BEST PUERTO RICAN RESTAURANT Carmen the Restaurant The David William Hotel

700 Biltmore Way

Coral Gables

305-913-1944 Miami's better ethnic dining establishments present solid renditions of fan favorites, whether egg rolls, thin-crust pizza, Middle Eastern combos, or arroz con pollo. Rarely, however, do these places think outside the box. Carmen Gonzalez takes her native Puerto Rican cuisine out of its box, disassembles it, adds New American and Nuevo Latino ideas, puts everything back together, and then gives it a shake. Boom! Out comes an original menu of fresh, brash, expertly prepared food peppered with Puerto Rican ingredients and pride. Lobster/avocado terrine teams with crisp plantain fritters; adobo-rubbed pork plumps up mini-designer sandwiches; and whole grilled pompano marries a modernized mojito. Mofongo looks like the old mofongo's better-looking kid sister. Chocolate soufflé -- well, not very island-oriented, but it's a dandy nonetheless. The real link between chef Gonzalez's cooking and that found in a typical Puerto Rican household is this: Everything at Carmen's is made from scratch, even the ketchup and pickles. It's safe to say you won't find finer cuisine, better service, a more elegant dining room, or a savvier wine list at any Puerto Rican restaurant this side of San Juan.

Epicure Gourmet Market & Cafe
Alejandra Cicilia
A 1400-pound portion of cheese was delivered to President Andrew Jackson's inaugural reception in 1837. When the party was over, the 10,000 guests left the White House in shambles, and the cheese left an aroma that lingered for some time. Modern presidents have pursued a different brand of cheesiness, but thanks in part to the burgeoning popularity of wine, appreciation of this cultured dairy product has gone whey up. Epicure Market's wine and cheese sections are adjacent to one another (with olive selections within reach), which makes pairing the two simple -- well, maybe not simple, because the cheeses here aren't exactly familiar to all, but relatively easy with the aid of wine experts on hand. Artisan cheeses from all over the globe include rarities from Chantal Plasse; farmhouse cheddars from English, Irish, and American (Vermont) pastures; Bries, blues, and appellation-controlled cheeses from France; raw-milk cheeses; kosher cheeses; Greek yogurt; Epicure's own creations such as pesto-dressed string cheese; cheeses from goats; cheeses from sheep. Take a few of these pricey curds home with a suitable wine and a loaf of bread (available just around the bend) and maybe you'll discover what author Clifton Fadiman meant when he described cheese as "milk's leap toward immortality."

Readers´ Choice: Epicure Market

A 1400-pound portion of cheese was delivered to President Andrew Jackson's inaugural reception in 1837. When the party was over, the 10,000 guests left the White House in shambles, and the cheese left an aroma that lingered for some time. Modern presidents have pursued a different brand of cheesiness, but thanks in part to the burgeoning popularity of wine, appreciation of this cultured dairy product has gone whey up. Epicure Market's wine and cheese sections are adjacent to one another (with olive selections within reach), which makes pairing the two simple -- well, maybe not simple, because the cheeses here aren't exactly familiar to all, but relatively easy with the aid of wine experts on hand. Artisan cheeses from all over the globe include rarities from Chantal Plasse; farmhouse cheddars from English, Irish, and American (Vermont) pastures; Bries, blues, and appellation-controlled cheeses from France; raw-milk cheeses; kosher cheeses; Greek yogurt; Epicure's own creations such as pesto-dressed string cheese; cheeses from goats; cheeses from sheep. Take a few of these pricey curds home with a suitable wine and a loaf of bread (available just around the bend) and maybe you'll discover what author Clifton Fadiman meant when he described cheese as "milk's leap toward immortality."

