BEST COLOMBIAN EMPANADAS Mi Colombia 702 71st Street

Miami Beach

305-867-1013 In contrast to the snacky little Argentine and Cuban empanadas one tends to find around town, the Colombian variety is more of a meat-and-potatoes, meal-in-itself phenomenon. Loosely translated, empanada means "breaded thing," and in much of Latin America that something (chicken? beef? pork? cheese?) is stuffed inside a wheat-flour crust. But empanada chefs from the land of Bolivar use cornmeal, the result of which is a crunchier, more robust, and less processed Latin American turnover experience. Some Colombian restaurants in the county sell mass-produced empanadas, but Mi Colombia's cooks create their own, with a beef-and-potatoes recipe. You can grab a stool at the counter, which is really the only place to sit, pull over a big bowl of cilantro-chocked salsa, and dig in from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week. At $1.20 (plus tax) per empanada, the big chalupa in your party may be tempted to order two, but be a wise enchilada and tell him to start with one.

BEST COLOMBIAN EMPANADAS Mi Colombia 702 71st Street

Miami Beach

305-867-1013 In contrast to the snacky little Argentine and Cuban empanadas one tends to find around town, the Colombian variety is more of a meat-and-potatoes, meal-in-itself phenomenon. Loosely translated, empanada means "breaded thing," and in much of Latin America that something (chicken? beef? pork? cheese?) is stuffed inside a wheat-flour crust. But empanada chefs from the land of Bolivar use cornmeal, the result of which is a crunchier, more robust, and less processed Latin American turnover experience. Some Colombian restaurants in the county sell mass-produced empanadas, but Mi Colombia's cooks create their own, with a beef-and-potatoes recipe. You can grab a stool at the counter, which is really the only place to sit, pull over a big bowl of cilantro-chocked salsa, and dig in from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week. At $1.20 (plus tax) per empanada, the big chalupa in your party may be tempted to order two, but be a wise enchilada and tell him to start with one.

BEST OUTDOOR DINING Blue Door Delano Hotel

1685 Collins Avenue

Miami Beach

305-674-6400

www.chinagrillmgt.com Most diners hardly notice that the back wall of the Blue Door's outdoor veranda is covered end to end with a collection of wooden tribal masks. How can you not notice such a thing? Easy. Everyone is busy looking outward at the meticulously appointed and eclectically designed garden with quaint tea tables, swinging hammock, Phillippe Starck life-size chessboard, and beyond that, the cool pool. The scene looks so lush and tranquil as to resemble the village in The Prisoner television show, except the people here have more money and appear to be a lot happier. And that's what makes this place so great: premium people-watching, meaning not just the occasional J.Lo or P. Diddy sighting, but all sorts of movers, shakers, and deep-pocketed tourists. Oh, and the food -- the French-tropical menu, composed by Claude Troisgros and orchestrated by chef Stephane Becht, is brashly innovative and smoothly refined, a perfect pairing for the panorama of hip South Beach grandeur.

BEST OUTDOOR DINING Blue Door Delano Hotel

1685 Collins Avenue

Miami Beach

305-674-6400

www.chinagrillmgt.com Most diners hardly notice that the back wall of the Blue Door's outdoor veranda is covered end to end with a collection of wooden tribal masks. How can you not notice such a thing? Easy. Everyone is busy looking outward at the meticulously appointed and eclectically designed garden with quaint tea tables, swinging hammock, Phillippe Starck life-size chessboard, and beyond that, the cool pool. The scene looks so lush and tranquil as to resemble the village in The Prisoner television show, except the people here have more money and appear to be a lot happier. And that's what makes this place so great: premium people-watching, meaning not just the occasional J.Lo or P. Diddy sighting, but all sorts of movers, shakers, and deep-pocketed tourists. Oh, and the food -- the French-tropical menu, composed by Claude Troisgros and orchestrated by chef Stephane Becht, is brashly innovative and smoothly refined, a perfect pairing for the panorama of hip South Beach grandeur.

Churchill's Pub
Alexander Oliva
BEST CURRY AT A PUB Churchill's Pub 5501 NE Second Avenue

Miami

305-757-1807

www.churchillspub.com It may be hard to believe, but one Wednesday evening recently we blindfolded Paris (Hilton) and Nicole (Ritchie), drove them to the other side of the tracks to this often gloomy, always gritty pub in Little Haiti, and they said, "This is definitely hot." That's because Wednesday nights are when chef Natasha Hunte concocts a variety of mind-blowing curries from recipes that pub manager Mike Toms has collected over the years. Toms is a curry freak who started experimenting with the stuff years ago near his native Yorkshire, England, while slumming in Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi restaurants in Bradford. His offering to Little Haiti slummers is a buffet table of "mucky curries" -- beef, lamb, chicken, and vegetable varieties (plus jasmine rice). Cost: five dollars per plate or ten dollars for all you can eat. Paris did not stay long after nibbling, because her eponymous new fragrance was being overtaken by the aroma Churchill's puts out. It's called beer.

BEST CURRY AT A PUB Churchill's Pub 5501 NE Second Avenue

Miami

305-757-1807

www.churchillspub.com It may be hard to believe, but one Wednesday evening recently we blindfolded Paris (Hilton) and Nicole (Ritchie), drove them to the other side of the tracks to this often gloomy, always gritty pub in Little Haiti, and they said, "This is definitely hot." That's because Wednesday nights are when chef Natasha Hunte concocts a variety of mind-blowing curries from recipes that pub manager Mike Toms has collected over the years. Toms is a curry freak who started experimenting with the stuff years ago near his native Yorkshire, England, while slumming in Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi restaurants in Bradford. His offering to Little Haiti slummers is a buffet table of "mucky curries" -- beef, lamb, chicken, and vegetable varieties (plus jasmine rice). Cost: five dollars per plate or ten dollars for all you can eat. Paris did not stay long after nibbling, because her eponymous new fragrance was being overtaken by the aroma Churchill's puts out. It's called beer.

