BEST WINE SELECTION IN A RESTAURANT The Captain's Tavern 9621 S. Dixie Highway

Pinecrest

305-666-5979 For very old and very expensive Bordeaux, you can go to The Forge. For big names from Old World and New, visit Norman's or Mark's South Beach. For an eclectic and sophisticated inventory arranged by taste, try North One 10. In fact at any of South Florida's top restaurants you can expect to find a first-rate wine list, often with interesting geographic concentrations -- California, Europe, South America. But this year as last we must bestow our award on Bill "the Captain" Bowers, owner of Captain's Tavern. This 33-year-old fish shack is not the sort of place you'd expect to encounter a list offering more than 500 wines, much less at prices guaranteed to be lower than any other restaurant in the area. Simply put, Bowers loves wine, a passion he wants to share with his customers. Unlike nearly every other restaurant on the planet, the sale of wine at Captain's Tavern is not expected to be a principal revenue source. Historically Bowers has never charged more than twice wholesale price for any bottle, and the more expensive the wine, the less the markup. Plus he regularly features specials that are sometimes priced at or below his cost. Couple that with the freshest seafood in town and you have a winner. Again.

Readers´ Choice: The Forge

House of India
BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT House of India 22 Merrick Way

Coral Gables

305-444-2348 The décor may need updating and the place may be a bit too dark, but the air is redolent of fragrant spices, and the overall ambiance is pleasant. At lunchtime the first thing that catches your eye is the buffet table. Grab a warm plate and start off with a desi salad, exploding with red onions and chili and tart with lemon juice. Add a delicious chicken or paneer (cheese) pakora, and spoon yourself some tamarind, mint, or tomato onion chutney for dipping. Save room for the heavy stuff. Vindaloo, curry, korma, tikka masala, rogan josh, tandoori -- so many of the varied cooking styles of India are represented here. The beautiful thing about a lunch buffet is that curious and exotic food skeptics can try small pieces of the things they haven't had before. A small spoon of curried eggplant, a piece of vindaloo lamb, a scoop of dal gosht, and some warm, fresh nan bread make for a plate worth tackling. As soon as the tandoori chicken runs out, an employee heads off to refresh the supply. Vegetarians rejoice! House of India offers a lengthy list of dishes that feature vegetables, ranging from cauliflower and okra to black lentils and chickpeas.

Readers´ Choice: Raja´s Indian Cuisine

BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT House of India 22 Merrick Way

Coral Gables

305-444-2348 The décor may need updating and the place may be a bit too dark, but the air is redolent of fragrant spices, and the overall ambiance is pleasant. At lunchtime the first thing that catches your eye is the buffet table. Grab a warm plate and start off with a desi salad, exploding with red onions and chili and tart with lemon juice. Add a delicious chicken or paneer (cheese) pakora, and spoon yourself some tamarind, mint, or tomato onion chutney for dipping. Save room for the heavy stuff. Vindaloo, curry, korma, tikka masala, rogan josh, tandoori -- so many of the varied cooking styles of India are represented here. The beautiful thing about a lunch buffet is that curious and exotic food skeptics can try small pieces of the things they haven't had before. A small spoon of curried eggplant, a piece of vindaloo lamb, a scoop of dal gosht, and some warm, fresh nan bread make for a plate worth tackling. As soon as the tandoori chicken runs out, an employee heads off to refresh the supply. Vegetarians rejoice! House of India offers a lengthy list of dishes that feature vegetables, ranging from cauliflower and okra to black lentils and chickpeas.

Readers´ Choice: Raja´s Indian Cuisine

BEST SMOKED FISH Captain Jim's Seafood 12950 W. Dixie Highway

North Miami

305-892-2812 Captain Jim's will leave your stomach and your wallet full. And what Jim's lacks in location (a homely strip of shops in North Miami) and décor (fish nets, rudders, shells, and other nautical accessories) it makes up for with the menu. Manager Ryan Harper says that he couldn't very well give away the secret recipe to their amazing smoked fish, or any of their award-winning seafood recipes for that matter, but he did offer a tease: "We put about 27 herbs and spices into a brine -- brown sugar, honey, A-1, parsley, to name a few -- and then slow-smoke the fish for eight to twelve hours." Grab a filet -- whatever the special of the day happens to be -- to take home from their fish market (the place used to be only a seafood wholesaler), or take a seat in the restaurant and put your package of plastic utensils to good use.

