Pita Loca
BEST FALAFEL Pita Loca 601 Collins Avenue

Miami Beach

305-673-3388

www.pitaloca.8m.com Perhaps to no great surprise, Jews and Arabs argue about falafel. Palestinians charge that Israelis have stolen the fried chickpea fritter, a traditional Arab food, and passed it off as "Israel's National Snack." Jews claim that it's a biblical food, generically Middle Eastern. While we know for sure that falafel has been popular in Israel since at least 1958 -- when the hit song "And We Have Falafel" included the lyric: "It used to be when a Jew came to Israel he kissed the ground and gave thanks/Now as soon as he gets off the plane he has a falafel" -- the dish in fact originated in Egypt, by Arabs, and was first made with fava beans. Israel's most notable contribution to its evolution has been to cram novel accompaniments, like shredded beets or French fries, into the pita bread. Which brings us to Pita Loca in South Beach, an Israeli joint, where the falafels are filled with warm spice and crunch, and the salad bar becomes a smorgasbord of eminently crammable comestibles. It's $5.50 for a regular sandwich, but pay the extra buck and get it on the larger, fluffier lafa bread. After the requisite splash of nutty tahini sauce, point to the items in the salad bar you want stuffed into your sandwich and a nice man behind the counter will oblige -- pickles, coleslaw, tabouleh, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, hot peppers. Keep pointing until the man starts looking a little less nice, which means you're pushing it. Thank you, Arabs, for the falafel; thank you, Jews, for the accompaniments. And they think the pita is loca?

BEST FALAFEL Pita Loca 601 Collins Avenue

Miami Beach

305-673-3388

www.pitaloca.8m.com Perhaps to no great surprise, Jews and Arabs argue about falafel. Palestinians charge that Israelis have stolen the fried chickpea fritter, a traditional Arab food, and passed it off as "Israel's National Snack." Jews claim that it's a biblical food, generically Middle Eastern. While we know for sure that falafel has been popular in Israel since at least 1958 -- when the hit song "And We Have Falafel" included the lyric: "It used to be when a Jew came to Israel he kissed the ground and gave thanks/Now as soon as he gets off the plane he has a falafel" -- the dish in fact originated in Egypt, by Arabs, and was first made with fava beans. Israel's most notable contribution to its evolution has been to cram novel accompaniments, like shredded beets or French fries, into the pita bread. Which brings us to Pita Loca in South Beach, an Israeli joint, where the falafels are filled with warm spice and crunch, and the salad bar becomes a smorgasbord of eminently crammable comestibles. It's $5.50 for a regular sandwich, but pay the extra buck and get it on the larger, fluffier lafa bread. After the requisite splash of nutty tahini sauce, point to the items in the salad bar you want stuffed into your sandwich and a nice man behind the counter will oblige -- pickles, coleslaw, tabouleh, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, hot peppers. Keep pointing until the man starts looking a little less nice, which means you're pushing it. Thank you, Arabs, for the falafel; thank you, Jews, for the accompaniments. And they think the pita is loca?

BEST RESTAURANT DéCOR China Grill 404 Washington Avenue

Miami Beach

305-534-2211

www.chinagrillmgt.com There is certainly no shortage of stunning restaurants these days, but you always remember your first. For Miami diners that would be China Grill, which, when it burst upon the South Beach scene in 1996, instantly became the blueprint for grand contemporary dining rooms in the region. When you enter the Jeffrey Beers-designed, 390-seat space, an audio-assault of clatter, chatter, and buzz might momentarily distract your visual senses, but soon enough your eyes will take in the onyx glass and Egyptian limestone surfaces, the towering cherry-wood columns, and a kinetic cocktail scene at the center bar, which wraps around a hectic open kitchen. You probably won't even notice that the floor tiles pay homage to Marco Polo. Subtly terraced seating levels provide clear sight lines to the action, and hanging sheepskin-shaded lamps cast a muted golden glow upon it all. China Grill's décor exudes elegance and class yet at the same time is quintessential South Beach. That's not easy to pull off.

