BEST BOTANICA Halouba Botaneca 101 NE 54th Street

Miami

305-751-7485 Bedevilment is the natural state of man, but this does not mean one is helpless. There are remedies for trouble with money, love, health, the law. At Halouba, these cures run the gamut from the mundane to the esoteric. Need legal help? Burn an "Alleged Court Case" candle. Pining for a lover? That's as easy to deal with as splashing a bit of perfume behind the ears, or spraying an aerosol designed to attract a sweet honey. For those who are more than occasional dabblers, there are decorated libation bottles for favorite spirits, plaster statues, vodou flags, tin plates and bowls for offerings of food or incense, and herbal concoctions for healing baths. Hidden in the back is a vodou temple where Papa Paul holds court during ceremonies and the occasional card reading.

BEST HANDMADE CIGARS Padrón Cigars 1575 SW First Street

Miami

305-643-2117

www.padron.com José Orlando Padrón just wanted to continue a grand ancestral tradition of making puros when he uprooted his family from Cuba two years after the revolution. He set up shop in Little Havana in 1964 and fared quite well until 1978, when he joined a group of exiles who went to Cuba to negotiate the release of several thousand political prisoners. Unfortunately, a picture of Padrón giving one of his cigars to the dictator later surfaced in Miami. Affronted exilios (the boys of Omega 7 usually took credit) boycotted his business, defaced his building, and even bombed his factory. Padrón proved more resolute than the pack of cowardly extremists. As of its 40th year, the company had sold nearly 150 million hand-rolled cigars. And these are fine cigars: two dozen lines highly ranked by Cigar Aficionado magazine and other industry experts. (Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon, for example, never goes far without a couple Padróns in his pocket.) The entire process occurs in Nicaragua and Honduras, from the growing to the rolling to the shipping. The "vertical integration" system keeps prices reasonable ($2 to $25).

BEST HEAD SHOP High Tide Tobacco & Gifts 9814 S. Dixie Highway

Miami

305-670-6633 So your dude brings some stuff over, and it's like, way better than usual. Like some crystal-covered, red-haired, sticky-icky purple shit that's so beautiful you almost want to eat it as is. Primo buds like that don't deserve to be burned in a jobbed joint. And that crappy, resin-caked one-hitter you've been carrying around since sophomore year won't cut it either. What's a stoner to do? Blaze a trail to High Tide, the most bountiful tobacco and gift shop in these parts, and turn your puffery into art. Some of the pieces here are absolutely display-worthy. Choose from colorful bongs, bowls, sherlocks, steamrollers, sidecars, hammers, and hookahs, all handcrafted by talented glass blowers. While you're at it, pick up a pack or two of flavored rolling papers from a mind-boggling variety. Check out the usual assortment of T-shirts, posters, stickers, and incense that round out the "and gifts" part. Cruise home with your new glass friend, and burn down some choice hydro in high style.

Austin's Diving Center
BEST DIVE SHOP Austin's Diving Center 10525 S. Dixie Highway

Miami

305-665-0636 Austin's has several things going for it. The first is longevity. The store opened in 1968 and has remained in essentially the same spot the entire time (the first shop was right next door). The staff is also long-serving. The two managers, Dennis Dasinger and Doug Austin (his name is just coincidentally the same as the store's), have been working at Austin's fifteen and eighteen years respectively. They are in it for the long haul and that means you should trust them on mask and fin selection, what spear gun is best for what types of fish, and whether the new regulators are worth all that money. "I'd rather see you come back year after year, rather than sell you something expensive that you don't need," Dasinger says. Austin's also has an extensive inventory. "Our philosophy is if we don't have it, we can't sell it."

Readers´ Choice: Underwater Unlimited

Uncle Sam's Music
BEST USED-CD STORE Uncle Sam's Music 1141 Washington Avenue

Miami Beach

305-532-0973

www.unclesamsmusic.com Uncle Sam's is beginning to become a lock for this award, but as long as it keeps its bins stocked with one of the most diverse musical assortments around, we're hardly going to begrudge it local supremacy. Indeed, any N section whose contents run from New Order to Laura Nyro, and from the New York Dolls to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band -- all at $7.99 a pop -- gets a big thumbs up from these quarters. And sign language is the communication of choice at Uncle Sam's, with rows of listening stations allowing you to slap on a pair of headphones and preview selections to your ears' content. But not just CDs: You'll find a wide array of dance-oriented vinyl here, with a steady stream of DJs jostling past the lava lamps, vintage lunchboxes, and incense -- heck, it's like an old-fashioned head shop in here -- to nod along in time to the latest club offerings. Sure, you could go online. But will iTunes or Napster sell you Skittles, fake tattoos, and a twelve-inch record with your CDs?