BEST SMOKED FISH Captain Jim's Seafood 12950 W. Dixie Highway

North Miami

305-892-2812 Captain Jim's will leave your stomach and your wallet full. And what Jim's lacks in location (a homely strip of shops in North Miami) and décor (fish nets, rudders, shells, and other nautical accessories) it makes up for with the menu. Manager Ryan Harper says that he couldn't very well give away the secret recipe to their amazing smoked fish, or any of their award-winning seafood recipes for that matter, but he did offer a tease: "We put about 27 herbs and spices into a brine -- brown sugar, honey, A-1, parsley, to name a few -- and then slow-smoke the fish for eight to twelve hours." Grab a filet -- whatever the special of the day happens to be -- to take home from their fish market (the place used to be only a seafood wholesaler), or take a seat in the restaurant and put your package of plastic utensils to good use.

Bamboo Garden
BEST CARRY-OUT CHINESE Bamboo Garden II 13195 Biscayne Boulevard

North Miami

305-899-9902 Chinese take-out joints are like auto mechanics. It's one of the first things you look for when you move to a new town; you have to try a lot of duds before you find a good one; and once you find one you can trust, you're loyal for life. The residents of North Miami who have lived in the neighborhood long enough to be in the know make their Friday night Chinese take-out runs at Bamboo Garden II. On any weekend night, the tables may be sparsely occupied -- as with most Chinese restaurants, the décor is simple -- but the phones are ringing off the hook and there's a bench full of waiting patrons eager for brown paper bags full of steaming-hot food hustled out from the kitchen. What sets Bamboo Garden II apart from the countless other (mediocre) restaurants of its kind is the freshness of the ingredients. Whether it's pan-fried dumplings or vegetable rolls you seek; moo goo gai pan or beef chow fun you love; or moo shoo pork or any of a number of black-bean-and-pepper-sauce creations you choose (the latter highly recommended), the ingredients are fresh. The vegetables are crunchy, never overcooked; the meat is tender, not gristly; and the food is as light and nongreasy as Chinese take-out could ever possibly be.

BEST CARRY-OUT CHINESE Bamboo Garden II 13195 Biscayne Boulevard

North Miami

305-899-9902 Chinese take-out joints are like auto mechanics. It's one of the first things you look for when you move to a new town; you have to try a lot of duds before you find a good one; and once you find one you can trust, you're loyal for life. The residents of North Miami who have lived in the neighborhood long enough to be in the know make their Friday night Chinese take-out runs at Bamboo Garden II. On any weekend night, the tables may be sparsely occupied -- as with most Chinese restaurants, the décor is simple -- but the phones are ringing off the hook and there's a bench full of waiting patrons eager for brown paper bags full of steaming-hot food hustled out from the kitchen. What sets Bamboo Garden II apart from the countless other (mediocre) restaurants of its kind is the freshness of the ingredients. Whether it's pan-fried dumplings or vegetable rolls you seek; moo goo gai pan or beef chow fun you love; or moo shoo pork or any of a number of black-bean-and-pepper-sauce creations you choose (the latter highly recommended), the ingredients are fresh. The vegetables are crunchy, never overcooked; the meat is tender, not gristly; and the food is as light and nongreasy as Chinese take-out could ever possibly be.

