Best Of :: Shopping & Services
BEST FLEA MARKET Flea Market USA 3015 NW 79th Street
305-836-3677 Located in the heart of Liberty City, Flea Market USA is the bargain mecca for people who earn money through the underground economy or want to look ghetto fabulous. Inside several makeshift barbershops and unisex salons men and boys sit patiently in swivel chairs as stylists weave their long, unruly Afros into intricate cornrows. Young women dressed in shorts and tube tops and donned in gold bling get their nails painted. Dozens of booths sell marked-down name-brand sneakers, clothes, car and home electronics, and jewelry. Tough-looking guys and girls line up at tattoo parlors for ink. Flea Market USA is also one of the few places in Miami-Dade where dope dealers can buy the specialty materials for making crack. Some might find this place exotic, but for us it's essential.
BEST ADULT VIDEO STORE Caliente Adult Superstore 1820 West Eighth Avenue
305-885-1100 Pleasure Emporium may be large, but Caliente is hot. At the same time, Caliente is cool enough to stock not only the Pocket Rocket but also the Pocket Kamasutra. The shop -- spacious, organized, and clean enough to consider a lingerie purchase -- is located one block north of Okeechobee Road and few blocks south of the studios of Telemundo. So there's always an extremely slim chance of running into your favorite Channel 51 on-air hunk or babe in the small but sizzling Latin racks, where titles range from the innocent (Panochitas) to the sophisticated (Latinas en Europa) to the sublime (Beautiful Brazilian Whores). Other sections run the traditional gamut, including anal, oral, all-girl, all-black, and gang-bang, to name, alas, only a few. You might even find Panochitas Gorditas 11 in the new releases display. Rentals are $5.25 a pop.
BEST ARGENTINE MARKET La Estancia Argentina 17870 Biscayne Boulevard
305-932-6477 and 4425 Ponce de Leon Boulevard (Village of Merrick Park)Coral Gables
www.laestanciaweb.com In Argentina there are three pastimes: soccer, soccer, and soccer. And all that soccer playing makes a body hungry. Which brings us to Argentina's three food groups: bread, wine, and meat. Some of the most highly regarded versions of these in the world are produced on the many estancias of that panoramic nation. Particularly in the past four years (since the country's economy collapsed in what is known as "the crisis") residents of Argentina -- as much as they appreciate their soccer, their panoramas, and their three food groups -- have grown tired of politicians' favorite pastime: stuffing their pockets with the people's money. Many decided to move to Miami. Good for them, as there's no corruption here. Ahem. Okay, then, lucky for us, because they have also decided to open up a slew of food-related businesses. Argentine markets are increasing exponentially all over town, the classiest example being La Estancia Argentina, where you can literally pick up everything you need for a true Argentine barbecue: fresh meat, cut the way you like it; house made chimichurri; fragrant breads baked on premises; and a wide selection of Argentine wines and ports. Of course they also sell fresh pastas, medialunas (tiny croissants), sweet pastries, gourmet cheeses, mate (herb tea), sandwiches, and dried goods from the homeland. With streamlined, modern décor, the place is just as good for shopping as it is for relaxing with a hot cup of café con leche. You can stop in just for the coffee and walk out empty-handed if you choose, but it's unlikely that you will.
BEST BABY STORE Genius Jones 1661 Michigan Avenue
305-534-7622 This is a children's store all grown up. Owners Daniel Kron and his wife Geane Brito, New York fashion- and design-world refugees, opened shop in 2003 specifically because they were so disappointed with what was available when shopping for their first child in 2000. "For too long in the baby business people just accepted what they were given because there were no alternatives," Kron says. So he and his wife found interesting and beautiful alternatives, such as the cardboard snap-together rocket from Brazil, big enough for kids to crawl into; vintage guayaberas and concert T-shirts, recut and miniaturized; and their signature item, the $729 Bugaboo Stroller from Holland. They stumbled upon that pricey kid-cart before it was even available in the U.S., becoming one of the first five stores to carry it. Since then it has gone on to become the celebrity stroller, used by Gwyneth Paltrow and featured on Sex and the City. Kron says he looks for inspiration when selecting gear. "I want them to show me a great design, show me a better way, show me something aesthetically stunning," he says. "We never think in terms of what we can make a lot of money on." Their approach seems to be working: They intend to open a second location at 49 NE 39th Street in the Design District, probably by June. "A lot of our success has to do with the fact that people in Miami are having more babies than in other cities," Kron adds. "People are more into their families here, it seems."