Readers´ Choice: Epicure Market

Le Bouchon du Grove
BEST RESTAURANT IN COCONUT GROVE Le Bouchon du Grove 3430 Main Highway

Coconut Grove

305-448-6060 This relaxed bistro has been around since only 1994 but nevertheless stands as one of the last vestiges-in-spirit to the bohemian Grove of the Seventies. The Parisian street-corner ambiance, with open floor-to-ceiling French doors, encourages patrons to casually sip glasses of Beaujolais or Burgundy at the bar and stare at soccer matches on TV screens, or sit at tables with bottles of red or white and gaze at the goldenrod walls covered with Pastis posters, license plates, soccer jerseys, flags, and all manner of Gallic wall garnish. Managers, owners, and personable chef/partner Georges Eric Farge mingle freely with the diners, while waiters lean on chairs and recite daily specials, some speaking in a hybrid French-English dialect that is nearly indecipherable -- sort of what a very stoned Grove café waiter 30 years ago must have sounded like. The cuisine dates back further than that, the menu reflecting traditional French bistro fare, starting, where else, with a gratinée lyonnaise thickly crusted with Gruyre (which you know as onion soup). Pâté de campagne on freshly sliced baguette, and a humongous heap of steamed mussels are other great beginnings, but save room for knockout main courses like duck confit, chicken fricassee, and roasted rack of lamb imbued with "herbs de Provence" -- and more room still for tarte Tatin pooled in cream, raspberry tart, and pear mille-feuilles. Le Bouchon du Grove is a warm anachronism in cold CocoWalk land, and we profoundly thank them for being so.

Readers´ Choice: Caf´ Tu Tu Tango and Greenstreet Caf´ (tie)

BEST RESTAURANT IN COCONUT GROVE Le Bouchon du Grove 3430 Main Highway

Coconut Grove

305-448-6060 This relaxed bistro has been around since only 1994 but nevertheless stands as one of the last vestiges-in-spirit to the bohemian Grove of the Seventies. The Parisian street-corner ambiance, with open floor-to-ceiling French doors, encourages patrons to casually sip glasses of Beaujolais or Burgundy at the bar and stare at soccer matches on TV screens, or sit at tables with bottles of red or white and gaze at the goldenrod walls covered with Pastis posters, license plates, soccer jerseys, flags, and all manner of Gallic wall garnish. Managers, owners, and personable chef/partner Georges Eric Farge mingle freely with the diners, while waiters lean on chairs and recite daily specials, some speaking in a hybrid French-English dialect that is nearly indecipherable -- sort of what a very stoned Grove café waiter 30 years ago must have sounded like. The cuisine dates back further than that, the menu reflecting traditional French bistro fare, starting, where else, with a gratinée lyonnaise thickly crusted with Gruyre (which you know as onion soup). Pâté de campagne on freshly sliced baguette, and a humongous heap of steamed mussels are other great beginnings, but save room for knockout main courses like duck confit, chicken fricassee, and roasted rack of lamb imbued with "herbs de Provence" -- and more room still for tarte Tatin pooled in cream, raspberry tart, and pear mille-feuilles. Le Bouchon du Grove is a warm anachronism in cold CocoWalk land, and we profoundly thank them for being so.

Readers´ Choice: Caf´ Tu Tu Tango and Greenstreet Caf´ (tie)

BEST NICARAGUAN RESTAURANT El Chalesito 2115 W. Flagler Street

Miami

305-541-8171 You won't find statues or paintings honoring Anastasio Somoza or Augusto Sandino at El Chalesito, but you will encounter Nicaraguan folklore to full effect. Miami's many transplanted Nicaraguans find refuge in this storefront cantina in the heart of Little Havana. Dressed in their best ranchero regalia, beer-guzzling, rum-swigging Nicas fill dining tables fronting a karaoke stage, where a house singer leads patrons through Nicaragua's most popular tunes. Waitresses are a blur as they deliver piping-hot plates of antojitos -- churrasco, green and sweet plantains, tacos, blood sausage, cheese-filled tortillas, frijoles con crema. El Chalecito also offers Miami's freshest pescado a la tipitapa -- whole grouper baked in salsa, cornmeal, and rice.

