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 NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

The Honey Tree

Honey Tree
Alexandra Rincon
BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT The Honey Tree 5138 Biscayne Boulevard

Miami

305-759-1696 This natural-food store, vegetarian and vegan deli, juice bar, and organic-produce market is a one-stop shopping oasis for those who believe that eating well is a prerequisite for feeling well. Some drop in for an organic smoothie and quick browse of the books, music, vitamins, supplements, body-care items, and other paraphernalia attendant to the vegetarian lifestyle. But it would be a shame to leave the Honey Tree without sampling the freshly cooked, nutritionally sound cuisine. The menu is testament to the wide range of herbivorous meal options: hearty soups, splendid salads, ingenious variations on rice, vegetables, seitan, and tofu -- the last alone might come grilled with tamarind peanut sauce, stir-fried Indonesian-style, or carved into curried triangles. Other noteworthy specialties of the house, available for eat-in or take-out, include kale and potato patties, penne pasta with spicy soy sausage, a luscious macaroni and cheese (the only nonvegan item on the menu), and carob-and-walnut-studded banana bread. The food here is so truly tasty, the staff so friendly that after finishing lunch, you may find yourself approaching strangers and saying nice things about Paul McCartney.

Readers´ Choice: Tree of Zion

BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

The Honey Tree

BEST NATURAL FOOD/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT The Honey Tree 5138 Biscayne Boulevard

Miami

305-759-1696 This natural-food store, vegetarian and vegan deli, juice bar, and organic-produce market is a one-stop shopping oasis for those who believe that eating well is a prerequisite for feeling well. Some drop in for an organic smoothie and quick browse of the books, music, vitamins, supplements, body-care items, and other paraphernalia attendant to the vegetarian lifestyle. But it would be a shame to leave the Honey Tree without sampling the freshly cooked, nutritionally sound cuisine. The menu is testament to the wide range of herbivorous meal options: hearty soups, splendid salads, ingenious variations on rice, vegetables, seitan, and tofu -- the last alone might come grilled with tamarind peanut sauce, stir-fried Indonesian-style, or carved into curried triangles. Other noteworthy specialties of the house, available for eat-in or take-out, include kale and potato patties, penne pasta with spicy soy sausage, a luscious macaroni and cheese (the only nonvegan item on the menu), and carob-and-walnut-studded banana bread. The food here is so truly tasty, the staff so friendly that after finishing lunch, you may find yourself approaching strangers and saying nice things about Paul McCartney.

Readers´ Choice: Tree of Zion

Chef Allen's
BEST DESSERTS Chef Allen's 19088 NE 29th Avenue

Aventura

305-935-2900

www.chefallens.com Roasted banana. Brandied spiced apple. Cinnamon toffee crunch. Toasted almond amaretto. And those are just some of the sorbet and ice cream flavors. Chef Allen Susser is far more renowned for spinning gastronomic magic via his tropics-inspired palm-tree cuisine than for his ability to spin sugar, but pastry chef Jennifer Brown takes care of that for him. Desserts at Susser's Aventura restaurant are like sublime character actors stealing the last scene in a movie. The most talked-about pastry is the chocolate-hazelnut Kit Kat bar with orange mint sauce and espresso ice cream. But don't underestimate the appeal of warm upside-down banana cake with caramel, chocolate, and French vanilla ice cream. Or caramelized apple and pistachio-custard napoleon with rum butterscotch sauce, apple chutney, and cinnamon ice cream. You might also want to try some Earl Grey tea -- not in a cup but seeped into lemon-scented crme brùlée. As gorgeously plated and worthwhile as these compositional desserts are, soufflés are justifiably the signature finish. Flavors vary, but an insanely intense orange is always in the house and will never let you down.

Readers´ Choice: Cheesecake Factory

BEST DESSERTS Chef Allen's 19088 NE 29th Avenue

Aventura

305-935-2900

www.chefallens.com Roasted banana. Brandied spiced apple. Cinnamon toffee crunch. Toasted almond amaretto. And those are just some of the sorbet and ice cream flavors. Chef Allen Susser is far more renowned for spinning gastronomic magic via his tropics-inspired palm-tree cuisine than for his ability to spin sugar, but pastry chef Jennifer Brown takes care of that for him. Desserts at Susser's Aventura restaurant are like sublime character actors stealing the last scene in a movie. The most talked-about pastry is the chocolate-hazelnut Kit Kat bar with orange mint sauce and espresso ice cream. But don't underestimate the appeal of warm upside-down banana cake with caramel, chocolate, and French vanilla ice cream. Or caramelized apple and pistachio-custard napoleon with rum butterscotch sauce, apple chutney, and cinnamon ice cream. You might also want to try some Earl Grey tea -- not in a cup but seeped into lemon-scented crme brùlée. As gorgeously plated and worthwhile as these compositional desserts are, soufflés are justifiably the signature finish. Flavors vary, but an insanely intense orange is always in the house and will never let you down.

Readers´ Choice: Cheesecake Factory

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 Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®