BEST DOWNTOWN RESTAURANT Bali Café 111 NE Second Avenue

Miami

305-358-5751 Before we know it, Biscayne Boulevard will cut a palm-tree-lined swath through a downtown canyon of tall, shiny buildings and chic outdoor cafés. At the moment, however, this area boasts more cranes than creditable lunch spots. Bali Café, with its fresh, beautiful, steamy-hot Indonesian cuisine, is an oasis seemingly far from the world of jackhammers. The 30-seat room resembles what one might imagine to be an informal eatery in Jakarta -- brass, carved wood, flashes of color, assorted trinkets here and about. The food outshines all, though. Presentations look as if they belong on the cover of an Indonesian gourmet food publication, and the flavors burst with sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes -- often all on the same plate. Favorites such as satays, gado gado (with tofu, egg, and vegetables in peanut sauce), and nasi goreng (fried rice with spicy coconut-imbued chicken and beef) are consistently prepared with aplomb. But don't miss the dumplings, scrumptiously plumped with chicken in piquant peanut-and-sweet-soy sauce; or lontong cap go meh, an intoxicating blend of chicken and beef with steamed chayote and coconut broth. Desserts look like frappes assembled by Courtney Love, and prices are even cheaper than the image that conjures.

BEST DOWNTOWN RESTAURANT Bali Café 111 NE Second Avenue

Miami

305-358-5751 Before we know it, Biscayne Boulevard will cut a palm-tree-lined swath through a downtown canyon of tall, shiny buildings and chic outdoor cafés. At the moment, however, this area boasts more cranes than creditable lunch spots. Bali Café, with its fresh, beautiful, steamy-hot Indonesian cuisine, is an oasis seemingly far from the world of jackhammers. The 30-seat room resembles what one might imagine to be an informal eatery in Jakarta -- brass, carved wood, flashes of color, assorted trinkets here and about. The food outshines all, though. Presentations look as if they belong on the cover of an Indonesian gourmet food publication, and the flavors burst with sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes -- often all on the same plate. Favorites such as satays, gado gado (with tofu, egg, and vegetables in peanut sauce), and nasi goreng (fried rice with spicy coconut-imbued chicken and beef) are consistently prepared with aplomb. But don't miss the dumplings, scrumptiously plumped with chicken in piquant peanut-and-sweet-soy sauce; or lontong cap go meh, an intoxicating blend of chicken and beef with steamed chayote and coconut broth. Desserts look like frappes assembled by Courtney Love, and prices are even cheaper than the image that conjures.

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN YOU'RE PAYING

Pilar

Pilar
BEST RESTAURANT WHEN YOU'RE PAYING Pilar Promenade Shops

20475 Biscayne Boulevard

Aventura

305-937-2777

www.pilarrestaurant.com A feel-good farewell. Sentiment or too many drinks has caused words to pour off the tongue like vodka from a bottle. Before you realize it, you've extended a generous dinner invitation to business associates, or distant cousins, or your wife's Pilates classmates. Later, in a more rational moment, you look over menus from the more respectable restaurants in town, tally the potential costs, and realize you really didn't want to vacation in Aruba this year anyway. Here's the solution: Take them to Pilar, where the cuisine, service, and ambiance are on par with dining establishments that charge far more. The 82-seat Aventura restaurant, which opened in July 2003, is named after Ernest Hemingway's fishing boat. To suggest chef/owner Scott Fredel has a way with fish is like saying Hemingway wasn't too bad with words, and prices are so reasonable the writer could've afforded to eat here before he ever sold a manuscript. House salad with lemon vinaigrette is four dollars. A starter of boniato gnocchetti in creamy walnut pesto is eight dollars; a pasta entrée of homemade pappardelle with fresh tomato, roasted garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese goes for just one buck more. Entrées are kept below twenty, and that includes upscale pairings like yellowtail snapper with plump potato-leek croquette and warm tomato-herb vinaigrette; slow-roasted salmon with grainy mustard sauce and truffled red potato salad; and a succulent flatiron steak with mashed potatoes and truffle-roasted broccoli and shallots. Prices on the largely West Coast wine list are kept in line as well, and Pilar has recently reeled in a full liquor license. When you're fishing for a caviar dining experience on a fish-egg budget, Pilar should be the first place that comes to mind -- and it's invaluable as fail-safe insurance for those times you speak without thinking at all.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®