Paul Bakery Café
When Paul opened last year in the newly built Biscayne Commons mall -- located on a stretch of Biscayne Boulevard formerly known only to those stocking up on 50-pound packages of chicken wings at Costco -- it instantly became a worth-a-special-drive destination for true gourmets. The salads and sandwiches are good, and the authentic French pastries even better. But Paul's heart is the staff of life: bread. Despite owner/baker Francis Holder and his family owning more than 300 shops worldwide, the North Miami Beach branch (their first on North American soil) makes the substantial, old-fashioned artisan loaves pioneered by his Croix, France boulangerie in the Sixties. There are at least a couple dozen varieties available daily, almost all crafted from custom-grown-and-milled flours and traditional methods. Although these loaves take longer to make -- an average of seven hours -- the bread stays fresh longer. That means you can look forward to days of savoring a black olive-studded Niçoise fougasse ($2.95), a nuttily aromatic "Paulette" baguette, or a white sandwich loaf ($4.95), which is similar to American white bread yet with a denser crumb and briochelike flavor. Breads range from $2.45 for a plain baguette to $5.95 for a walnut loaf; rolls and similar small breads begin at 50 cents. Whatever the variety, one bite of Paul's bread will evoke memories of your last trip to Paris (sans the attitude).

Best Inexpensive Asian Restaurant

Asia Bay

Asia Bay
Asia Bay brings a big bang for the buck. A bowl of miso soup is $2. House salad or steamed edamame is $3. Most of the other starters don't cost more than $8, and dozens of entrées served with soup or salad go for less than $15 -- including steak teriyaki, chicken tempura, shrimp pad thai, and sizable bowls of soba or udon noodle soup. For $16 you can create your own three-item Japanese box dinner. There are 66 splendid sushi and sashimi items from which to select too. Medium-size rolls are just $5 to $10 and range from routine (California, futomaki) to rowdy (crunchy katsu with deep-fried chicken). Lunch delivers an even deeper discount: six pieces of sashimi, three pieces of sushi, half a California roll, steak teriyaki, and miso soup or salad for $12. Though the final bill might suggest bargain-basement fare, the quality of cuisine is sky-high -- deftly prepared, pristinely presented, and bursting with bright, cleanly delineated flavors. By charging such reasonable prices, Asia Bay has removed the only obstacle to eating sushi out every night. How does one say "thank you" in Japanese?
The best time to visit Carnaval is weekdays from noon to 3:00 p.m. Why? Every Monday through Friday this market offers a hot lunch buffet that features different homemade dishes, from traditional specialties like feijoada to adopted Brazilian favorites such as beef stroganoff. Choose from anything on the buffet for only $7.50 per pound; then grab one of the coveted indoor seats and tuck in. Even if you can't make it during lunchtime, this place serves great snacks -- warm pão de quiejo as well as empanadas and panini sandwiches -- all day. And if your sweet tooth is aching for some treats, get there early and grab some brigadeiros before they run out. Of course, Carnaval's shelves are well stocked with a wide selection of Brazilian products -- including guaraná and requeijão -- if you prefer cooking at home.
It is supposed to be a flaky, crescent-shape roll painstakingly prepared by rolling butter and pastry dough into thousands of microlayers. The crisp, crusty exterior should give way to so ethereal a bite that it will taste like a Ferran Adriá concoction called "butterair." And, preferably, it should be made fresh daily. The croissants at La Brioche Dorée match all of these criteria, which is why so many French expatriates, as well as locals, cram the quaint little storefront bakery every morning. The secret ingredient that makes these croissants so buttery is -- and this is a shocker -- the butter. It comes from France and is denser, richer than the American stuff, which is served on the side but is totally superfluous. Croissants are $1.50; a cup of espresso $1.50. A copy of Le Monde would be a few francs extra.
Caribbean Delite
