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.

This winner is no surprise. Chef Carmen Gonzalez's Latin-influenced, post-New American eatery has landed on the hottest-new-restaurant list of so many national publications that any other pick would be scandalous. If the place were booked any more solidly (even on weeknights), diners would have to crowd onto the chef's lap -- difficult given that Gonzalez is a petite four feet eleven. Nevertheless she turns out some mighty big, bold food. Though her heritage is Puerto Rican, her food is not so much Nuevo Latino as Nuevo Pan American, creatively incorporating influences and ingredients from both hemispheres into North/South American fusion dishes, with an occasional pinch of Asia thrown in for fun. Carmen is actually two eateries in one, a formal restaurant and a casually elegant wine bar with a menu of "chef's favorite" light bites such as Florida lobster and avocado terrine, garnished with house-made key lime mayonnaise and crisp plantain fritters. In the formal dining space, grilled whole pompano with island mojito and yuca mofongo is a typical entrée. And everything everywhere, from the ketchup topping the bar's burger to the olive-pimento-roasted-garlic-cilantro compound butter that comes with the restaurant's bread, is made from scratch.

Carmen the Restaurant
This winner is no surprise. Chef Carmen Gonzalez's Latin-influenced, post-New American eatery has landed on the hottest-new-restaurant list of so many national publications that any other pick would be scandalous. If the place were booked any more solidly (even on weeknights), diners would have to crowd onto the chef's lap -- difficult given that Gonzalez is a petite four feet eleven. Nevertheless she turns out some mighty big, bold food. Though her heritage is Puerto Rican, her food is not so much Nuevo Latino as Nuevo Pan American, creatively incorporating influences and ingredients from both hemispheres into North/South American fusion dishes, with an occasional pinch of Asia thrown in for fun. Carmen is actually two eateries in one, a formal restaurant and a casually elegant wine bar with a menu of "chef's favorite" light bites such as Florida lobster and avocado terrine, garnished with house-made key lime mayonnaise and crisp plantain fritters. In the formal dining space, grilled whole pompano with island mojito and yuca mofongo is a typical entrée. And everything everywhere, from the ketchup topping the bar's burger to the olive-pimento-roasted-garlic-cilantro compound butter that comes with the restaurant's bread, is made from scratch.

Miami's pizza wars continue to heat up, as more and more establishments heat up the wood ovens necessary to produce the fragrantly flavorful charred crusts that characterize authentic Italian pizza. Still the Lincoln Road area continues to be the explosion's epicenter, and its sidewalk tables on the unmatchable people-watching pathway give Spris the edge over worthy contenders such as Piola (around the corner on Alton Road), Tutto on Coral Way, and its own younger sibling Spris in the Gables. Admittedly the square Roman-style pies at Pizza Rustica, which recently opened a Lincoln Road branch, are a hard act to beat. But Spris's pizza crafters from The Source -- Naples -- just seem to get better; these days it usually isn't even necessary, as it once was, to ask for a well-done pie in order to get a thin-crusted beauty with perfect burn bubbles around the perimeter. All manner of exotica is available in terms of toppings (including no-sauce "white pizzas" and no-cheese seafood and vegan versions). But nothing's tastier than the basic Margherita with pungent tomato sauce, fresh basil, and more than just the dabs of mozzarella some terminally trendy places apply with an eyedropper. Substitute buffalo for the cow's milk mozzarella and add a sprinkling of fresh arugula for a truly transcendent treat.

Spris
Miami's pizza wars continue to heat up, as more and more establishments heat up the wood ovens necessary to produce the fragrantly flavorful charred crusts that characterize authentic Italian pizza. Still the Lincoln Road area continues to be the explosion's epicenter, and its sidewalk tables on the unmatchable people-watching pathway give Spris the edge over worthy contenders such as Piola (around the corner on Alton Road), Tutto on Coral Way, and its own younger sibling Spris in the Gables. Admittedly the square Roman-style pies at Pizza Rustica, which recently opened a Lincoln Road branch, are a hard act to beat. But Spris's pizza crafters from The Source -- Naples -- just seem to get better; these days it usually isn't even necessary, as it once was, to ask for a well-done pie in order to get a thin-crusted beauty with perfect burn bubbles around the perimeter. All manner of exotica is available in terms of toppings (including no-sauce "white pizzas" and no-cheese seafood and vegan versions). But nothing's tastier than the basic Margherita with pungent tomato sauce, fresh basil, and more than just the dabs of mozzarella some terminally trendy places apply with an eyedropper. Substitute buffalo for the cow's milk mozzarella and add a sprinkling of fresh arugula for a truly transcendent treat.

The food at Jumbo's certainly qualifies as soul food but will read, and eat, as simply Southern to anyone who has spent time in Georgia or the Carolinas. The iced tea is sweet, and the greens -- collard, mustard, kale, or turnip -- are salty with bobbing bits of fatback. Other sides, such as black-eyed peas, bring good luck as well as memories of holiday feasts. As is the case with many old-timey diners, the smell of batter and grease is deeply ingrained in all porous surfaces, and will remain with you as a reminder of your hearty meal until you next wash your hair. In Jumbo's case, the ageless odor is understandable -- the Liberty City restaurant has been in constant operation for more than 40 years. Open late, open early, and located just a short jaunt from I-95, Jumbo's survives on more than sentiment. The crackling fried chicken, generous shrimp platters, and groaning, comforting plates full of biscuits, gravy, corn, peas, and beans are beloved by many psyches. For that kind of well-being, you can forget fat and carb grams for a while.

The food at Jumbo's certainly qualifies as soul food but will read, and eat, as simply Southern to anyone who has spent time in Georgia or the Carolinas. The iced tea is sweet, and the greens -- collard, mustard, kale, or turnip -- are salty with bobbing bits of fatback. Other sides, such as black-eyed peas, bring good luck as well as memories of holiday feasts. As is the case with many old-timey diners, the smell of batter and grease is deeply ingrained in all porous surfaces, and will remain with you as a reminder of your hearty meal until you next wash your hair. In Jumbo's case, the ageless odor is understandable -- the Liberty City restaurant has been in constant operation for more than 40 years. Open late, open early, and located just a short jaunt from I-95, Jumbo's survives on more than sentiment. The crackling fried chicken, generous shrimp platters, and groaning, comforting plates full of biscuits, gravy, corn, peas, and beans are beloved by many psyches. For that kind of well-being, you can forget fat and carb grams for a while.

When you think in purist terms about top Japanese eateries, the impeccably classic cuisine at Matsuri (in the Redbird Mall) comes to mind; so does the home cooking at Hiro San in North Miami Beach. But aesthetics play a major role in the Japanese dining experience, and on that score nothing tops Nobu. Located in the glamorous Shore Club, everything about the restaurant is an aesthetic pleasure, from overall décor to small touches at each table. Which is not to say that Nobu Matsuhisa's famed specialties don't measure up. They do, even acknowledging that they are highly personal, Peruvian-influenced takes on Japanese cuisine. Burstingly juicy arctic char with crispy spinach will make you swoon. Two tempuras, of sea urchin and rock shrimp (the former accompanied by tangy yuzu dip, the latter by a spicy cream sauce), are as tasty as they are unusual. And while knockoffs of Nobu's succulent, signature black cod with miso can now be found everywhere, Matsuhisa did it first and still does it best.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®