China Grill
BEST RESTAURANT DéCOR China Grill 404 Washington Avenue

Miami Beach

305-534-2211

www.chinagrillmgt.com There is certainly no shortage of stunning restaurants these days, but you always remember your first. For Miami diners that would be China Grill, which, when it burst upon the South Beach scene in 1996, instantly became the blueprint for grand contemporary dining rooms in the region. When you enter the Jeffrey Beers-designed, 390-seat space, an audio-assault of clatter, chatter, and buzz might momentarily distract your visual senses, but soon enough your eyes will take in the onyx glass and Egyptian limestone surfaces, the towering cherry-wood columns, and a kinetic cocktail scene at the center bar, which wraps around a hectic open kitchen. You probably won't even notice that the floor tiles pay homage to Marco Polo. Subtly terraced seating levels provide clear sight lines to the action, and hanging sheepskin-shaded lamps cast a muted golden glow upon it all. China Grill's décor exudes elegance and class yet at the same time is quintessential South Beach. That's not easy to pull off.

Joe's Stone Crab
Photo courtesy of Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant
BEST BREAD Joe's Stone Crab 11 Washington Avenue

Miami Beach

305-673-0365

www.joesstonecrab.com Miami has precious few bakeries, with most bread connoisseurs forced to loiter around the supermarkets or sample the occasional roll or two at a local restaurant. If it's the latter course you choose, may we suggest the rolls at Joe's Stone Crab? The waiters will bring you a basket of four breads shipped in from a local bakery -- pumpernickel, pumpernickel onion, egg, and salt. The assortment reflects a range of flavors, from the sharp bitterness of the onion and salt sticks to the fluffy, sweet taste of the egg rolls. They will properly prepare you for the platter of crab legs to come.

Readers´ Choice: La Baguette French Bakery

BEST BREAD Joe's Stone Crab 11 Washington Avenue

Miami Beach

305-673-0365

www.joesstonecrab.com Miami has precious few bakeries, with most bread connoisseurs forced to loiter around the supermarkets or sample the occasional roll or two at a local restaurant. If it's the latter course you choose, may we suggest the rolls at Joe's Stone Crab? The waiters will bring you a basket of four breads shipped in from a local bakery -- pumpernickel, pumpernickel onion, egg, and salt. The assortment reflects a range of flavors, from the sharp bitterness of the onion and salt sticks to the fluffy, sweet taste of the egg rolls. They will properly prepare you for the platter of crab legs to come.

Readers´ Choice: La Baguette French Bakery

BEST RESTAURANT IN CORAL GABLES Pascal's on Ponce 2611 Ponce de Leon Boulevard

Coral Gables

305-444-2024

www.pascalmiami.com If the Red Sox can beat the Yankees, isn't it time Pascal's on Ponce breaks the ten-year reign of Norman's as our anointed best restaurant in the Gables? Yes, you're right, that isn't a very good reason to crown Pascal Oudin's establishment. How about this: As Mr. Van Aken has been spreading his empire wider, he's been spreading himself thinner, and while his flagship establishment still thrills with gastronomic high-wire acts, Pascal's brings a more personal, down-to-earth perfection to the table (especially because the chef/owner is always in the house, as is his wife Ann-Louise, who manages the front with charm and aplomb). Mr. Oudin opened this small, intimate eatery in 2000, after having honed his flair for fine French cooking at the Grand Bay Café. You won't be wowed by any architectural achievements on your dinner plate, but the updated, understated country French cuisine is, in these parts, without peer. Don't take our word as gospel? The Muscovy duck terrine, served over mesclun with apple gelée and fig compote, will book you as a believer upon first bite. So will a simple salad of organic greens, pink grapefruit fillets, and an herb-perfumed sherry vinaigrette. Main courses such as Atlantic salmon baked "en croute" with lobster, shiitake mushrooms, and lemon confit; a medallion of veal loin with porcini ravioli; and a classic pan-roasted grouper meunire will make you regret not having visited Pascal's sooner. The food sounds and looks simple, but the dishes are labor-intensive in an invisible, classic French manner -- Lord knows how long it must have taken to make that Muscovy terrine. Distinctive vintners dot the exceptional wine list, and a full-service bar has been added. A smartly selected cheese plate, and desserts like pistachio crme brùlée, tarte Tatin with vanilla bean ice cream, and the sensational signature bittersweet chocolate soufflé will likely have you second-guessing us for not having bestowed this honor upon Mr. Oudin's restaurant years ago.

