BEST GOURMET GROCERY Laurenzo's Italian Market 16385 W. Dixie Highway

North Miami Beach

305-945-6381 This cavernous Italian market is so respected a Miami institution and such a great place to shop that it's not a matter of whether or not it receives a Best Of, but in which category. Best wine selection? The wide array of Italian bottles and a plethora of bargains make it a perennial contender. Best prepared foods? Lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, manicotti -- fuhgeddaboutit. Fresh baked breads? An enormous bakery section produces some of the area's finest rustic breads, including an addictive semolina loaf, Italian desserts like creamy cannolis or crunchy amaretti, and old-fashioned Italian ices; you can also grab a flawless espresso here. The deli boasts an astonishing array of antipasti, smoked fish, cold cuts, and homemade sausages with names like Sopranos characters (in this week's episode, Frankie Soppressata offs Vinnie "Crazy Legs" Capicola) -- and a mean veal parmigiana sandwich too. The market shelves are stocked with innumerable olive oils, canned tomatoes, and pastas (dry and fresh); the cheese department is topnotch; and there are more gourmet Italian goods to be found here than are available in many of that country's own towns. Best fish market? Best butcher? Why not? Laurenzo's "farmer's market" produce section could even compete in Best U-pick category. What criteria did we use in choosing Laurenzo's as best gourmet grocery this year? All of the above.

BEST GOURMET GROCERY Laurenzo's Italian Market 16385 W. Dixie Highway

North Miami Beach

305-945-6381 This cavernous Italian market is so respected a Miami institution and such a great place to shop that it's not a matter of whether or not it receives a Best Of, but in which category. Best wine selection? The wide array of Italian bottles and a plethora of bargains make it a perennial contender. Best prepared foods? Lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, manicotti -- fuhgeddaboutit. Fresh baked breads? An enormous bakery section produces some of the area's finest rustic breads, including an addictive semolina loaf, Italian desserts like creamy cannolis or crunchy amaretti, and old-fashioned Italian ices; you can also grab a flawless espresso here. The deli boasts an astonishing array of antipasti, smoked fish, cold cuts, and homemade sausages with names like Sopranos characters (in this week's episode, Frankie Soppressata offs Vinnie "Crazy Legs" Capicola) -- and a mean veal parmigiana sandwich too. The market shelves are stocked with innumerable olive oils, canned tomatoes, and pastas (dry and fresh); the cheese department is topnotch; and there are more gourmet Italian goods to be found here than are available in many of that country's own towns. Best fish market? Best butcher? Why not? Laurenzo's "farmer's market" produce section could even compete in Best U-pick category. What criteria did we use in choosing Laurenzo's as best gourmet grocery this year? All of the above.

Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant
BEST FAJITAS Guadalajara 8461 SW 132nd Street

Pinecrest

786-242-4444 According to Virginia B. Wood of the Austin Chronicle, in 1984, Homero Recio did a study on the shocking price increase of skirt steak, as part of his graduate studies in animal science at Texas A&M. He stumbled across anecdotal evidence that revealed that the cut of meat, the cooking style, and the Spanish nickname fajita dated back as far as the 1930s, when Mexican cowboys working the ranches in southwestern Texas were partially paid with the scraps of meat that the ranchers didn't want. Out of the head, entrails, tripe, and trimmings, these vaqueros created delectable cuisine that was passed down through the generations. The fajita certainly isn't just served at authentic, down home Mexican restaurants anymore. Nowadays you can get 'em at Friday's, Chili's, and Taco Bell, and for understandable reason -- there's something about a waiter walking past with an audibly sizzling skillet that causes jealous diners to stare longingly over at their neighbor's plate. Plus, fajitas aren't that hard to throw together. Fill a skillet with slices of bell peppers, some onions, mushrooms if you want to be fancy, and add your meat of choice. Sizzle and serve with pico de gallo, sour cream, and flour tortillas, punto finale. But not every restaurant that serves fajitas takes the meal seriously enough to label it their claim to fame. Guadalajara, a brightly colored, inviting, family-owned establishment just off South Dixie Highway, boldly makes that statement right there in its menu. Justifiably so. Thick, spicy, marinated chicken breast or skirt steak strips are grilled with onions, and served with fresh pico de gallo, creamy, thick guacamole, sour cream, and frijoles a la charra. Four soft flour tortillas almost aren't enough to wrap up the bountiful serving. Guadalajara also offers variations of the traditional recipe. Order the shrimp fajitas for a change, or for an appetizer, the fajita bite nachos. The skillet comes laden with chips and topped with refried beans, fajita strips, and melted cheese, and is served with tomato, lettuce, sour cream, and jalapeño slices. Muy delicioso. And for prices ranging from $8.75 to $11.95, good for the wallet, too. If you're heading to Guadalajara on a Saturday night, expect a wait. The reputation of their delicious fajitas precedes them.

