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 PLACE TO DINE ALONE The café at Books & Books in Coral Gables 265 Aragon Avenue

Coral Gables

305-448-9599

www.booksandbooks.com You're not really alone when you're with a good book. At least that's what you can tell yourself when you're seated, alone, with a good book plucked from the shelves surrounding you at the Books & Books café. Honestly, words can provide incomparable companionship, and there are millions and millions of words available here to serve as erudite escorts for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The indoor portion of the café is located in a passageway between the two main retail rooms, a series of booths facing the cookbook section and a charming courtyard -- the preferred seating on most occasions (as well as one of the nicest spots for an informal Sunday brunch). The menu is a medley of sprightly soups, salads, sandwiches, and specials. The baked goods and steamy cappuccinos are especially apt for a sweet afternoon rendezvous with Rabelais. Maybe you'll meet someone else dining alone, with a good book, and you'll fall in love and live happily ever after. Or is that the book you're reading?

Readers´ Choice: Home

BEST PLACE TO DINE ALONE The café at Books & Books in Coral Gables 265 Aragon Avenue

Coral Gables

305-448-9599

www.booksandbooks.com You're not really alone when you're with a good book. At least that's what you can tell yourself when you're seated, alone, with a good book plucked from the shelves surrounding you at the Books & Books café. Honestly, words can provide incomparable companionship, and there are millions and millions of words available here to serve as erudite escorts for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The indoor portion of the café is located in a passageway between the two main retail rooms, a series of booths facing the cookbook section and a charming courtyard -- the preferred seating on most occasions (as well as one of the nicest spots for an informal Sunday brunch). The menu is a medley of sprightly soups, salads, sandwiches, and specials. The baked goods and steamy cappuccinos are especially apt for a sweet afternoon rendezvous with Rabelais. Maybe you'll meet someone else dining alone, with a good book, and you'll fall in love and live happily ever after. Or is that the book you're reading?

Readers´ Choice: Home

BEST EARLY-BIRD SPECIAL Crystal Café 726 Arthur Godfrey Road (41st Street)

Miami Beach

305-673-8266 When Sal Dicembrino took over Crystal Café from Klime Kovaceski this past year, he didn't do a whole lot of tinkering with the restaurant's successful formula. In fact the décor, menu, recipes, kitchen crew, and waitstaff have hardly changed a whit. That's good news for Crystal's long-time loyal clientele, who regularly pack the house for generous portions of contemporary Continental cuisine. Sal kept Klime's early-dinner special as well, which allows patrons who dine any night of the week (closed Mondays) between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m. to add a complimentary soup or salad, coffee, and dessert to their main course. So signature osso bucco, book-ended by house salad and warm chocolate bombe, goes for the osso-only price of $26.95. Crystal's incomparably crisp duck à l'orange with a cup of the day's soup and luscious strawberry shortcake becomes a full and filling dinner for $22.95. For the more common early-dinner price of $16.95 you can add the accompanying courses to pasta dishes, roast chicken, or sautéed calf's liver with applesauce, bacon, and grilled onions. But the high-end cuisine, extensive wine list, elegant design, and professional service isn't meant for those birds who chirp "cheap cheap cheap." It's for those who are looking to catch a deal.

BEST EARLY-BIRD SPECIAL Crystal Café 726 Arthur Godfrey Road (41st Street)

Miami Beach

305-673-8266 When Sal Dicembrino took over Crystal Café from Klime Kovaceski this past year, he didn't do a whole lot of tinkering with the restaurant's successful formula. In fact the décor, menu, recipes, kitchen crew, and waitstaff have hardly changed a whit. That's good news for Crystal's long-time loyal clientele, who regularly pack the house for generous portions of contemporary Continental cuisine. Sal kept Klime's early-dinner special as well, which allows patrons who dine any night of the week (closed Mondays) between 5:00 and 6:30 p.m. to add a complimentary soup or salad, coffee, and dessert to their main course. So signature osso bucco, book-ended by house salad and warm chocolate bombe, goes for the osso-only price of $26.95. Crystal's incomparably crisp duck à l'orange with a cup of the day's soup and luscious strawberry shortcake becomes a full and filling dinner for $22.95. For the more common early-dinner price of $16.95 you can add the accompanying courses to pasta dishes, roast chicken, or sautéed calf's liver with applesauce, bacon, and grilled onions. But the high-end cuisine, extensive wine list, elegant design, and professional service isn't meant for those birds who chirp "cheap cheap cheap." It's for those who are looking to catch a deal.

Tasti D-Lite
BEST FROZEN YOGURT Tasti D-Lite Various locations in Miami-Dade County

www.tastidlite.com Calling it a culinary revolution may be a bit much, but for the Beach's waist-conscious, the arrival of the NYC-based Tasti D-Lite chain was earth-moving. Virtually fat-free yet creamier than any other yogurt on the market, it almost seems too, ahem, tasty and delightful to be truly low in calories. Indeed, one vintage episode of Seinfeld even revolved around that very fear, with the action centering on a thinly veiled stand-in for Tasti D-Lite and a pint of the suspect confection being surreptitiously spirited to a lab for fat testing. No doubt cynical locals are contemplating much the same trial for Tasti D-Lite's divine French Vanilla. In the meantime, mmmmm.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®