Crammed to the rafters with good things to eat and drink, this cozy little shop presents a welcome slice of European civilization in our hurry-up-and-get-out-of-my-way urban treadmill. As the name suggests, cheese is the market's specialty. You can also pick up almost everything else, from caviar to dried mushrooms, along with wines from a small yet thoughtfully chosen selection. As you would expect from a cheese shop, the relevant curds are properly cared for, neatly displayed, and packaged in portions small enough to make trying something new an affordable endeavor. The selections includes some 200 different cheeses ranging from the familiar to extraordinary. Although you may certainly grab your cheese and go, a more civilized approach would be to order a cheese and charcuterie platter, select a bottle of wine, and sit at one of the tiny sidewalk tables, nibbling and sipping and watching the rest of the world churn on that endless urban treadmill.
Salmon Salmon
It often seems that with ethnic cuisine, the less obvious and ornate the location, the better the food. Salmon Salmon is discreetly tucked into an unassuming strip mall near Miami International Airport. The small interior is decorated with a few gold Inca plates, and fishing nets cover the ceiling. But patrons do not come to Salmon Salmon for an extravagant dinner served on a silver platter and sided by sumptuous silverware; the home-style Peruvian cooking is the real gem here. Although seafood dominates the menu, salmon accounts for only a few dishes -- the place is named after its founder, Fabio Salmon. Peruse the menu while snacking on a sinus-clearing aji picante dipping sauce and bread. Allow your taste buds to recover, and then order the ceviche -- a must when indulging in Peruvian fare. For $12.75, you will receive a platter of citrus-tinged ceviche topped with sliced onions and potato chunks. Eat the dish as it comes or add a heaping of seafood fit for Atahualpa himself. Other meal options include huancaína potatoes, clams topped with onions and tomatoes, oyster cocktail, octopus, and all kinds of seafood chicharrón. Several of the plates are cooked creole-style, such as the pasta with beef tips and seafood. Although you will not find any poultry at Salmon Salmon, the skirt steak will satisfy any carnivorous cravings. Tender, chewy sautéed tips of beef are as delicious as they are affordable -- $14.25 for a dish large enough for two.
Those with a sweet tooth will have a heart attack -- we hope only figuratively -- upon entering Vicky Bakery. Elaborate cakes decorate the windows, while Danishes, buns, glory bread, and other baked goods lie glistening or powdered behind glass. The bakery itself is simple: white, nondescript, and sterile. But who needs fancy décor when colorful, sugar-saturated goodies are adornment enough? As if regular flan weren't deliciously rich enough, Vicky also offers cheesecake flan. Cue the heart attack. The sweet custard and creamy cheesecake texture topped with caramel is a guilty pleasure worth those extra 500 calories. For $2 you can savor the taste of Heaven in a small individual serving. Large trays of flan are also available to feed hungry party guests.
Casa Paco
From the white-linen tablecloths to the black-suited waiters, everything about Casa Paco screams expensive. But this restaurant, long as it is on atmosphere and excellent food, is shockingly cheap. A diner can easily make a full meal out of the excellent tapas offered at Casa Paco; one standout is the alcachofas salteadas, artichoke hearts sautéed in olive oil with chunks of Serrano ham (a heaping portion, served in a cast-iron pan, costs $10). But many entrées hover around the $10 mark as well, with some real delicacies offered at half the price you would expect. For instance, the Basque-style black grouper (cooked in a white seafood sauce and garnished with hard-boiled eggs and white asparagus) costs only $13. Almost all the lunch specials are less than $10.
An Italian franchise that opened its doors in Miami in 2001, Bacio's gelato is simply the most delizioso. At least two dozen flavors are available on any given day, ranging from nutty (hazelnut, toasted almond) to fruity (lemon, mango) to chocolaty (at least five different variations on the basic flavor are offered). A small cone is $3.55, and a cup is $4.31. Creamy, airy, never overly sweet, and made fresh locally, Bacio's gelato approximates dessert perfection.