BEST FAJITAS Guadalajara 8461 SW 132nd Street

Pinecrest

786-242-4444 According to Virginia B. Wood of the Austin Chronicle, in 1984, Homero Recio did a study on the shocking price increase of skirt steak, as part of his graduate studies in animal science at Texas A&M. He stumbled across anecdotal evidence that revealed that the cut of meat, the cooking style, and the Spanish nickname fajita dated back as far as the 1930s, when Mexican cowboys working the ranches in southwestern Texas were partially paid with the scraps of meat that the ranchers didn't want. Out of the head, entrails, tripe, and trimmings, these vaqueros created delectable cuisine that was passed down through the generations. The fajita certainly isn't just served at authentic, down home Mexican restaurants anymore. Nowadays you can get 'em at Friday's, Chili's, and Taco Bell, and for understandable reason -- there's something about a waiter walking past with an audibly sizzling skillet that causes jealous diners to stare longingly over at their neighbor's plate. Plus, fajitas aren't that hard to throw together. Fill a skillet with slices of bell peppers, some onions, mushrooms if you want to be fancy, and add your meat of choice. Sizzle and serve with pico de gallo, sour cream, and flour tortillas, punto finale. But not every restaurant that serves fajitas takes the meal seriously enough to label it their claim to fame. Guadalajara, a brightly colored, inviting, family-owned establishment just off South Dixie Highway, boldly makes that statement right there in its menu. Justifiably so. Thick, spicy, marinated chicken breast or skirt steak strips are grilled with onions, and served with fresh pico de gallo, creamy, thick guacamole, sour cream, and frijoles a la charra. Four soft flour tortillas almost aren't enough to wrap up the bountiful serving. Guadalajara also offers variations of the traditional recipe. Order the shrimp fajitas for a change, or for an appetizer, the fajita bite nachos. The skillet comes laden with chips and topped with refried beans, fajita strips, and melted cheese, and is served with tomato, lettuce, sour cream, and jalapeño slices. Muy delicioso. And for prices ranging from $8.75 to $11.95, good for the wallet, too. If you're heading to Guadalajara on a Saturday night, expect a wait. The reputation of their delicious fajitas precedes them.

BEST KOSHER RESTAURANT Bissaleh Café 17608 Collins Avenue

Surfside

305-682-2224 The most appealing aspect of this kosher vegetarian Israeli dairy restaurant-pizzeria-juice-and-coffee bar may be that it boasts the boisterous ambiance of a bustling Tel Aviv café. Which isn't to say the food is chopped liver. It is anything but, the moo-themed menu pretty much devoted to dairy -- the Land of Milk and Honey without the honey, so to speak. Don't let that stop you from indulging in a sampling of foods you've never heard of and might have difficulty pronouncing. For example: "fluts," "malawachs," "borekas," and "bissaleh" -- all different Yemenite breads either stuffed, rolled, or capped with varying combos of vegetables and cheese. The Star Wars-sounding malawach is a good place to start, the sweet, crunchy crust shaped like a pizza and baked with choice of toppings. They named the café after the bissaleh, so you have to figure the ring of flaky, buttery, sesame-flecked bread wrapped around spinach, olives, mushrooms, and feta must be praiseworthy. It is, especially with the array of spicy dips, hard-boiled eggs, marinated carrots, and red cabbage that serve as accompaniments. Dishes you have heard of are adeptly prepared too, particularly stellar renditions of Greek salad, hummus, and nightly seafood specials. Try to save room for a curiously gratifying dessert of watermelon and feta cheese. Best night: Saturday after sundown until 3:00 a.m.

