BEST CARRY-OUT CHINESE Bamboo Garden II 13195 Biscayne Boulevard

North Miami

305-899-9902 Chinese take-out joints are like auto mechanics. It's one of the first things you look for when you move to a new town; you have to try a lot of duds before you find a good one; and once you find one you can trust, you're loyal for life. The residents of North Miami who have lived in the neighborhood long enough to be in the know make their Friday night Chinese take-out runs at Bamboo Garden II. On any weekend night, the tables may be sparsely occupied -- as with most Chinese restaurants, the décor is simple -- but the phones are ringing off the hook and there's a bench full of waiting patrons eager for brown paper bags full of steaming-hot food hustled out from the kitchen. What sets Bamboo Garden II apart from the countless other (mediocre) restaurants of its kind is the freshness of the ingredients. Whether it's pan-fried dumplings or vegetable rolls you seek; moo goo gai pan or beef chow fun you love; or moo shoo pork or any of a number of black-bean-and-pepper-sauce creations you choose (the latter highly recommended), the ingredients are fresh. The vegetables are crunchy, never overcooked; the meat is tender, not gristly; and the food is as light and nongreasy as Chinese take-out could ever possibly be.

BEST DOWNTOWN RESTAURANT Bali Café 111 NE Second Avenue

Miami

305-358-5751 Before we know it, Biscayne Boulevard will cut a palm-tree-lined swath through a downtown canyon of tall, shiny buildings and chic outdoor cafés. At the moment, however, this area boasts more cranes than creditable lunch spots. Bali Café, with its fresh, beautiful, steamy-hot Indonesian cuisine, is an oasis seemingly far from the world of jackhammers. The 30-seat room resembles what one might imagine to be an informal eatery in Jakarta -- brass, carved wood, flashes of color, assorted trinkets here and about. The food outshines all, though. Presentations look as if they belong on the cover of an Indonesian gourmet food publication, and the flavors burst with sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes -- often all on the same plate. Favorites such as satays, gado gado (with tofu, egg, and vegetables in peanut sauce), and nasi goreng (fried rice with spicy coconut-imbued chicken and beef) are consistently prepared with aplomb. But don't miss the dumplings, scrumptiously plumped with chicken in piquant peanut-and-sweet-soy sauce; or lontong cap go meh, an intoxicating blend of chicken and beef with steamed chayote and coconut broth. Desserts look like frappes assembled by Courtney Love, and prices are even cheaper than the image that conjures.

BEST DOWNTOWN RESTAURANT Bali Café 111 NE Second Avenue

Miami

305-358-5751 Before we know it, Biscayne Boulevard will cut a palm-tree-lined swath through a downtown canyon of tall, shiny buildings and chic outdoor cafés. At the moment, however, this area boasts more cranes than creditable lunch spots. Bali Café, with its fresh, beautiful, steamy-hot Indonesian cuisine, is an oasis seemingly far from the world of jackhammers. The 30-seat room resembles what one might imagine to be an informal eatery in Jakarta -- brass, carved wood, flashes of color, assorted trinkets here and about. The food outshines all, though. Presentations look as if they belong on the cover of an Indonesian gourmet food publication, and the flavors burst with sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes -- often all on the same plate. Favorites such as satays, gado gado (with tofu, egg, and vegetables in peanut sauce), and nasi goreng (fried rice with spicy coconut-imbued chicken and beef) are consistently prepared with aplomb. But don't miss the dumplings, scrumptiously plumped with chicken in piquant peanut-and-sweet-soy sauce; or lontong cap go meh, an intoxicating blend of chicken and beef with steamed chayote and coconut broth. Desserts look like frappes assembled by Courtney Love, and prices are even cheaper than the image that conjures.

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN YOU'RE PAYING

Pilar

Pilar
BEST RESTAURANT WHEN YOU'RE PAYING Pilar Promenade Shops

20475 Biscayne Boulevard

Aventura

305-937-2777

www.pilarrestaurant.com A feel-good farewell. Sentiment or too many drinks has caused words to pour off the tongue like vodka from a bottle. Before you realize it, you've extended a generous dinner invitation to business associates, or distant cousins, or your wife's Pilates classmates. Later, in a more rational moment, you look over menus from the more respectable restaurants in town, tally the potential costs, and realize you really didn't want to vacation in Aruba this year anyway. Here's the solution: Take them to Pilar, where the cuisine, service, and ambiance are on par with dining establishments that charge far more. The 82-seat Aventura restaurant, which opened in July 2003, is named after Ernest Hemingway's fishing boat. To suggest chef/owner Scott Fredel has a way with fish is like saying Hemingway wasn't too bad with words, and prices are so reasonable the writer could've afforded to eat here before he ever sold a manuscript. House salad with lemon vinaigrette is four dollars. A starter of boniato gnocchetti in creamy walnut pesto is eight dollars; a pasta entrée of homemade pappardelle with fresh tomato, roasted garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese goes for just one buck more. Entrées are kept below twenty, and that includes upscale pairings like yellowtail snapper with plump potato-leek croquette and warm tomato-herb vinaigrette; slow-roasted salmon with grainy mustard sauce and truffled red potato salad; and a succulent flatiron steak with mashed potatoes and truffle-roasted broccoli and shallots. Prices on the largely West Coast wine list are kept in line as well, and Pilar has recently reeled in a full liquor license. When you're fishing for a caviar dining experience on a fish-egg budget, Pilar should be the first place that comes to mind -- and it's invaluable as fail-safe insurance for those times you speak without thinking at all.