Oishi Thai
Just when know-it-alls think it's safe to categorically poo-poo all Thai/sushi joints as cheesy hybrid sell-outs, a place like Oishi (translation: delicious) comes along. Since moving from Thailand in 1993, opening a first-rate restaurant has been the dream of chef/owner Piyarat B. Arreeratn (just call him Bee). The place's class is apparent before the first bite thanks to a tastefully sophisticated décor devoid of gaudy gilt elephants or The King and I paraphernalia. The cooking is equally classy. Thai entrées are authentically complex and balanced -- rich red curries ($8.95 lunch, $19.95 dinner) and sweet/salty/slightly tangy Panang curries ($8.95 lunch, $14.95 dinner) are especially tasty. Most dishes are available with your choice of meat, poultry, or seafood. Choose seafood; Bee hits the local docks twice daily for the freshest of fish. The impeccable quality of ingredients makes Oishi's sushi component more than equal to the Thai food. We suggest ordering from the list of chef specials, which are imaginative fusion dishes inspired by his stint at Nobu -- but they cost much less than the originals.
Whip 'n Dip Ice Cream Shoppe
Ignore the droves of soccer moms chauffeuring their sugar-craving offspring. And block out the Saturday-night teenybopper brigade heading postmovie to this South Miami institution. The smooth, creamy deliciousness that is Whip 'N Dip ice cream makes it worthwhile. Although the traditional chocolate and vanilla are always on tap, exotic flavors, including coconut and white chocolate mousse, rotate. That means you might have to make several trips back to ensure you try a cup or cone of each -- because they're all that good.
If you're hungering for a reasonably priced hunk of expertly grilled churrasco, juicy blood sausage, or succulent sweetbreads, you head to your favorite Argentine restaurant, right? Wrong, or at least you should consider dining at Zuperpollo. Located on Coral Way just minutes from downtown Miami, this cozy Uruguayan eatery has been dishing up some of the tastiest parrillada this side of Montevideo for almost twenty years. It may look like a hole-in-the-wall from the outside, but inside, this cozy restaurant is clean, inviting, and usually packed. And not without good reason. The fare is heartily portioned, all homemade, and consistently fresh, and dinner will not break the bank -- in fact it will barely even make a dent. Mixed barbecue for two -- a sizzling platter laden with flank steak, churrasco, chicken, sweetbreads, blood sausage, sausage, and English short ribs -- costs $25.95. Served with your choice of two sides -- the purée is creamy and downright delicious -- and hands-down the best chimichurri in town, this fabulous feast will leave you rubbing your stomach and wondering how to say "doggy bag" in Spanish. If bloody slabs of red meat are not your thing, don't worry: Zuperpollo has something equally delectable for you too. Choose from an array of housemade pastas, sandwiches, traditional Latino appetizers, or chicken, which is served no less than 50 different ways ($7.95 to $10.95). Wash it down with an ice-cold beer or a glass of wine, and you'll be bidding buenas noches to Buenos Aires before you know it.
In past years, this category has operated much like the Democratic presidential primaries, the winner plucked from a weak field of uninspired contenders. Ginger Grove has uprooted that notion, planting itself firmly as one of South Florida's sassiest Asian options. And prettiest, too, with floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around the curved perimeter of the room, which is outfitted in bamboo, weaves, natural wood, and a cool collection of hanging Buddha heads. Chef Christian Plotczyk made his mark with China Grill Management, and the menu here presents a similar sampling of modernized, Americanized, highly inventive Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cooking. Seared Szechuan pepper duck breast is tantalizingly glazed with tamarind sauce. Miso-marinated butter fish is contrasted with tempura shisito peppers. Braised Kurobuta pork belly -- simply and unspeakably delectable. Every dish is a winner, and entrée prices peak at an extremely reasonable $21. Service shines too, and the eclectic wine list is rife with distinguished vintners. All of the above make Ginger Grove a landslide choice as the finest dining destination in the area. Now if only the Democrats could come up with so strong a contender.
Gourmet Carrot
There is no doubt smoothies made from the nutrient-packed and easy-to-digest juices of fresh fruits are better for you than milkshakes full of fatty dairy products. Nevertheless some juice bars' smoothies, especially those whose heft comes from powders and so forth, do taste like they came out of a cow's back end. And the best-flavored of the rest often contain yogurt, making them no-nos for vegans, the lactose-intolerant, or folks avoiding milk for myriad other reasons. But because Gourmet Carrot is chiefly a kosher natural foods restaurant -- which serves poultry and fish as well as veggie dishes -- there is no dairy component in anything. The smoothies here rely on bananas for body and on the freshest of fruits for taste. They also contain the eatery's own tropical fruit sorbets, which range from a simple tangerine to an exotic guava rendition. Hard-core smoothie fanatics can add extras, including protein powders, bee pollen, et cetera, but the unadulterated Chilled Lych ($4.50) -- litchi juice, bananas, litchi sorbet, and ginger-pear sorbet -- will more than satisfy most thirsts for something good, and good for you.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®