The best Cuban restaurant should feature the best Cuban food, right? But that's not so easy to determine in a town with as many Cuban eateries as Miami. A judge could spend a lifetime sampling a million dishes. Most would agree, though, that the fare at Versailles ranks near the top. Cuban specialties hit the spot every time, from the bocaditos to dishes with generous portions of arroz con frijoles negros accompanying any meat, fish, or poultry. They make all their own bread and desserts at the bakery next door. And the price is right. You can manage a full meal for about ten bucks. However, it's the cultural experience that draws so many locals and tourists to this icon of Little Havana. Example: One day last summer Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Cuban American National Foundation executive director Joe Garcia happened to be there for lunch. Not at the same table, of course. (To call them el exilio rivals would be an understatement.) Without warning or provocation, and in front of about 100 awed but not surprised diners, Diaz-Balart unleashed a very loud tirade from across the dining room. Garcia, he shouted, was a "traitor" to the exile cause. Witnesses say Garcia responded to Diaz-Balart's finger-pointing outburst by sharing a laugh with his tablemates and digging back into his plate. Diaz-Balart and his entourage then stormed out. Only in Miami? Sure. But at Versailles? Often.

Versailles Restaurant
Photo by Phillip Pessar via Flickr Creative Commons
The best Cuban restaurant should feature the best Cuban food, right? But that's not so easy to determine in a town with as many Cuban eateries as Miami. A judge could spend a lifetime sampling a million dishes. Most would agree, though, that the fare at Versailles ranks near the top. Cuban specialties hit the spot every time, from the bocaditos to dishes with generous portions of arroz con frijoles negros accompanying any meat, fish, or poultry. They make all their own bread and desserts at the bakery next door. And the price is right. You can manage a full meal for about ten bucks. However, it's the cultural experience that draws so many locals and tourists to this icon of Little Havana. Example: One day last summer Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Cuban American National Foundation executive director Joe Garcia happened to be there for lunch. Not at the same table, of course. (To call them el exilio rivals would be an understatement.) Without warning or provocation, and in front of about 100 awed but not surprised diners, Diaz-Balart unleashed a very loud tirade from across the dining room. Garcia, he shouted, was a "traitor" to the exile cause. Witnesses say Garcia responded to Diaz-Balart's finger-pointing outburst by sharing a laugh with his tablemates and digging back into his plate. Diaz-Balart and his entourage then stormed out. Only in Miami? Sure. But at Versailles? Often.

When Miami Beach was known as God's Waiting Room, it was filled with the most heavenly treats. Hamantaschen, rugelach, and almond horns were enjoyed by area sweet tooths of all faiths. But with the slow migration of Miami-Dade's Jewish culture to points north, so went the traditional bakeries. Abraham's has outlasted many of its competitors, and for good reason. It's strictly kosher and pareve (great for vegetarians and lactose-intolerants), so you can count on knowing what goes into your desserts, but they also bake on a daily basis, which makes for a fresh goodness not easily found. All the traditional sweets and regular bread products are available as well. Sure, there are lots of new bakeries around but for the flavor of old Miami, nothing beats a delicious black-and-white cookie.

When Miami Beach was known as God's Waiting Room, it was filled with the most heavenly treats. Hamantaschen, rugelach, and almond horns were enjoyed by area sweet tooths of all faiths. But with the slow migration of Miami-Dade's Jewish culture to points north, so went the traditional bakeries. Abraham's has outlasted many of its competitors, and for good reason. It's strictly kosher and pareve (great for vegetarians and lactose-intolerants), so you can count on knowing what goes into your desserts, but they also bake on a daily basis, which makes for a fresh goodness not easily found. All the traditional sweets and regular bread products are available as well. Sure, there are lots of new bakeries around but for the flavor of old Miami, nothing beats a delicious black-and-white cookie.

You won't find the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test at the Grateful Deli, but you will encounter subs, cold-cut meats, and other delicious treats of psychedelic proportions. The joint's smallest bread size is a ten-inch hoagie. This deli also offers rye-wheat tortilla wraps for its patrons who are counting their carbohydrates. The menu, taking its cue from classic rock songs, offers a number of sub specials such as the "Hotel California," a combination of smoked turkey, baked ham, Swiss cheese, and spicy mustard, or the "Tell Me Why," featuring roast beef, smoked turkey, grilled peppers, fresh mozzarella, and oil and vinegar. As you wait for your order, vintage posters of all-time greats like Jimi Hendrix and the Who pay homage to the halcyon days of tie-dye shirts. The only bummer is that a trip to the Grateful Deli ends early. Its hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday.

