It isn't just the amazing albondiguitas (spicy meatballs in vegetable stock) or the fantastic fajitas that have earned Paquito's this award three times already. The food is excellent and the service impeccable. What gives this place so much appeal is the authentic Mexican atmosphere. Walk inside and you're transported to a hacienda where Yucatan hospitality offers a wonderful night of dining and inspecting the Mexican folk art blanketing the walls. If you're with friends, though, don't get lost in your gaze. Your nachos will disappear in a flash. They're that good.

Paquito's Mexican Restaurant
Aran S Graham
It isn't just the amazing albondiguitas (spicy meatballs in vegetable stock) or the fantastic fajitas that have earned Paquito's this award three times already. The food is excellent and the service impeccable. What gives this place so much appeal is the authentic Mexican atmosphere. Walk inside and you're transported to a hacienda where Yucatan hospitality offers a wonderful night of dining and inspecting the Mexican folk art blanketing the walls. If you're with friends, though, don't get lost in your gaze. Your nachos will disappear in a flash. They're that good.

The fam just jet in from the Left Coast, with that dreadful stopover in Houston? Get them away from the fumes and across the street (with a few twists and turns) for a cozy (fifteen tables) gourmet dinner with five-star service courtesy of the Gonzalez family. The Argentine folks opened Basilico six years ago and have only increased the general excellence of their bistro. A little Latin touch with plenty of seafood will let your guests know they've arrived in Miami. Bring on the seafood linguine, the menu's signature item and a certain crowd pleaser. The pasta is perfect, of course, and heaped with mussels, clams, shrimp, and pieces of squid. But the trick to Basilico's palate-pleasing is the extra ingredient that seems to appear in each dish; in this case it's salmon. All those carbs and all that protein are lifted even higher with a sauce of olive oil, wine, tomato, basil. If your visitors, for some ungodly reason, ate on the plane, stop in anyway for one of the desserts and the primo cappuccino. The desserts are limited and selections change. Lately the chef recommends the chocolate soufflé à la mode.

Basilico Ristorante
The fam just jet in from the Left Coast, with that dreadful stopover in Houston? Get them away from the fumes and across the street (with a few twists and turns) for a cozy (fifteen tables) gourmet dinner with five-star service courtesy of the Gonzalez family. The Argentine folks opened Basilico six years ago and have only increased the general excellence of their bistro. A little Latin touch with plenty of seafood will let your guests know they've arrived in Miami. Bring on the seafood linguine, the menu's signature item and a certain crowd pleaser. The pasta is perfect, of course, and heaped with mussels, clams, shrimp, and pieces of squid. But the trick to Basilico's palate-pleasing is the extra ingredient that seems to appear in each dish; in this case it's salmon. All those carbs and all that protein are lifted even higher with a sauce of olive oil, wine, tomato, basil. If your visitors, for some ungodly reason, ate on the plane, stop in anyway for one of the desserts and the primo cappuccino. The desserts are limited and selections change. Lately the chef recommends the chocolate soufflé à la mode.

Face it, when you're drinking to get drunk -- and Hooligan's is a good place to do just that -- delicate crab, feta, and watercress tapas with a kiwi raspberry reduction vinaigrette are just not going to quell incipient waves of gut-rotting liquor nausea. Hooligan's offers substantial portions of carbs and fried food (often together in the same greasily nostalgic package) on platters and à la carte. Try not to heave until you scarf down a plate of wings and fries. Jay's Awesome Oysters, a most satisfying cooked offering of the bivalve mollusks, are named for proprietor Jay Love, the politician. From Love's fecund and diabolical mind comes such high-proof concepts as discount nights for hospital employees, the revivification of the drinking game called flips, the indefatigable hosting of the underappreciated blues band Geezer, and a happy hour that, on occasion, begins at 11:00 a.m. and lasts until morning. This is notwithstanding the 40-plus television sets tuned to different channels but uniformly broadcasting some type of sports (hence Hooligan's dual award: it's also the Best Sports Bar). Though seafood is a staple as well as namesake, and the barbecue shrimp are a mighty tasty alternative to Tagamet, you'll want something piquant to steady your stomach, so do leave room, one way or the other, for tangy Buffalo wings.

Face it, when you're drinking to get drunk -- and Hooligan's is a good place to do just that -- delicate crab, feta, and watercress tapas with a kiwi raspberry reduction vinaigrette are just not going to quell incipient waves of gut-rotting liquor nausea. Hooligan's offers substantial portions of carbs and fried food (often together in the same greasily nostalgic package) on platters and à la carte. Try not to heave until you scarf down a plate of wings and fries. Jay's Awesome Oysters, a most satisfying cooked offering of the bivalve mollusks, are named for proprietor Jay Love, the politician. From Love's fecund and diabolical mind comes such high-proof concepts as discount nights for hospital employees, the revivification of the drinking game called flips, the indefatigable hosting of the underappreciated blues band Geezer, and a happy hour that, on occasion, begins at 11:00 a.m. and lasts until morning. This is notwithstanding the 40-plus television sets tuned to different channels but uniformly broadcasting some type of sports (hence Hooligan's dual award: it's also the Best Sports Bar). Though seafood is a staple as well as namesake, and the barbecue shrimp are a mighty tasty alternative to Tagamet, you'll want something piquant to steady your stomach, so do leave room, one way or the other, for tangy Buffalo wings.