BEST KOSHER RESTAURANT Bissaleh Café 17608 Collins Avenue

Surfside

305-682-2224 The most appealing aspect of this kosher vegetarian Israeli dairy restaurant-pizzeria-juice-and-coffee bar may be that it boasts the boisterous ambiance of a bustling Tel Aviv café. Which isn't to say the food is chopped liver. It is anything but, the moo-themed menu pretty much devoted to dairy -- the Land of Milk and Honey without the honey, so to speak. Don't let that stop you from indulging in a sampling of foods you've never heard of and might have difficulty pronouncing. For example: "fluts," "malawachs," "borekas," and "bissaleh" -- all different Yemenite breads either stuffed, rolled, or capped with varying combos of vegetables and cheese. The Star Wars-sounding malawach is a good place to start, the sweet, crunchy crust shaped like a pizza and baked with choice of toppings. They named the café after the bissaleh, so you have to figure the ring of flaky, buttery, sesame-flecked bread wrapped around spinach, olives, mushrooms, and feta must be praiseworthy. It is, especially with the array of spicy dips, hard-boiled eggs, marinated carrots, and red cabbage that serve as accompaniments. Dishes you have heard of are adeptly prepared too, particularly stellar renditions of Greek salad, hummus, and nightly seafood specials. Try to save room for a curiously gratifying dessert of watermelon and feta cheese. Best night: Saturday after sundown until 3:00 a.m.

BEST ASIAN GROCERY Lucky Oriental Mart 8356 Bird Road

Westchester

305-220-2838 The aroma hits you at the door, a kind of sour-sweet spice hanging low in the air. Looking around at Lucky's polished aisles, you suddenly feel you're not in Miami anymore. The customers are varied -- Asian families shop with purpose and confidence, whereas patrons of other ethnicities linger in the aisles, eyes wide with wonder, questions spilling from their eager lips. Some of the products cause these unfamiliar visitors to scrunch their noses and wince: crab spawn paste, preserved mud fish in a jar, bitter gourd tea. Many containers feature Chinese characters translated to amusing effect. One package reads "Mid-Old Ages Breakfast Paste. Agreeable to Taste." Hmmm. The Ladies' Soya Drink container boasts "The Appointed Drink for Actress of National Ballet of China." Alrighty then. There is much to question, much to discover, and much to purchase. Pearl Soybean Drink and plum juice are chilled in the refrigerated-goods section, which is flanked by an aisle's worth of ramen and other assorted noodles. Adorable bonsais, money trees, and every coiling variety of lucky bamboo clog a corner near the door. In the fresh produce aisle spiky-skinned durian monthongs rest alongside round, green Thai eggplant and cucumber-size Taiwan okra. The tilapia is so fresh it's swimming in tanks in the fish department. Tea for pleasure, or whatever ails you: Slimming Tea, Diabetes-Care, Kidney-Liver Mind, Aging Delai, Horny Goat Weed. And to serve the tea, ceramic pots, cups, and saucers are right around the corner. Near the counter, a glass case contains glittering tchochkes: statues of Buddha in all of his colorful incarnations, lucky cats, and Kwan Yin, beloved and beautiful goddess of mercy, beaming peacefully down at it all.

