Yes, Blue Note is a pretty darn good music store. Ample evidence of that can be found in past editions of Best of Miami. But it's time to retire its number. In order to do that, however, something just as good or better will have to come along. So consider this a protest award: It's ridiculous that in an area the size of Miami-Dade County, with so many music-buying souls who have diverse tastes and expendable cash, Blue Note for years has been the only game in town. What else is there? Chain stores have anemic selections and painfully inept staff. Virgin has a slightly better stockpile but its prices are way too high. With any luck, some aspiring entrepreneur will read this, recognize that Miami badly needs more music, and next year the award for Best Record/CD Store will have a different name attached to it.

Readers Choice: Specs Music

Palacio de los Jugos is a sprawling and colorful Flagler Street produce market and juice bar. That location's little brother -- Segundo Palacio -- is perfect for those who live too far south to make it to Flagler on a regular basis. There is something joyful and indulgent about sipping fresh mango juice at Segundo Palacio, or sucking coco frio right out of the shell, as opposed to the antiseptic, health-obsessed juice bars where exercise freaks line up like flagellants to gulp down their spinach and wheat-germ concoctions. Enjoy your juice in the sunshine (and fresh mango juice is undoubtedly the closest thing on earth to liquid sunshine) at one of Segundo Palacio's picnic tables. Yes, you'll smile to yourself, you do live in a tropical paradise.

Tucked away in Wynwood's fashion district, Control is a Miami street skater's dream come true -- a gritty 8000-square-foot warehouse equipped with everything from a 5'5" x 20' half-pipe to a killer street setup, highlighted by nasty handrails and makeshift park benches for some serious grinding and sliding. Plans are in the works to build an outdoor street course in time for summer. And if you break your board, bust a truck, or lose your wheel bearings, Control's skate shop has a full stock of brands such as Zoo York, Flip, and Zero. It costs seven beans to use the skate park, which is open seven days a week from 11:00 a.m. till midnight. Directions: From I-95 connect to I-195 east and exit at North Miami Avenue. Head south to NW 29th Street, then east (right turn) on 29th to NE Fifth Avenue. Turn left (south) on Fifth four blocks to NW 24th Street. Turn left. Control is half a block ahead on the right. Skater moms need not fear the neighborhood. Right next door is a City of Miami police substation.

In 1978 La Ideal was just another mom-and-pop operation on Flagler Street (305-548-3296) offering its wares to expectant immigrant parents living in East Little Havana. Today it is a veritable conglomerate, with three additional stores in Miami (305-716-1140), Hialeah (305-826-2021), and Broward County, all ready to deliver (so to speak) everything new mommies and daddies could want for that little bundle of joy. At the Hialeah location the aisles are stocked from floor to ceiling with affordable and designer bedding sets, blankets, car seats, bottles, and pacifiers. One full aisle is dedicated to nothing but food bibs. Row upon row of strollers, cribs, and baby furniture, including rockers that beckon pregnant women with visions of sweet lullabies.

Joey B runs the fastest-growing cigar-store empire on the Beach. He and junior partner Robert, from the NYC area, started with one shop last year (1136 Collins) and quickly expanded to locations at 1650 Meridian Avenue and 1639 Washington Avenue, as well as the Ocean Drive shop. On Ocean, their Cuban roller, José Castro, working in the traditional way, can whip up a 45x6 (45 millimeters round, six inches long) corona, or a 5x50 robusto in several minutes using fine Honduran wrapper leaf and flavorful, medium-bodied Dominican filler, imported by Joey and Robert. "Rolling a cigar from scratch, without the use of presser machinery, is an art, not a craft," Robert says. "If you misuse that chaveta knife, you can ruin a cap and so ruin the smoke." Deco Drive is famous for its popularity among Italian character actors, from the movies and from the Sopranos, but under pain of nonfatal arm injuries, we've been sworn not to name them.