What hamburgers are to Americans, roti is to many Caribbean islanders. In Trinidad and Guyana, roti is considered soul food, and few places outside the islands do it better than Caribbean Delite. This hole-in-the-wall is embedded in a strip mall that amounts to a miniature Caribbean district. Reggae music blasts from the record store down the way, and Jamaicans emerge from the shop next door, carrying grease-stained brown paper bags stuffed with hot beef patties. Caribbean Delite serves up spicy saffron-color curried meats like chicken, beef, goat, and shrimp with a generous dollop of curried potatoes and chickpeas (also eggplant, cabbage, and pumpkin if you come on a Thursday). These dishes -- accompanied by paratha, a scrumptiously soft flatbread also known as buss-up-shut -- are traditionally scooped up by hand. Succulent chickpea-filled doubles cost $1. For a more filling meal, consider a shrimp roti for $7 or feast on curried boneless chicken with paratha roti for $6.50. But roti is not Caribbean Delite's only specialty. It also sells pholourie, fried balls of dough that you dip into zesty mango chutney. For dessert, try some sweet-and-sour tamarind balls, or khurma, sticks of crisp fried dough sprinkled with ginger and sugar. Check out the well-stocked cooler of carbonated beverages, which can be difficult to find in the United States, such as Jamaican favorites grapefruit-flavor Ting, red-orange Kola Champagne, and sorrel, a customary yuletide brew made from crimson blossoms. The glass cabinet at the store's counter contains myriad strange island imports, like mauby, a concentrated concoction made from tree bark; and Milo, a chocolaty drink known and loved throughout the archipelago.
For a doughnut-hole-size family shop to hold its own next to Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme in this sticky business, you know the product has to take the cake (or the glazed or the cruller). Paired with café con leche, the classic glazed will melt on your tongue, the moist chocolate cake will make you moan, and the velvety cream filling in the Bavarians will have you convinced that little fried pieces of Heaven do exist on Earth. But you need to get here early, because doughnuts this good will not last all morning.
Karlo Bakery & Cafe
Screw Betty Crocker, forget Duncan Hines, and stay away from supermarket bakeries. If you really want to make a birthday party memorable, head straight to Karlo. Everything is freshly made, so simply entering the store can induce an olfactory orgasm. Freshly baked bread, cookies, empanadas, croissants, and pastries crowd the glass cabinets. Pick up some pastelitos for the party and then choose a cake, any cake. They are all as pretty as a picture. Chocolate, vanilla, amaretto, layered with berries or topped with frosting. The almond mousse is among the best ($27 sized for 10 to 12 people, $60 for 25 people). It slices like thick butter and goes down like a marzipan dream. Now that is worth singing the birthday song for.
Tropical Chinese Restaurant
Photo by Andrew Meade
Yes, it is in a strip mall. Yes, the red lanterns and waiters' uniforms remind you a little bit of a James Bond movie, somehow. But the food ... the aroma of mushrooms wafting from a bubbling clay pot, of shrimp nestled deliciously in semitransparent dumpling wraps, of kung pao tofu with a hint of pork and mini chili peppers. Tropical is authentic Chinese and classic Miami. Go for dim sum on the weekends as well. The average cost of entrées is from $12 to $20.
We like to visit this clean little two-year-old Colombian joint in a nondescript East Little Havana strip mall Sunday afternoons, when the mondongo and sancocho ($5.50 each with rice) are at their zenith. These soups are the basis of the weekend diet in Bogot‡ and beyond -- and here they are cooked to perfection, particularly the tripe in the mondongo. Indeed Colombianos from across Miami-Dade County, at least the patriotic ones, make their way here to enjoy the Aguila and Club Colombia Beer ($2.75 per bottle) while they nibble on bread and talk of home. Visitors with hearty appetites order the churrasco, a paragon of meaty perfection, which comes with a baked potato and salad for $8.95. The lucky ones get to chat with Amparo Valencia, the owner who hails from Armenia, which, in case you didn't know, is a city in the west-central mountains of Colombia.
Sweetened, condensed milk was introduced to the Florida Keys 150 years ago. Owing to the lack of cows around, the new canned product was taken to with gusto by the citizenry, who developed all sorts of new recipes in which to use it. Key lime pie was far away the most successful of these concoctions, and the ingredients have hardly changed since its inception: key lime juice, condensed milk, and crust (originally made from pastry dough, but nowadays from graham crackers crumbled with butter). The only variation comes via the topping: whipped cream or meringue -- that is, except at the Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory. They base their pie on a flaky cornmeal crust, use Nellie & Joe's key lime juice in the delicate pale yellow custard, and top it off with -- nothing. That's the plain pie, which costs $3.95 per slice and $17.75 for the whole. A slice capped with a lofty cloud of meringue, or a frozen key lime wedge dipped in chocolate and served on a stick are also available at the same single-serving price (slightly more per pie). However you slice it, and however you top it, Blond Giraffe's key lime pie is the best thing anyone has created from a can of condensed milk.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®