BEST-KEPT SECRET mia Gallery Miami International Airport

Concourse E, second level

305-876-0749; 305-869-1219; 305-876-7017

"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression öAs pretty as an airport.'" British sci-fi/comedy writer Douglas Adams wrote that sentiment in the opener to one of his popular books, Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. It is an observation never more true than at the absurdly slapdash way station of humanity known as Miami International Airport. Which is why it's surprising and yet completely fitting that MIA would not only have an art gallery (open since 1999) but would also make little effort to inform people of its existence, much less help them find it. However, those lucky passengers who do (you can't visit it unless you have a plane ticket or make special arrangements) will find a beauteous 2400-square-foot space created, airport literature explains, "for the purpose of humanizing the airport environment." The shows, smartly curated by Yolanda Sanchez, often feature some of Miami's most accomplished contemporary artists. Amid the nearly overwhelming spectacle of MIA's environs, mia Gallery is a welcome aesthetic breather.

BEST ART MUSEUM Bass Museum of Art 2121 Park Avenue

Miami Beach

305-673-7530 Two years ago Bass Museum executive director and chief curator Diane Camber was ready to go medieval on the engineers who oversaw the construction of the museum's current home one block west of Collins Avenue. From a leaky roof to broken floor beams to the climate control system that forced the Bass to shut down for several months in 2003, Miami Beach's storied art institution was in shambles. But the City of Miami Beach, which owns the museum building and splits operating costs with Bass support groups, got its act together and fixed the problems. Camber can now proudly display the magical works of Renaissance and Baroque masters Sandro Botticelli, Peter Paul Rubens, Ferdinand Bol, Jacob Jordaens, and others in the Bass permanent collection. Through June 26 the museum is also offering a look at the Central Park public art project The Gates by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. The Bass is showing off a collection of preparatory drawings, collages, and photographs covering more than 40 years of the artistic couple's work, including a quarter-century of planning designs for their most recent project in New York. After taking a tour of the museum, grab a bite to eat at the indoor café. The Bass is open Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. General admission is six dollars, four dollars for seniors and students.

BEST VALUE ON OCEAN DRIVE Café Mediterraneo Deli 1501 Collins Avenue

Miami Beach

305-532-8998 While true cheapskates know to load up on food and drink before they find themselves east of Collins Avenue, there's still hope for a little cheap grub and chaser right on the strip. Tucked deep within the Ocean Steps mini mall at the north end of Ocean Drive is Café Mediterraneo Deli. More a sandwich shop and bodega than traditional delicatessen, the store offers brand-name cold cuts, ice cream, a large assortment of wine, and various sundries. For the froufrou tightwad who requires amplified flavor, there are even jars of curry paste and key lime juice. But the fun doesn't stop there. You can grab a table on the elevated patio overlooking Ocean Drive and people-watch to your heart's content. This is actually better than much of the sidewalk seating on Ocean Drive itself, where you get bumped and jostled by the moving wall of gawking humanity. Or take a picnic lunch to Lummus Park and people-watch from under the shade of a lovely coconut palm.

BEST LOCAL CITY IN WHICH TO LIVE Coral Gables No doubt you've heard about the crazy regulations that plague residents of Coral Gables. (Does a fancy SUV count as a truck or a car, and can I park it in my driveway overnight?) But for many Gables citizens, it's a small price to pay (well, maybe not so small) for the privilege of living in such a beautiful city. The lush foliage (tightly regulated) and exquisite examples of Mediterranean Revival architecture (don't even look at a can of paint without the necessary permits) are just a couple of reasons why people prefer living in George Merrick's dreamscape. A disproportionate number of South Florida's better restaurants and retail stores are within city limits. The arts and entertainment scene is burgeoning, helped in part by having the University of Miami also within city limits. Even tourist attractions like the Venetian Pool and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden are classy, tasteful, and fun.

BEST STARGAZING Southern Cross Astronomical Society 1400 SW 107th Avenue

Miami

305-661-1375

www.scas.org

and

Bill Sadowski Park

17555 SW 79th Avenue

Palmetto Bay

305-255-4767

www.miamidade.gov/parks/parks/ bill_sadowski.asp When the Southern Cross Astronomical Society was founded in 1922, members would gaze at the skies with a five-inch Clark refractor from the Royal Palm Hotel and Park. Now they meet at Bill Sadowski Park and bring their eighteen-inch Dobsonian reflector. Whether you're a professional astronomer with a laptop attached to your scope's tracking system or a nine-year-old with a fascination for the stars, the friendly members of SCAS are happy to share their platform with you. They'll tell you where to find the Seven Sisters or let you look at the craters of the moon through their telescopes. And if it's the planets you're interested in, the Society's reflector will allow you to see the storm on Jupiter and the space between Saturn's rings. Members of SCAS like Bill Sadowski Park because of its proximity to the coast, east of South Dixie Highway. The stars begin their rise over the bay, which allows for a clear view before they descend toward the light-polluted city. Be sure to turn your headlights off before passing the gate, otherwise you'll ruin everyone's night vision.