Miami Police Supply
Are you ready for the End Times? They're coming. People ascribe different causes to the approaching apocalypse, but everyone knows it's nearly upon us. Whether the bottom drops out of the economy, terrorists turn our streets into Beirut, or God checks out Married by America and decides it's high time for the final reckoning, the few poor souls left to roam our city's blasted-out streets will stay alive only by dint of their preparedness. Miami Police Supply has all the gear you'll need for urban warfare and survival: camouflage and SWAT uniforms, emergency lights and sirens, bulletproof vests ($359 for a Triflex Level IIA), and brand-new .40-caliber Sig Sauer handguns (around $700, chicken feed for a gun described by a Miami Police Supply salesman as "the Mercedes of handguns"). The eager and knowledgeable black-clad pistoleros who staff Miami Police Supply will also be happy to show you their supply of cheaper weaponry, like the infamous Intratec 9mm, known as the cheap gun of choice for crack warriors in the Nineties and one of the weapons used in the Columbine school massacre.

Uncle Sam's Music
You're forgiven if you didn't realize Uncle Sam's had a used-CD section. After all, with its thumping house beats acting as a pied piper to club kids passing by on the sidewalk, the store would appear at first glance to be a one-stop shop for nightcrawlers: glow sticks, high-sugar candy, striking jewelry, and all the incense, posters, and tchotchkes needed to redecorate your crib the morning after. But in the midst of all these lifestyle accessories, Uncle Sam's hasn't forgotten about the actual music. Its used section remains the area's most diverse, with a steady stream of new releases coming in every week. Even better: listening stations to hear a CD before buying it. Admittedly the $7.99 price isn't quite the bargain it once was in this age of free Internet downloads and CD burners, but for those with neither the time nor the wherewithal to go digital -- or those still wedded to the old-fashioned method of browsing -- these are the overstuffed bins of choice to paw through.

William J. Fleischer's four-year-old business in the heart of the Design District repairs, restores, sells, and even rents almost all stringed instruments -- violins, violas, cellos, and basses. Catering to local and visiting classical musicians as well as students of varied ages and skill levels, the store boasts a staff of five, working under the direction of Fleischer, who studied violin-making in Italy and has been practicing his craft for more than 30 years. While the V-shaped glass case holds numerous bows ranging from $200 to $900, for a mere $500 a person can acquire his own instrument (plus case and bow) and take the first step toward becoming the next Itzhak Perlman or Anne-Sophie Mutter. Those more inclined to listen to violins than play them can be one of fifteen people who enjoy the shop's exclusive chamber-concert series, featuring an hors d'oeuvres reception, a performance by renowned musicians, a champagne intermission, and then a buffet dinner with the players outdoors under the stars.

The snowy-haired Dr. Smith, owner of the Trail Animal Clinic, has been tending to Miami's domestic pets since 1968. In that time he's developed a reputation for being some sort of kindly animal whisperer. Wounded or sick animals might be barking or squawking madly in the waiting room, but when Dr. Smith lays his hands on them, gently pressing their coats, probing for injuries or tense organs, furry and feathered friends mellow out. The veteran vet soothes not only his four-legged patients but also the humans who love them. Each pet and his or her master receive his full attention until everyone is agreed on the best course of action. It's that personal touch, a far different experience from the chain clinics, that makes all the difference.

Bass Pro Shop Outdoor World
Yeah, we know, it's Dania. But it has 160,000 square feet of outdoor sports equipment. Let us repeat: 160,000 square feet! More than 40 fish finders, a dozen GPS systems, eight types of kayaks, and hundreds of golf clubs. When we asked how many lures the store stocked, a nearby customer chimed in: "Too many." In our all-choice, all-the-time world, how could there be too many of anything? Bored with the lures? Take the kids to see the pike, bass, and catfish roaming the giant aquarium, or to one of the many fishing and boat shows going on around the complex. Word to the wise: If you want basketballs, baseball mitts, or football spikes, go somewhere else. But if you want to go camping in the Everglades or hunting in the Panhandle or fishing in Biscayne Bay, don't even think about going anywhere else.

Readers Choice: Sports Authority

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®