Bill "the Captain" Bowers owns and operates this 33-year-old landmark (with the indispensable help of wife Audrey). He'll soon turn 75, but he refuses to retire. "I just can't get enough of the restaurant business," he says. "It's been a great ride and I love what I do." He also loves wine, and can't help sharing his enthusiasm. In that regard, you might say he's been on a mission. Back in 1996 he told this paper: "A bottle of wine shouldn't be the center of the conversation. It should be there for enjoyment. I want people to drink wine at my restaurant every time they come." Judging by his accounting, his loyal customers are doing just that. On average they're spending $1000 each day on wine with their fresh seafood. The money goes a long way, too. Bowers is famous for keeping his wine prices low -- very low. He never charges more than twice the wholesale cost, and that's for the cheapest wine; the more expensive the bottle, the less the markup. (Most restaurants charge at least three times wholesale price.) And consider the unique wine list: a mind-boggling 500 different selections, mainly from California. Some prices: MacMurray Ranch pinot noir $16, Wild Horse pinot noir $16, Kendall Jackson sauvignon blanc $14, Canyon Road cabernet $12, Geyser Peak cabernet $14. Some retail stores charge as much.

Captain's Tavern
Bill "the Captain" Bowers owns and operates this 33-year-old landmark (with the indispensable help of wife Audrey). He'll soon turn 75, but he refuses to retire. "I just can't get enough of the restaurant business," he says. "It's been a great ride and I love what I do." He also loves wine, and can't help sharing his enthusiasm. In that regard, you might say he's been on a mission. Back in 1996 he told this paper: "A bottle of wine shouldn't be the center of the conversation. It should be there for enjoyment. I want people to drink wine at my restaurant every time they come." Judging by his accounting, his loyal customers are doing just that. On average they're spending $1000 each day on wine with their fresh seafood. The money goes a long way, too. Bowers is famous for keeping his wine prices low -- very low. He never charges more than twice the wholesale cost, and that's for the cheapest wine; the more expensive the bottle, the less the markup. (Most restaurants charge at least three times wholesale price.) And consider the unique wine list: a mind-boggling 500 different selections, mainly from California. Some prices: MacMurray Ranch pinot noir $16, Wild Horse pinot noir $16, Kendall Jackson sauvignon blanc $14, Canyon Road cabernet $12, Geyser Peak cabernet $14. Some retail stores charge as much.

Brazilian natives Roberto and Tania Madeira opened a health food store in Key West in 1997. "We made the most boring, healthy food," Tania readily admits. That all changed when they won the city's Best Key Lime Pie contest in 1999 with a recipe handed down from Tania's 88-year-old grandmother. Suddenly they were loved. The Madeiras scrapped the tofu and veggies for limes, sugar, and meringue and opened a shop dedicated to the tartest of tarts. Since then they've been steadily marching north, opening another Key West locale, then one in Marathon. Last year they opened their South Miami shop, which is a shrine to the tiny green fruit. In addition to a swooningly good pie, they also sell lime juice, lime-covered chocolates, key lime salsa, and key lime honey-mustard dip. It's a cultural thing. "Brazil is the largest producer of key limes," Roberto says. "We call them limon galego. Our national drink, the caipirinha, is made with key limes." But the pie is the foundation of it all -- $16.25 for a plain pie, $17.25 for a chocolate-covered pie, and $18.25 for the signature, meringue-covered pie. Slices and frozen slices on a stick are $3.75.

Brazilian natives Roberto and Tania Madeira opened a health food store in Key West in 1997. "We made the most boring, healthy food," Tania readily admits. That all changed when they won the city's Best Key Lime Pie contest in 1999 with a recipe handed down from Tania's 88-year-old grandmother. Suddenly they were loved. The Madeiras scrapped the tofu and veggies for limes, sugar, and meringue and opened a shop dedicated to the tartest of tarts. Since then they've been steadily marching north, opening another Key West locale, then one in Marathon. Last year they opened their South Miami shop, which is a shrine to the tiny green fruit. In addition to a swooningly good pie, they also sell lime juice, lime-covered chocolates, key lime salsa, and key lime honey-mustard dip. It's a cultural thing. "Brazil is the largest producer of key limes," Roberto says. "We call them limon galego. Our national drink, the caipirinha, is made with key limes." But the pie is the foundation of it all -- $16.25 for a plain pie, $17.25 for a chocolate-covered pie, and $18.25 for the signature, meringue-covered pie. Slices and frozen slices on a stick are $3.75.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®