, "Born in Miami." Why? Because Miami gives new meaning to the phrase melting pot. The city literally overflows with different nationalities and languages, and has an amazing diversity of dining options: Old and New American, Latin American and Caribbean, Italian and French, steak houses, bagel joints, sushi, fusion, and much more. On your day off you can practice Miami's famous politics while knocking back a café cubano, hit the beach for awhile, then choose from one of a zillion restaurants. Afterward you can dance salsa to burn the calories. Next morning the battery is charged, you feel good, and you've renewed your appreciation for Miami being the hot, crowded, sexy place it is.

RECIPE

CHICKEN KIEV

Serves 4

4 (6 oz) chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

2 cups goat cheese

2 eggs well beaten for egg wash

1 cup flour

1 cup plain bread crumbs

Clarified butter*

1 cup baby mixed greens

2 of each: grilled baby zucchini, baby yellow squash, hearts of palm

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Place each chicken breast between two layers of plastic wrap and place on cutting board. Pound breasts to quarter-inch thickness. Form goat cheese into 4-inch-long sticks and place one in the middle of each chicken breast. Roll the breast around the goat cheese. If the cheese shows through some spot, stretch the chicken to completely cover. Coat in egg wash, flour, and bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours to firm the cheese, but no longer or the bread crumbs will become soggy. Sauté chicken in clarified butter until golden brown, then place in a 400-degree oven, turning occasionally until firm to the touch (when cheese leaks out, it is ready). Place on paper towels and drain for 2 to 3 minutes. Place baby greens in the middle of the plate and surround with grilled vegetables. Cut chicken on a bias with serrated knife and arrange chicken pieces across the greens so a little of the cheese in each slice shows through. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper, and drizzle over the dish.

*Clarified butter: 1/4 lb unsalted butter. Melt butter over low heat. Skim off white film and pour golden liquid into a small bowl.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®