BEST NICARAGUAN RESTAURANT El Chalesito 2115 W. Flagler Street

Miami

305-541-8171 You won't find statues or paintings honoring Anastasio Somoza or Augusto Sandino at El Chalesito, but you will encounter Nicaraguan folklore to full effect. Miami's many transplanted Nicaraguans find refuge in this storefront cantina in the heart of Little Havana. Dressed in their best ranchero regalia, beer-guzzling, rum-swigging Nicas fill dining tables fronting a karaoke stage, where a house singer leads patrons through Nicaragua's most popular tunes. Waitresses are a blur as they deliver piping-hot plates of antojitos -- churrasco, green and sweet plantains, tacos, blood sausage, cheese-filled tortillas, frijoles con crema. El Chalecito also offers Miami's freshest pescado a la tipitapa -- whole grouper baked in salsa, cornmeal, and rice.

The River Seafood & Oyster Bar
BEST RAW BAR The River Oyster Bar 650 S. Miami Avenue

Miami

305-530-1915

www.therivermiami.com The oyster selections at this urban-chic downtown seafood house vary seasonally, but their descriptions consistently read as though lifted from Wine Spectator. "Coromandel," from New Zealand, is "mildly salty from mineral-rich cold waters, smooth and sweet melon finish." "Deer Creek," from Puget Sound in Washington, is "a perfect little oyster with briny and crisp flavor." The Kitsap Peninsula's "Snow Creek" oysters are "farmed in cold, clear waters which open wide to the Straits of Juan De Fuca; firm meats with a mildly salty flavor." (All oysters are nineteen dollars per dozen, ten dollars for half.) Chilled littleneck clams, Florida stone crabs, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and a lively variety of ceviches are also dished at the raw bar. Wine selections, interestingly enough, read like an oyster menu -- well, no, we're kidding, but there are plenty of Chardonnays, sparkling wines, and other bivalve-friendly whites listed under the heading of "Lean ... Racy ... Zingy." The River's chef/partner David Bracha takes his oysters and wines very seriously, making this raw bar "crisp and refreshing, exhibiting strong notes of briny succulence and an unparalleled nose for satisfying shellfish aficionados."

BEST RAW BAR The River Oyster Bar 650 S. Miami Avenue

Miami

305-530-1915

www.therivermiami.com The oyster selections at this urban-chic downtown seafood house vary seasonally, but their descriptions consistently read as though lifted from Wine Spectator. "Coromandel," from New Zealand, is "mildly salty from mineral-rich cold waters, smooth and sweet melon finish." "Deer Creek," from Puget Sound in Washington, is "a perfect little oyster with briny and crisp flavor." The Kitsap Peninsula's "Snow Creek" oysters are "farmed in cold, clear waters which open wide to the Straits of Juan De Fuca; firm meats with a mildly salty flavor." (All oysters are nineteen dollars per dozen, ten dollars for half.) Chilled littleneck clams, Florida stone crabs, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and a lively variety of ceviches are also dished at the raw bar. Wine selections, interestingly enough, read like an oyster menu -- well, no, we're kidding, but there are plenty of Chardonnays, sparkling wines, and other bivalve-friendly whites listed under the heading of "Lean ... Racy ... Zingy." The River's chef/partner David Bracha takes his oysters and wines very seriously, making this raw bar "crisp and refreshing, exhibiting strong notes of briny succulence and an unparalleled nose for satisfying shellfish aficionados."

BEST DOUGHNUTS Krispy Kreme 6290 S. Dixie Highway

South Miami

305-669-1311

www.krispykreme.com Krispy Kreme has won this title a few times over the years, but when you are stoned at 3:00 a.m., is that mom-and-pop joint going to bake you fresh and HOT doughnuts to satisfy your munchies? The South Miami shop is the newest one to open in the Miami-Dade area (check www.krispykreme.com for additional locations), and it has 24-hour drive-through service, great coffee, a viewing area for you to gaze at the glazing process, and a clean, well-lighted place to savor Homer Simpson's favorite snack. Yeah, Krispy Kreme is being investigated by the SEC and the U.S. Attorney's Office for matters regarding its franchises, and the company's being sued by stock-owning employees who claim they didn't know that stocks are a risky investment, but we're just talking doughnuts here. Tasty, hot doughnuts. And Krispy Kreme is still doing that right.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®