BEST BIKE SHOP Mack Cycle & Fitness 5995 Sunset Drive
www.mackcycleandfitness.com Here's the problem with selecting a "best" bike shop: These days no single retailer carries all the major manufacturers -- Cannondale, Giant, GT, Raleigh, Schwinn, Specialized, Trek -- much less even a fair sampling of the hundreds of boutique brands. Blame it on a form of commercial bullying: Competing suppliers force retailers to choose among a limited number of brands in order to get the best prices. You choose your supplier and take whatever he carries and that's pretty much it. So the criteria for "best" must include more than simply brand names. This is where Mack Cycle & Fitness comes in -- it's trustworthy, reliable, and reasonably priced. The family-owned shop has been in business more than 47 years and is abundantly staffed by a crew of knowledgeable people who are quick to lend assistance. Sometimes, perhaps, too quick. If you want to browse undisturbed, be advised to make that fact known at the outset. But there is no staff more experienced anywhere in Miami. Currently the store's main brands are Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, and Schwinn -- each of which offers numerous models.
Readers´ Choice: Fritz´s Skate, Bike and Surf
BEST BIRD SHOP Aviary Bird Shop 22707 S. Dixie Highway
www.aviarybirdshop.com Just south of Cauley Square on South Dixie Highway -- amid tire shops, liquor stores, and various building-material supply warehouses -- stands the Aviary, a not-so-tiny oasis where wings and an affinity for sunflower seeds are the only residency requirements. Day-Glo green parrots, mohawked cockatiels, and hyperactive parakeets are all treated to garden views, plenty of shade, and all the dried fruit their beaks can handle. In addition to the usual supplies, the oldest bird shop in Miami also offers boarding (in its Tweety Motel), microchipping, and, soon, an area on-premises for special flighty occasions. Go for supplies, a new feathered friend, or an afternoon of bird watching. Think of it as a miniature Parrot Jungle without the roller-skating parrots or $25 admission fee.
BEST BOOKSTORE Books & Books 265 Aragon Avenue
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 BOTANICA Halouba Botaneca 101 NE 54th Street
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 COMIC-BOOK SHOP Outland Station 12540 SW 120th Street
Outland Station Annex
Shops at Sunset Place
5701 Sunset Drive
www.outlandstation.com For more than ten years Outland Station was situated in a brick-and-stone storefront on Red Road, two blocks east of South Dixie Highway. Dusty cardboard boxes overflowed with almost every comic book produced by D.C., Marvel, Dark Horse, and those Image guys, whose independent imprint gave birth to Spawn, the Savage Dragon, and The Maxx, antiheroes on quests for redemption. Over the years Outland's owners added action figures and memorabilia to their stock, becoming one of the few comic-book stores to offer customers advance orders for collectibles based on forthcoming releases. Earlier this year Outland relocated its fantasy realm to West Kendall, doubling its space. (The recently opened Annex is located near the old Outland spot.) Outland Station's venerable line of products remains intact. Displays reveal that this place still stays a step ahead, with items keyed to movies like Sin City and Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. Twelve-inch dolls of sadistic movie slashers Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface stand on one of the counters. Hard-to-find Batman figures designed by Jim Lee and Kia Asamiya hang on one wall. If you can't find what you're looking for, simply ask Eric or Frank, Outland's congenial apprentices, to take a special order. Both Outland locations also host trading-card competitions Friday nights and weekends.
BEST DISCOUNT MEN'S CLOTHIER Marshall's on Thursdays around 2:00 p.m. Various locations in Miami-Dade County Here's a little secret. Those $90 jeans on sale at Express? With a little patience and some ingenuity you can get them for twelve bucks. Around 2:00 p.m. Thursdays, Marshall's puts out the week's delivery. Aside from the usual crap, price-busters can find the overstock jeans and shirts that other suckers pay a pretty penny to wear. Rookies beware: This isn't news to serious shopaholics. Finding the right size is a matter of speed. You have to dig, but if you don't mind being like the lady in the commercials obsessively repeating "open, open, open," you will enjoy serious bargains.
BEST DIVE SHOP Austin's Diving Center 10525 S. Dixie Highway
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
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