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 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 Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®