BEST FLAN Lila's Westchester Restaurant 8518 Coral Way

West Miami-Dade

305-553-6061 There is a science to perfect flan: Look for holes in the texture. If flan is cooked at too high a heat, the mixture bubbles, leaving behind little holes with hardened edges. Flan with holes is not good flan. Lila's Restaurant in Westchester serves up a flan that is not only hole-free but also good enough to be sold in Publix, Winn-Dixie, and Sedano's grocery stores across Florida. The grocery-available Cuban custard, however, had its origins at Lila's Restaurant, where owner Reinaldo Navarro, Sr. served up his secret recipe. His son Reinaldo Navarro, Jr. and Navarro, Jr.'s wife Sara, were working at the restaurant at the time and eventually borrowed the recipe to open up their own dessert destination, Lila's Desserts, located in Kendall. Between Lila's Desserts, Lila's Restaurant, and the sweets section at your local supermarket, picking up the Navarros' famed caramel treat is as easy as, um, flan.

BEST FLAN Lila's Westchester Restaurant 8518 Coral Way

West Miami-Dade

305-553-6061 There is a science to perfect flan: Look for holes in the texture. If flan is cooked at too high a heat, the mixture bubbles, leaving behind little holes with hardened edges. Flan with holes is not good flan. Lila's Restaurant in Westchester serves up a flan that is not only hole-free but also good enough to be sold in Publix, Winn-Dixie, and Sedano's grocery stores across Florida. The grocery-available Cuban custard, however, had its origins at Lila's Restaurant, where owner Reinaldo Navarro, Sr. served up his secret recipe. His son Reinaldo Navarro, Jr. and Navarro, Jr.'s wife Sara, were working at the restaurant at the time and eventually borrowed the recipe to open up their own dessert destination, Lila's Desserts, located in Kendall. Between Lila's Desserts, Lila's Restaurant, and the sweets section at your local supermarket, picking up the Navarros' famed caramel treat is as easy as, um, flan.

La Gastronomia
BEST INEXPENSIVE ITALIAN RESTAURANT La Gastronomia 127 Giralda Avenue

Coral Gables

305-448-8599 Inexpensive shouldn't imply indifference, and inexpensive Italian needn't restrict itself to fried calamari and manicotti. At the charming, homespun, cheerily hued La Gastronomia, husband/wife team Roberto and Elizabeth Fayad offer diners friendly service and exemplary renditions of typical budget Italian fare such as mussels sautéed in white wine, salad Caprse, classic lasagna, and thin-crust, brick oven-pizzas. The pie topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil is on par with the finest in town. But this gastronomic couple tries harder than most to bring something special to the table, by which we refer to fresh spigola cooked in papillote, and orata stuffed with garlic, parsley, and lemon and baked alongside potatoes, tomatoes, black olives, and a healthy dose of fruity olive oil. You may be asking: What the heck is spigola and orata? Two delectably fresh Mediterranean fish (the latter known in Spain as dorada) flown in every Thursday from the Spanish coast. They alone are worth the price of the entire meal. The fish is $20, but you can eat more frugally by ordering dreamy homemade gnocchi Sorrentino for $9.95 and a surprisingly hefty New York strip with arugula salad and Parmesan shavings that's a steal at $17.95. Plenty of wallet-friendly wines from the tip of the boot to go along with the hearty fare, and fresh mango tarte for dessert. At La Gastronomia, inexpensive means incredibly rewarding.