BEST BUS RIDE Route 102/Route B Riding the entire length of Metrobus Route 102 and its Key Biscayne connector, Route B, you don't see all of Miami-Dade County, and yet you do. This trip is expansive in geography and culture, traveling as it does from one of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States (once home to Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, faithful pal of President Richard Nixon) to Hialeah (home to many Latin American immigrants who serve the needs of those in the 149). The circuitous, meandering route also passes by Government Center Metrorail Station in downtown Miami, Crandon Park, and Cape Florida State Park. But Route 102's true charm is its median destination, Miami International Airport. So there is, after all, a way to get to the airport that doesn't involve a taxi, private limo service, or being forever beholden to friend or neighbor. And it costs only $1.50.

SECOND-BEST ERRATUM April 4, 2005

Miami Herald "The e-mail address on Friday's column for öYou Got A Problem' was incorrect...."

BEST PLACE TO SAVOR THE FLAVOR OF MIAMI El Palacio de los Jugos 5721 W. Flagler Street

Miami

305-264-4557

and

14300 SW Eighth Street

West Miami-Dade

305-221-1616 Stepping into one of these anachronistic juice bars is like taking a stroll through el campo. The aroma of pork and tamales suffuses the air, and mostly Cuban visitors mull about, checking out the produce while enjoying guava juice and mango shakes. This is one of those places where the first and second generations from the island nation converge to shoot the breeze and sip on flavors as diverse as the ethnicity of this magnetic city. Hungry? There's no table service here. That would just detract from the communal vibe. Walk right up, stand in line (there are almost always lines), and choose from the tropical delicacies at the cafeteria-style counters. Make sure you have a firm grip when the server hands you a heap of hot, delicious fare. Dine on traditional Latin favorites or try the nontraditional Chinese fried rice the palaces are famous for -- estillo Cubano of course.

BEST SOUP KITCHEN Camillus House 726 NE First Avenue

Miami

305-374-1065

www.camillus.org A man yelps as rabid crack dogs gnaw at his belly from the inside. The old, lost mind of another thinks he hears whispers through the rotting track marks of a filthy needle spiked in his arm. Hunger and pain. Death is welcomed here. A beaten mother ushers her children through the shadows of broken souls spread out on the hard concrete. She's seeking light and some soup at the inn. The putrid smell of body fluids, alcohol, and cigarettes engulfs them as they walk by. No one blinks -- some out of fear, some out of chemicals. At city hall it's worse: All eyes are shut tight. For almost twenty years elected officials have been squabbling over moving the inn. It's not pretty, you see, and you can't make money with the inn nearby. But Angel Gonzalez (a city commissioner, not an angel) blocks the innkeepers' plans to build a new, better refuge. Not in my neighborhood. The light at the inn flickers but keeps shining. It always shines, as it has for 45 years, despite enemies from without and from within. Someone's stomach growls. Not Gonzalez's. Commissioner Regalado, where will they go? Commissioner Winton? Commissioners Sanchez and Allen? Each day more than 1100 meals must be prepared. It's still not enough. The light at the inn flickers but keeps shining. It always shines, especially from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. That's when everybody who can fit inside the inn is served a nourishing meal -- by live angels.

BEST PLACE TO GO STONED Deering Estate at Cutler 16701 SW 72nd Avenue

South Miami-Dade

305-235-1668 In the future, people will be able to plug their brains directly into virtual reality scenarios for sex, drugs, and probably everything else. No doubt there will be meditative modules for calming down -- like motionless yoga for the nervous system. Walking into the Deering Estate at Cutler, especially on a weekday when you might have the entire expanse of the back lawn to yourself, feels like walking into just such an alternate reality. Schools of fish swimming in concentric circles flash in the turning basin at the end of Deering's canal. Occasionally a fat gray manatee breaks the surface. Royal palms form straight lines along the walkway and canal, enhancing the stately symmetry. Herons and egrets spear minnows in the shallows, and the hypnotic lapping of waves overshadows the endless array of tiny splashes and rustles among the mangrove roots. On the spooky tip, you can walk unaccompanied around the humongous house, checking out the somber paintings and portraits of scions past; be sure to venture into the dungeonlike basement.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®