El Toro Taco
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT El Toro Taco 1 S. Krome Avenue

Homestead

305-245-8182 People head toward South Miami-Dade County for all sorts of reasons -- some for a short visit on their way to the Keys, some to enjoy a day at Biscayne National Park or the produce-rich farm country, some to spend time in a detention center. We take the drive for the glory of authentic Mexican cooking, which is accessible in various restaurants and take-out joints that cluster along, or a short distance from, Krome Avenue. Our favorite is El Toro Taco, where the tortilla chips are crisp, the salsa hot, the beer cold -- or as cold as you can store it in your cooler, because it's a BYOB policy here. The jammed-to-capacity crowds who congregate on weekends gladly tote their own Coronas and gleefully partake of warm corn tortillas filled with grilled steak, cilantro, and onions (tacos de bistec). Or sumptuous chicken leg and thigh smothered in smooth mole sauce with sharp whispers of sleek, bittersweet chocolate (mole de pollo). Or burritos that burst with shredded chicken or beef (or bulging barbacoa beef tamales or flame-seared fajitas). Over the decades, the Hernandez family has turned its humble establishment into a Homestead institution the old-fashioned way -- by making everything, refried beans to the tastiest of tortillas, from scratch. Be forewarned: You might be subjected to a mariachi serenade.

Readers´ Choice: El Rancho Grande Restaurant

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT El Toro Taco 1 S. Krome Avenue

Homestead

305-245-8182 People head toward South Miami-Dade County for all sorts of reasons -- some for a short visit on their way to the Keys, some to enjoy a day at Biscayne National Park or the produce-rich farm country, some to spend time in a detention center. We take the drive for the glory of authentic Mexican cooking, which is accessible in various restaurants and take-out joints that cluster along, or a short distance from, Krome Avenue. Our favorite is El Toro Taco, where the tortilla chips are crisp, the salsa hot, the beer cold -- or as cold as you can store it in your cooler, because it's a BYOB policy here. The jammed-to-capacity crowds who congregate on weekends gladly tote their own Coronas and gleefully partake of warm corn tortillas filled with grilled steak, cilantro, and onions (tacos de bistec). Or sumptuous chicken leg and thigh smothered in smooth mole sauce with sharp whispers of sleek, bittersweet chocolate (mole de pollo). Or burritos that burst with shredded chicken or beef (or bulging barbacoa beef tamales or flame-seared fajitas). Over the decades, the Hernandez family has turned its humble establishment into a Homestead institution the old-fashioned way -- by making everything, refried beans to the tastiest of tortillas, from scratch. Be forewarned: You might be subjected to a mariachi serenade.

Readers´ Choice: El Rancho Grande Restaurant

BEST FRIED CHICKEN Restaurant MWoods 12953 Biscayne Boulevard

North Miami

305-895-9962

www.mwoods.com Italy has its pollo fritto, Vietnam has its gá xaó, and Austrians cook up a mean wiener backbendl -- Southerners were not the first people to fry chicken, they just do it better than anyone else. There really aren't many authentic Southerners behind Miami's restaurant stoves, but luckily you need only one to turn out a great fried chicken, and we've got Marvin Woods. Mr. Woods, whom locals remember fondly from stints at his restaurant Savannah and the National Hotel, specializes in Low Country cuisine from the coastal plain between Charleston and Savannah. At his casually chic Restaurant MWoods, Marvin conjures a "crispy flash-fried yard bird" that exhibits the two simple characteristics one seeks but rarely receives in Southern fried chicken: greaseless, golden brown, crackling crust on the outside and moist, steamy meat within. The flavor is uncharacteristically delicious, owing to a 36-hour marinade in buttermilk, celery seeds, paprika, nutmeg, chili, and cayenne. In place of predictable corn-on-the-cob and coleslaw, Woods's birds soar with stone-ground grits and "circuit hash," an old-time bastardization of "succotash," this buttery version mixing corn, mamey, red peppers, rosemary, and thyme. The $21 price is more than you'll spend at a greasy spoon or fast-food franchise, but the real deal always costs more than the pretenders.

BEST FRIED CHICKEN Restaurant MWoods 12953 Biscayne Boulevard

North Miami

305-895-9962

www.mwoods.com Italy has its pollo fritto, Vietnam has its gá xaó, and Austrians cook up a mean wiener backbendl -- Southerners were not the first people to fry chicken, they just do it better than anyone else. There really aren't many authentic Southerners behind Miami's restaurant stoves, but luckily you need only one to turn out a great fried chicken, and we've got Marvin Woods. Mr. Woods, whom locals remember fondly from stints at his restaurant Savannah and the National Hotel, specializes in Low Country cuisine from the coastal plain between Charleston and Savannah. At his casually chic Restaurant MWoods, Marvin conjures a "crispy flash-fried yard bird" that exhibits the two simple characteristics one seeks but rarely receives in Southern fried chicken: greaseless, golden brown, crackling crust on the outside and moist, steamy meat within. The flavor is uncharacteristically delicious, owing to a 36-hour marinade in buttermilk, celery seeds, paprika, nutmeg, chili, and cayenne. In place of predictable corn-on-the-cob and coleslaw, Woods's birds soar with stone-ground grits and "circuit hash," an old-time bastardization of "succotash," this buttery version mixing corn, mamey, red peppers, rosemary, and thyme. The $21 price is more than you'll spend at a greasy spoon or fast-food franchise, but the real deal always costs more than the pretenders.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®