BEST TOY STORE Animated Toys 479 Biltmore Way

Coral Gables

www.animatedtoystore.com

305-444-9383 This is the toy store for comic-book freaks, a place stocked with collectible action figures (don't call them "dolls") of your favorite heroes and villains, including Superman, the Green Lantern, Shazam!, Spider-man, the Punisher, and Dr. Doom. There's plenty for fans of the Star Wars franchise, and even NBA, WWE, and MLB figures. Others will love the plush items and Care Bears, Bratz, and Hamtaro figures. Jannette Diaz opened the store this past December because her husband's hobby had taken over their garage. Trying to find a present for your favorite collector? Visit Animated to find great gifts for those who have everything ... except that Spawn Classic Comic Book Cover figure.

Yesterday & Today Records
Falyn Freyman
BEST RECORD/CD STORE Yesterday and Today Records 9274 Bird Road

West Miami-Dade

305-554-1020

www.vintagerecords.com All that's left of what once was a cool-music empire is a small store across the street from Bird Bowl. Specializing in sounds of a certain vintage, the latest in a two-decade series of Y&T outlets is still paradise for the psych/garage crowd. There's plenty in original vinyl, heavyweight re-issues, and import-only CDs. For everyone else, there awaits a generous sampling of jazz, blues, country, soundtracks, and a decent selection of Latin stuff. As fans of specific sounds tend to do, one must quibble about trivia. Like, if Johnny Rivers gets his own divider in the bins, shouldn't Johnny Rotten? Bloody 'ell he should. Prices are fair for the collectibles and there are even some golden nuggets priced as low as 99 cents.

Readers´ Choice: Sweat Records

BEST GUITAR STORE MusicTech 4045 SW 96th Avenue

West Miami-Dade

305-554-8818 After a long life as Ed's Guitars, this little shop just off Bird Road has grown accustomed to its much-deserved hosannas. Though not stocked with hundreds of high-end guitars and amplifiers like the giant instrument depots, MusicTech offers a friendly atmosphere, inexpensive repairs, and truly helpful staffers who are willing to tell you if you need to go to Guitar Center to get what you need. Owner Mitch Kopp is always restocking the store with new and used guitars and amps, so you never know when a gem will pop up. Plus, the place is something of a musicians' consortium, with local rock, jazz, and folk artists hanging out and talking music. Kopp also offers guitar lessons and an occasional free show.

Lily's Records
BEST PLACE TO BUY LATIN MUSIC Lily's Records Various locations in Miami-Dade County

305-856-0536

www.realpagessites.com/lilirecords When you get that itch for a little Johnny Ventura or Thalia you must know where to go. Since 1976 Lily's has had the largest supply of merengue, salsa, cumbia, and various international CDs in Miami. If they don't have exactly what you're looking for, they'll order it. But more than likely patrons will be able to find the hip-shaking jams they couldn't find anywhere else. With five locations, Lily's makes it convenient for customers and musicians alike to immerse themselves in a virtual library of flavorful jams. The stores also offer musical instruments like bongos, claves, güiros, guitars, and maracas to permit any listening experience to evolve into an interactive musical session. What's more, the shop provides complete production services and serves as a CD manufacturer.

BEST USED BOOKSTORE Eutopia 1627 Jefferson Avenue

Miami Beach

305-532-8680 Upon its 2000 opening, Eutopia was a tentative outpost for the Beach's bibliophiles, who -- previously accustomed to hitting the highway to root through the bounty at the Kendall Bookshelf or Fort Lauderdale's Robert Hittel Bookseller -- curiously poked their heads inside this shop's doorway. Five years on, Eutopia is thriving, and proof that Lincoln Road's quirky heart still beats in the shadow of the Gap and Victoria's Secret. Bargains abound here: A recent browse turned up a three-dollar mint hardcover copy of short-story master Donald Barthelme's collected works, as well as a spate of forgotten novels from arch WASP pundit William F. Buckley, Jr. But it's with Floridiana that this store really shines, the shelves full of odd little treasures ranging from a rare first edition of Charles Willeford's crime classic Miami Blues to back issues of the Fifties Beach glossy mag Panorama, a precursor to Ocean Drive and a reminder of this burg's colorful history -- a history found in abundance at Eutopia.

Richard Lyons Nursery
BEST PLANT NURSERY Richard Lyons' Nursery 20200 SW 134th Avenue

South Miami-Dade

305-251-6293

www.rarefloweringtrees.com This place is an utterly charming antidote to the mega-nurseries that never surprise. Mr. Lyons is a Miami-based real estate attorney who loves plants and has run a nursery on his South Dade property since 1961. He grows and sells the standards (including orchids), but he also specializes in exotic flowering trees and vines such as brownea ($150 for a small tree), bombax ceiba ($35 for a small tree), and jade vine ($45 to $150). This is also a fun place to simply walk around -- there is a distinctly intimate feel, with foliage of all types sprouting from every available space around Lyons's garage and house, air plants tagged for sale growing in the crooks of trees in his front yard, friendly cats prowling about, and bathtubs full of water plants here and there. The one drawback: Lyons's place is tucked away in a very rural part of the county, and is consequently difficult to find. Drivers should not try to take Eureka Drive to 134th Avenue -- the two streets don't intersect. Instead, take Quail Roost Drive to 134th Avenue.

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

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Best Of Miami®