BEST FLORIST Ruben's Flowers 3248 Bird Avenue

Coconut Grove Ruben's flower stand was last year's winner in this category; it deserves the honor again. In the face of construction, invading millionaires, increased non-flower-buying traffic, annoying self-righteous neighborhood activists, and an ambulance which arrived not to transport a patient but to crash into Ruben's display of Easter baskets, the gentlemen of Ruben's Flowers remain unfazed and constant. The flowers themselves -- from as far away as Ecuador and Holland and as close as South Miami-Dade's Glaser Farms -- are inexpensive and uniformly fresh and beautiful, but it is the Ruben's duo who are dewy. Hiring homeless people to do small chores for food, cash, and shelter from the sun or rain for a few hours, watching neighborhood children get off the bus and walk home from school (and keeping a vigilant eye on neighborhood houses) and beginning each day with a lusty chorus of day-ohs, Ruben's Flowers is a strictly cash, old-school business. To their extra added credit this year, they have remained neutral in the heated Home Depot debate, allowing naysayers to hang signs in their yard and pro-Depot militants to deposit heaps of the same signs collected from various Grove locations in their trash.

Readers´ Choice: Pistils & Petals

BEST REASON NOT TO GO TO COCOWALK Mr. Moe's 3131 Commodore Plaza

Coconut Grove

305-442-1114 Every Thursday night legions of inebriated college punks swarm the streets of Coconut Grove in a holy quest for drunken shenanigans. Perhaps owing to the copious amounts of chemicals percolating through their bodies, they find reason to converge at the doorstep of this log cabin watering hole. They are greeted by a rude, mullet-sporting door monster whose only concern is his own status as the man. As he creates in his mind the exclusivity of a chic South Beach nightspot, he arbitrarily allows members of the herd entrance. Inside is just as bad. Apart from the fact you might get roughed up if you look at owner John El-Masry the wrong way (it has been known to happen), this place caters to jockish frat boys in all their macho glory. This, in turn, causes nothing but headaches (not the hangover kind) as patrons are forced to sift through a testosterone cesspool with only a prayer of actually making it to the bar to order a drink.

Jamba Juice
BEST JUICE BAR Jamba Juice Various locations in Miami-Dade County

305-948-9919 In Miami the ubiquitous cafetería window provides the obvious choice for a quick pick-me-up. It's much easier to find a cafecito in this town than a glass of fresh-squeezed carrot juice. That's why Jamba Juice deserves kudos for offering a healthful alternative to your average sugar-loaded caffeine bomb. It is "corporate," but in terms of convenience (four locations in Miami-Dade County), quality, consistency, and courteous service, it really can't be beat. In addition to smoothies, the menu offers fresh juices such as carrot, orange, orange/carrot, orange/banana, Vibrant-C (a special blend), and matcha green tea (shaken with OJ or soymilk), known for its energizing properties and antioxidants. Jamba also serves up shots of detoxifying wheat grass (grown in South Miami), their version being surprisingly smooth, not bitter. If everyone drank this stuff, Miami would be a better place.

Books & Books
Courtesy of Books & Books
BEST BOOKSTORE Books & Books 265 Aragon Avenue

Coral Gables

305-442-4408

www.booksandbooks.com It's not just about the books anymore. If a bookstore -- any bookstore -- doesn't have the title you're looking for, it can be ordered for you. And if that's too much hassle, most bookstores also have Websites through which you can order virtually any title still in print. In fact some bookstores exist only in Website form. No, these days it's about other amenities, and on that score Mitchell Kaplan's Books & Books flagship store in the Gables is way out in front of the pack. The store's charming indoor-outdoor café is now really a restaurant, and a good one too, which also happens to have a decent list of affordable wines. Intelligently curated art exhibits rotate on a regular basis. Musical performances by uncommon artists, many from foreign lands, are a treat in the courtyard. And of course the Gables store is the premier place in all of South Florida for authors to read -- Best Reading Series in this very issue. Oh, and the staff is knowledgeable and helpful, just in case you actually want to buy a book.

Readers´ Choice: Books & Books

BEST VIDEO STORE New Concept Video 1671 Meridian Avenue

Miami Beach

305-674-1111

and

959 West Avenue

Miami Beach

305-674-1113 With its expansion to a second South Beach site -- and Blockbuster's drastic elimination of VHS tapes, including tons of films that have yet to be issued on DVD -- New Concept has become an even more important oasis for cineastes. While New Concept has also fully embraced the DVD format, they've kept around plenty of foreign and gay-themed VHS tapes. That supply is supplemented by plenty of new releases not found elsewhere, as well as a full rack of movie magazines (this is one of the few local places to consistently stock Film Comment). And there's also a neatly arrayed adult section (gay and straight), which is something not found at Lion Video (the only competitor for this award) or, obviously, at any Blockbuster outlet.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®