BEST INEXPENSIVE ITALIAN RESTAURANT La Gastronomia 127 Giralda Avenue

Coral Gables

305-448-8599 Inexpensive shouldn't imply indifference, and inexpensive Italian needn't restrict itself to fried calamari and manicotti. At the charming, homespun, cheerily hued La Gastronomia, husband/wife team Roberto and Elizabeth Fayad offer diners friendly service and exemplary renditions of typical budget Italian fare such as mussels sautéed in white wine, salad Caprse, classic lasagna, and thin-crust, brick oven-pizzas. The pie topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil is on par with the finest in town. But this gastronomic couple tries harder than most to bring something special to the table, by which we refer to fresh spigola cooked in papillote, and orata stuffed with garlic, parsley, and lemon and baked alongside potatoes, tomatoes, black olives, and a healthy dose of fruity olive oil. You may be asking: What the heck is spigola and orata? Two delectably fresh Mediterranean fish (the latter known in Spain as dorada) flown in every Thursday from the Spanish coast. They alone are worth the price of the entire meal. The fish is $20, but you can eat more frugally by ordering dreamy homemade gnocchi Sorrentino for $9.95 and a surprisingly hefty New York strip with arugula salad and Parmesan shavings that's a steal at $17.95. Plenty of wallet-friendly wines from the tip of the boot to go along with the hearty fare, and fresh mango tarte for dessert. At La Gastronomia, inexpensive means incredibly rewarding.

Titanic Brewery & Restaurant
BEST MICROBREWED BEER Titanic Restaurant & Brewery 5813 Ponce de Leon Boulevard

Coral Gables

305-667-2537 When he decided to dip his toe into the rapidly growing microbrewery pool, Kevin Rusk wasn't entirely sold on the concept. He took his time, did a ton of research, and was considering the ideal theme for such an establishment. At the time, his partner Keith Wyness was affiliated with the cruise ship industry. He promised to deliver busloads of thirsty tourists as long as they came up with a catchy tie-in with the cruise industry. Rusk decided to call the place Titanic. When he's asked, "How could you possibly decide to name a business after a disaster of that magnitude?" Rusk replies, with a twinkle in his eye, "I like it. I thought it had a good edge to it." He waxes eloquent about the history of the ship itself, of the labor that went into its creation. Then he explains, "This was intended as a celebration of this incredible feat, as opposed to its demise." Fans of this exceptional neighborhood bar certainly won't let this ship go under, not with such a wonderful selection of unique brews available for swigging. Titanic's brewmaster, Stephen Copeland, attended the Seibel Institute, one of only two brewery schools in America. Copeland and Rusk chose the recipes from classic, established beers of the world and experimented with the formulas to create six unique beers that remain fixtures at the bar. The Triple Screw Light Ale is their most popular by far, a German-style pale, golden elixir with a dry, tart finish and a 4+ percent alcohol content. Their strongest brew is the White Star India Pale Ale, a remix of classic English ale with a 7+ percent kick. Titanic's beers range from the palest of ales, to honey browns, to full-bodied stouts. Besides the six stars of the permanent lineup, Titanic offers seasonal varieties that leave regulars wanting more when those ales suddenly disappear. There are no current plans to increase the standard lineup, but there's plenty more to quench your thirst at this place. Titanic also brews up a delicious apple cider, offers a range of commercial draft and bottled beers, and a full liquor bar besides. Despite the bar's proximity to the University of Miami, Rusk is careful to distinguish his place from the typical college hangout. Titanic doesn't serve pitchers, the bartenders scrutinize ID cards carefully, and the ambiance is mature and tastefully decorated with the awards they have won along the way, including previous Best of Miami nods. In 1999 they won a Brewie Award and were named Best Start-Up at the National Brew Pub Conference. In 2000 they became the only brewery in the state to win a World Beer Cup award. Titanic regulars might also want to give Rusk and company an award for most considerate brewery. Titanic goes beyond the call, making regulars feel at home with the Mug Club, which, for a mere $85, entitles members to a high-quality Titanic Mug Club shirt or hat, a complimentary dinner every Wednesday, and their own engraved mug at the bar, to be filled with twenty ounces of cold, refreshing beer that can't be enjoyed elsewhere.