You won't find the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test at the Grateful Deli, but you will encounter subs, cold-cut meats, and other delicious treats of psychedelic proportions. The joint's smallest bread size is a ten-inch hoagie. This deli also offers rye-wheat tortilla wraps for its patrons who are counting their carbohydrates. The menu, taking its cue from classic rock songs, offers a number of sub specials such as the "Hotel California," a combination of smoked turkey, baked ham, Swiss cheese, and spicy mustard, or the "Tell Me Why," featuring roast beef, smoked turkey, grilled peppers, fresh mozzarella, and oil and vinegar. As you wait for your order, vintage posters of all-time greats like Jimi Hendrix and the Who pay homage to the halcyon days of tie-dye shirts. The only bummer is that a trip to the Grateful Deli ends early. Its hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Solo diners often feel uncomfortably like actors in a one-person show, with all audience eyes on the next forkful heading to the mouth. At Talula, though, singles can avoid the table and the awkward, onstage feel by taking one of five stools at the informal, inconspicuous "food bar" in the back of the room. Here eating is entertainment, but you're not the star. It's more like watching a live version of the Food Network. Overlooking the restaurant's kitchen, the bar provides front-row seats to one of South Beach's hottest shows: skillful line cooks (supervised by chef/owners Andrea Curto and Frank Randazzo) deftly whipping up the subtly chili-spiked ahi tuna tartare, crisp soft-shell crabs, and the chocolate bread pudding you just ordered -- or should have.

Talula
Solo diners often feel uncomfortably like actors in a one-person show, with all audience eyes on the next forkful heading to the mouth. At Talula, though, singles can avoid the table and the awkward, onstage feel by taking one of five stools at the informal, inconspicuous "food bar" in the back of the room. Here eating is entertainment, but you're not the star. It's more like watching a live version of the Food Network. Overlooking the restaurant's kitchen, the bar provides front-row seats to one of South Beach's hottest shows: skillful line cooks (supervised by chef/owners Andrea Curto and Frank Randazzo) deftly whipping up the subtly chili-spiked ahi tuna tartare, crisp soft-shell crabs, and the chocolate bread pudding you just ordered -- or should have.

You're sixteen. You slip on your best bell-bottom pants and hop in your '67 Malibu. You pick up your date, hit Burger King for dinner, and head to the drive-in theater for a double feature (one monster movie, the other a bikini fest sans plot). Then you roll into your neighborhood Dairy Queen (every neighborhood has one) for a nightcap. You buy a couple of cones dipped in that quick-hardening chocolate, sit on the hood of your Chevy, admire the starry night, say something to schoolmates as they arrive, and go home by curfew with white stuff at the corners of your mouth, a drop or two on your cheeks or chin. Ah. Now fast-forward to 2004. You're old and tired, feeling nostalgic, still availed of a sweet tooth. This plastered two-window shack features a pair of picnic tables (stone with tile inlay) and not much else (no personal pizzas or hamburgers like at modern DQs), which is why it takes you right back to the days of K.C. and Colt 45 malt liquor. In fact the lever from which Mary Rauls squeezes heaps of manna (vanilla, chocolate) is attached to the same machines installed for the 1956 grand opening. Two little windows, a nice woman, and an array of ice cream concoctions (plus that gushy drink called a Misty) transport you to your glory days as the sugary goo drips from the cone. Young again, in a better Miami. Then you discover that this holdout is well into the permit process for the addition of a drive-through window and your last illusion dies.

You're sixteen. You slip on your best bell-bottom pants and hop in your '67 Malibu. You pick up your date, hit Burger King for dinner, and head to the drive-in theater for a double feature (one monster movie, the other a bikini fest sans plot). Then you roll into your neighborhood Dairy Queen (every neighborhood has one) for a nightcap. You buy a couple of cones dipped in that quick-hardening chocolate, sit on the hood of your Chevy, admire the starry night, say something to schoolmates as they arrive, and go home by curfew with white stuff at the corners of your mouth, a drop or two on your cheeks or chin. Ah. Now fast-forward to 2004. You're old and tired, feeling nostalgic, still availed of a sweet tooth. This plastered two-window shack features a pair of picnic tables (stone with tile inlay) and not much else (no personal pizzas or hamburgers like at modern DQs), which is why it takes you right back to the days of K.C. and Colt 45 malt liquor. In fact the lever from which Mary Rauls squeezes heaps of manna (vanilla, chocolate) is attached to the same machines installed for the 1956 grand opening. Two little windows, a nice woman, and an array of ice cream concoctions (plus that gushy drink called a Misty) transport you to your glory days as the sugary goo drips from the cone. Young again, in a better Miami. Then you discover that this holdout is well into the permit process for the addition of a drive-through window and your last illusion dies.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®