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN YOU'RE PAYING

Pilar

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN YOU'RE PAYING Pilar Promenade Shops

20475 Biscayne Boulevard

Aventura

305-937-2777

www.pilarrestaurant.com A feel-good farewell. Sentiment or too many drinks has caused words to pour off the tongue like vodka from a bottle. Before you realize it, you've extended a generous dinner invitation to business associates, or distant cousins, or your wife's Pilates classmates. Later, in a more rational moment, you look over menus from the more respectable restaurants in town, tally the potential costs, and realize you really didn't want to vacation in Aruba this year anyway. Here's the solution: Take them to Pilar, where the cuisine, service, and ambiance are on par with dining establishments that charge far more. The 82-seat Aventura restaurant, which opened in July 2003, is named after Ernest Hemingway's fishing boat. To suggest chef/owner Scott Fredel has a way with fish is like saying Hemingway wasn't too bad with words, and prices are so reasonable the writer could've afforded to eat here before he ever sold a manuscript. House salad with lemon vinaigrette is four dollars. A starter of boniato gnocchetti in creamy walnut pesto is eight dollars; a pasta entrée of homemade pappardelle with fresh tomato, roasted garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese goes for just one buck more. Entrées are kept below twenty, and that includes upscale pairings like yellowtail snapper with plump potato-leek croquette and warm tomato-herb vinaigrette; slow-roasted salmon with grainy mustard sauce and truffled red potato salad; and a succulent flatiron steak with mashed potatoes and truffle-roasted broccoli and shallots. Prices on the largely West Coast wine list are kept in line as well, and Pilar has recently reeled in a full liquor license. When you're fishing for a caviar dining experience on a fish-egg budget, Pilar should be the first place that comes to mind -- and it's invaluable as fail-safe insurance for those times you speak without thinking at all.

Latin American Cafeteria
BEST SMOOTHIE Latin America Cafeteria Various locations in Miami-Dade County What's not to like about a smoothie? For one thing the word itself, which to pronounce in public is almost as embarrassing as admitting to being a "foodie" or "Trekkie." Then there's the tendency of smoothie joints (do you really want to be seen entering a "smoothie joint"?) to throw incongruous ingredients together into the blender: Peanut butter, tofu, and spinach may be healthful, but they don't make for a particularly attractive beverage. Anyway, now you know what's not to like about a smoothie. What there is to like about it is that it can be refreshing, salubrious, and, on a hot afternoon, heavenly. At Latin America Cafeteria the shakes are called by their older, Cuban name, batidos -- an improvement right off the bat. Try the frothy foursome of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and mamey; it's so deliriously delicious you'll end up ordering it over and over again.

BEST SMOOTHIE Latin America Cafeteria Various locations in Miami-Dade County What's not to like about a smoothie? For one thing the word itself, which to pronounce in public is almost as embarrassing as admitting to being a "foodie" or "Trekkie." Then there's the tendency of smoothie joints (do you really want to be seen entering a "smoothie joint"?) to throw incongruous ingredients together into the blender: Peanut butter, tofu, and spinach may be healthful, but they don't make for a particularly attractive beverage. Anyway, now you know what's not to like about a smoothie. What there is to like about it is that it can be refreshing, salubrious, and, on a hot afternoon, heavenly. At Latin America Cafeteria the shakes are called by their older, Cuban name, batidos -- an improvement right off the bat. Try the frothy foursome of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and mamey; it's so deliriously delicious you'll end up ordering it over and over again.

Casa Lario's
BEST CUBAN RESTAURANT Casa Larios 7705 W. Flagler Street

Miami

305-266-5494

and

5859 SW 73rd Street

South Miami

305-662-5656 While its claim to celebrity fame may be that the Estefans used to frequent the place (and it's where Gloria's career was launched), the real draw at Casa Larios is the close-to-homemade Cuban staples that bring in everybody else. The classic dishes are actually better than many an abuelita's home cooking. (But don't tell her that!) The restaurant also boasts comfortable and attractive surroundings to chow down on the ample servings of fried pork, roast chicken, black beans and rice, and plantains.

Readers´ Choice: Versailles

BEST CUBAN RESTAURANT Casa Larios 7705 W. Flagler Street

Miami

305-266-5494

and

5859 SW 73rd Street

South Miami

305-662-5656 While its claim to celebrity fame may be that the Estefans used to frequent the place (and it's where Gloria's career was launched), the real draw at Casa Larios is the close-to-homemade Cuban staples that bring in everybody else. The classic dishes are actually better than many an abuelita's home cooking. (But don't tell her that!) The restaurant also boasts comfortable and attractive surroundings to chow down on the ample servings of fried pork, roast chicken, black beans and rice, and plantains.

Readers´ Choice: Versailles

Knaus Berry Farm
Photo by Laine Doss
BEST KEY LIME PIE Knaus Berry Farm 15980 SW 248th Street

Homestead

305-247-0668 Key lime pie inevitably involves a graham cracker crust, filling made of key lime juice and condensed milk, and topping of either whipped cream or meringue. So how can one be that much better than another? Cream cheese. That's right, the German Baptists at Homestead's half-century-old Knaus Berry Farm use cream cheese in their topping. The Baptists have long beards, but they are not Amish, as many think, nor are they ZZ Top, as some less-than-astute folks might believe. The key limes are fresh from the farm, the citrus custard not too sweet, the creamy-whipped cream cheese a distinctive icing on the cake. A small key lime pie that feeds five (perhaps fewer because most people demand seconds) costs $7.35, and that's really all you need to know, though we'd be remiss not to mention Knaus Berry Farm's freshly baked pecan rolls and legendary strawberry milkshakes. Don't run out for your key lime pie just yet, though: The stand is open only from mid-November through the last Saturday of April and is closed Sundays.

Readers´ Choice: Joe´s Stone Crab

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®