BEST MICROBREWED BEER Titanic Restaurant & Brewery 5813 Ponce de Leon Boulevard

Coral Gables

305-667-2537 When he decided to dip his toe into the rapidly growing microbrewery pool, Kevin Rusk wasn't entirely sold on the concept. He took his time, did a ton of research, and was considering the ideal theme for such an establishment. At the time, his partner Keith Wyness was affiliated with the cruise ship industry. He promised to deliver busloads of thirsty tourists as long as they came up with a catchy tie-in with the cruise industry. Rusk decided to call the place Titanic. When he's asked, "How could you possibly decide to name a business after a disaster of that magnitude?" Rusk replies, with a twinkle in his eye, "I like it. I thought it had a good edge to it." He waxes eloquent about the history of the ship itself, of the labor that went into its creation. Then he explains, "This was intended as a celebration of this incredible feat, as opposed to its demise." Fans of this exceptional neighborhood bar certainly won't let this ship go under, not with such a wonderful selection of unique brews available for swigging. Titanic's brewmaster, Stephen Copeland, attended the Seibel Institute, one of only two brewery schools in America. Copeland and Rusk chose the recipes from classic, established beers of the world and experimented with the formulas to create six unique beers that remain fixtures at the bar. The Triple Screw Light Ale is their most popular by far, a German-style pale, golden elixir with a dry, tart finish and a 4+ percent alcohol content. Their strongest brew is the White Star India Pale Ale, a remix of classic English ale with a 7+ percent kick. Titanic's beers range from the palest of ales, to honey browns, to full-bodied stouts. Besides the six stars of the permanent lineup, Titanic offers seasonal varieties that leave regulars wanting more when those ales suddenly disappear. There are no current plans to increase the standard lineup, but there's plenty more to quench your thirst at this place. Titanic also brews up a delicious apple cider, offers a range of commercial draft and bottled beers, and a full liquor bar besides. Despite the bar's proximity to the University of Miami, Rusk is careful to distinguish his place from the typical college hangout. Titanic doesn't serve pitchers, the bartenders scrutinize ID cards carefully, and the ambiance is mature and tastefully decorated with the awards they have won along the way, including previous Best of Miami nods. In 1999 they won a Brewie Award and were named Best Start-Up at the National Brew Pub Conference. In 2000 they became the only brewery in the state to win a World Beer Cup award. Titanic regulars might also want to give Rusk and company an award for most considerate brewery. Titanic goes beyond the call, making regulars feel at home with the Mug Club, which, for a mere $85, entitles members to a high-quality Titanic Mug Club shirt or hat, a complimentary dinner every Wednesday, and their own engraved mug at the bar, to be filled with twenty ounces of cold, refreshing beer that can't be enjoyed elsewhere.

BEST THAI RESTAURANT Tamarind Thai Restaurant 946 Normandy Drive

Miami Beach

305-861-6222 It's astonishing that a Thai restaurant whose master chef is Vatcharin Bhumichtir (proprietor of several of London's top Thai eateries, and author of half a dozen of the world's most renowned Southeast Asian cookbooks) could have opened last year -- in a low-profile North Beach location, no less -- with almost no media attention. But it's quite evident from the first bites of unusual items like laap gai (a chili/lime flavored, onion-garnished minced chicken salad in a cabbage leaf bowl) or signature tangy-sweet tamarind duck that this isn't your average lowest-common-denominator Thai/sushi joint. The food demonstrates the admirable balance of textures, heat, and flavors generally found only in Thailand -- or London. On top of that, the prices are modest. How did we luck out? Vatch (who is only occasionally in the kitchen but personally trained the chefs, on-site, to prepare his recipes) is a lifelong friend of co-owners Day and Surasak Longsomboon, who explain succinctly: "London in winter is very cold."

Readers´ Choice: Siam River Thai & Sushi Bar

BEST THAI RESTAURANT Tamarind Thai Restaurant 946 Normandy Drive

Miami Beach

305-861-6222 It's astonishing that a Thai restaurant whose master chef is Vatcharin Bhumichtir (proprietor of several of London's top Thai eateries, and author of half a dozen of the world's most renowned Southeast Asian cookbooks) could have opened last year -- in a low-profile North Beach location, no less -- with almost no media attention. But it's quite evident from the first bites of unusual items like laap gai (a chili/lime flavored, onion-garnished minced chicken salad in a cabbage leaf bowl) or signature tangy-sweet tamarind duck that this isn't your average lowest-common-denominator Thai/sushi joint. The food demonstrates the admirable balance of textures, heat, and flavors generally found only in Thailand -- or London. On top of that, the prices are modest. How did we luck out? Vatch (who is only occasionally in the kitchen but personally trained the chefs, on-site, to prepare his recipes) is a lifelong friend of co-owners Day and Surasak Longsomboon, who explain succinctly: "London in winter is very cold."

Readers´ Choice: Siam River Thai & Sushi Bar

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 Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®