Readers´ Choice: Houston´s

BEST RESTAURANT IN CORAL GABLES Pascal's on Ponce 2611 Ponce de Leon Boulevard

Coral Gables

305-444-2024

www.pascalmiami.com If the Red Sox can beat the Yankees, isn't it time Pascal's on Ponce breaks the ten-year reign of Norman's as our anointed best restaurant in the Gables? Yes, you're right, that isn't a very good reason to crown Pascal Oudin's establishment. How about this: As Mr. Van Aken has been spreading his empire wider, he's been spreading himself thinner, and while his flagship establishment still thrills with gastronomic high-wire acts, Pascal's brings a more personal, down-to-earth perfection to the table (especially because the chef/owner is always in the house, as is his wife Ann-Louise, who manages the front with charm and aplomb). Mr. Oudin opened this small, intimate eatery in 2000, after having honed his flair for fine French cooking at the Grand Bay Café. You won't be wowed by any architectural achievements on your dinner plate, but the updated, understated country French cuisine is, in these parts, without peer. Don't take our word as gospel? The Muscovy duck terrine, served over mesclun with apple gelée and fig compote, will book you as a believer upon first bite. So will a simple salad of organic greens, pink grapefruit fillets, and an herb-perfumed sherry vinaigrette. Main courses such as Atlantic salmon baked "en croute" with lobster, shiitake mushrooms, and lemon confit; a medallion of veal loin with porcini ravioli; and a classic pan-roasted grouper meunire will make you regret not having visited Pascal's sooner. The food sounds and looks simple, but the dishes are labor-intensive in an invisible, classic French manner -- Lord knows how long it must have taken to make that Muscovy terrine. Distinctive vintners dot the exceptional wine list, and a full-service bar has been added. A smartly selected cheese plate, and desserts like pistachio crme brùlée, tarte Tatin with vanilla bean ice cream, and the sensational signature bittersweet chocolate soufflé will likely have you second-guessing us for not having bestowed this honor upon Mr. Oudin's restaurant years ago.

Readers´ Choice: Houston´s

Norman's
BEST BLACK BEAN SOUP Norman's 21 Almeria Avenue

Coral Gables

305-446-6767 If you've never ventured inside Norman Van Aken's signature restaurant in Coral Gables, the black bean soup alone is worth the sojourn into his exquisite location in the City Beautiful. This traditional Latin-American dish is a vision of oily, rich perfection with its foundation of bacon, bell peppers, garlic, red onions, and chilies. The spices alone can invigorate the dullest of immune systems. Van Aken perfected his recipe in the late Seventies, abandoning classic French recipes that consisted of a bland base of leeks, carrots, celery, and white onions. Norman's black bean soup is served as an appetizer but is hearty enough for a simple main course. At $12.50, the soup is one of the more moderately priced yet finest items on the restaurant's menu. Norman's is open Monday through Thursday 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays 6:00 to 10:30 p.m.

Readers´ Choice: Pollo Tropical

BEST BLACK BEAN SOUP Norman's 21 Almeria Avenue

Coral Gables

305-446-6767 If you've never ventured inside Norman Van Aken's signature restaurant in Coral Gables, the black bean soup alone is worth the sojourn into his exquisite location in the City Beautiful. This traditional Latin-American dish is a vision of oily, rich perfection with its foundation of bacon, bell peppers, garlic, red onions, and chilies. The spices alone can invigorate the dullest of immune systems. Van Aken perfected his recipe in the late Seventies, abandoning classic French recipes that consisted of a bland base of leeks, carrots, celery, and white onions. Norman's black bean soup is served as an appetizer but is hearty enough for a simple main course. At $12.50, the soup is one of the more moderately priced yet finest items on the restaurant's menu. Norman's is open Monday through Thursday 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays 6:00 to 10:30 p.m.

Readers´ Choice: Pollo Tropical

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®