BEST ASIAN GROCERY Lucky Oriental Mart 8356 Bird Road

Westchester

305-220-2838 The aroma hits you at the door, a kind of sour-sweet spice hanging low in the air. Looking around at Lucky's polished aisles, you suddenly feel you're not in Miami anymore. The customers are varied -- Asian families shop with purpose and confidence, whereas patrons of other ethnicities linger in the aisles, eyes wide with wonder, questions spilling from their eager lips. Some of the products cause these unfamiliar visitors to scrunch their noses and wince: crab spawn paste, preserved mud fish in a jar, bitter gourd tea. Many containers feature Chinese characters translated to amusing effect. One package reads "Mid-Old Ages Breakfast Paste. Agreeable to Taste." Hmmm. The Ladies' Soya Drink container boasts "The Appointed Drink for Actress of National Ballet of China." Alrighty then. There is much to question, much to discover, and much to purchase. Pearl Soybean Drink and plum juice are chilled in the refrigerated-goods section, which is flanked by an aisle's worth of ramen and other assorted noodles. Adorable bonsais, money trees, and every coiling variety of lucky bamboo clog a corner near the door. In the fresh produce aisle spiky-skinned durian monthongs rest alongside round, green Thai eggplant and cucumber-size Taiwan okra. The tilapia is so fresh it's swimming in tanks in the fish department. Tea for pleasure, or whatever ails you: Slimming Tea, Diabetes-Care, Kidney-Liver Mind, Aging Delai, Horny Goat Weed. And to serve the tea, ceramic pots, cups, and saucers are right around the corner. Near the counter, a glass case contains glittering tchochkes: statues of Buddha in all of his colorful incarnations, lucky cats, and Kwan Yin, beloved and beautiful goddess of mercy, beaming peacefully down at it all.

BEST CHAIN RESTAURANT The Palm 9650 E. Bay Harbor Drive

Bay Harbor Islands

305-868-7256

and

4425 Ponce de Leon Boulevard

Coral Gables

786-552-7256

www.thepalm.com McDonald's? KFC? Quizno's? Get your mind out of the gutter and onto a higher plane. "Chain" doesn't have to imply plain, plastic, and cheap, just that there are lots of restaurants with the same name and ownership. The Palm has 31 locations, including two in Miami-Dade County, and if that makes it a small, exclusive chain, so be it. "Best" is based on quality, not quantity. What is quality? A succulent three-pound lobster so large you'll wonder if shellfish have taken to steroids. A prime dry-aged porterhouse so sublime you'll start planning interventions for your vegetarian friends. Creamed spinach that would have Popeye stuttering with delight. Also, The Palm has been around far longer than these other, Johnny-come-lately-and-cheaply franchises. In fact no restaurant in America has been run by the same family for as long. The grandsons of the original New York owners now operate the national string of posh eateries. Washington lobbyists know that The Palm is one of the most likely places to find potent politicians power-lunching in our nation's capital, but don't hold that against the Bay Harbor or Coral Gables Palms -- they're just two tasteful links in the chain.

BEST CHAIN RESTAURANT The Palm 9650 E. Bay Harbor Drive

Bay Harbor Islands

305-868-7256

and

4425 Ponce de Leon Boulevard

Coral Gables

786-552-7256

www.thepalm.com McDonald's? KFC? Quizno's? Get your mind out of the gutter and onto a higher plane. "Chain" doesn't have to imply plain, plastic, and cheap, just that there are lots of restaurants with the same name and ownership. The Palm has 31 locations, including two in Miami-Dade County, and if that makes it a small, exclusive chain, so be it. "Best" is based on quality, not quantity. What is quality? A succulent three-pound lobster so large you'll wonder if shellfish have taken to steroids. A prime dry-aged porterhouse so sublime you'll start planning interventions for your vegetarian friends. Creamed spinach that would have Popeye stuttering with delight. Also, The Palm has been around far longer than these other, Johnny-come-lately-and-cheaply franchises. In fact no restaurant in America has been run by the same family for as long. The grandsons of the original New York owners now operate the national string of posh eateries. Washington lobbyists know that The Palm is one of the most likely places to find potent politicians power-lunching in our nation's capital, but don't hold that against the Bay Harbor or Coral Gables Palms -- they're just two tasteful links in the chain.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®