Café Demetrio
George Martinez
Miami is not really the sort of town where disgruntled bohemians in berets linger over cappuccinos, discussing French postmodern philosophy. Usually coffee-drinkers have two choices: a cup of hot-and-sweet purchased hurriedly at a counter (where somehow a thimbleful packs a caffeine punch akin to pharmaceutical-grade amphetamines); or The Franchise, with its uniform couches, preservative-heavy baked goods, and smooth jazz. So Café Demetrio is a unique institution in these parts, with its tarts, strudels, empanadas, sandwiches, and excellent coffee served in cups made from porcelain, not paper. There is live music on the weekends, always a chess game in progress, and never the worry of spending more than $4 on a latte (even a big one). Best of all, you can bring a laptop and use the free wi-fi access.
You have your turkey burger, chicken burger, tofu burger, tempeh burger, Boca burger, Garden burger, soy burger, veggie burger, but it took a creative mind over at Sara's Vegetarian Café to think of substituting falafel for chopped beef. The "burgerito" here features a soft challah bun bursting with a delicately fried, parsley-happy chickpea patty; lettuce; tomato; onion; pickle; sauerkraut; tahini sauce; and a dash of devilish hot sauce if requested. It is kosher, vegetarian, and absolutely one of the tastiest sandwiches you will ever have. And a steal at $4.50. Plus it sounds really neat to say, "I'll have a couple of burgeritos, please."
Icebox Cafe
The Ice Box is a nice box, a big, airy square with colorful prints, hanging lights, and a bright stainless-steel kitchen. The first sight to grab your attention will likely be the glass display cases arrayed with outrageously delectable desserts. Take a mile-high wedge of legendary German chocolate cake, cuppa steamy espresso, and presto, your brunch is set. Actually the options are wider than that at weekend brunch (served from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.). The most basic choices would be creamy steel-cut Irish oatmeal with cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts, and cream; crunchy homemade granola with fresh berries; and "the egg box" of scrambled eggs, cheese, sausage, roast potatoes, and a biscuit. Menu specials change often, so you may be offered chive pancakes with smoked salmon, Boursin and lime cream; or tres leches pancakes with crisp bacon and dulce de leche sauce on the side. Either way, they will be fluffy. (À la carte prices range from $10 to $15.) Other noteworthy attractions include the laid-back vibe of a local crowd, creative menu of refreshing nonalcoholic beverages, obligatory mimosas and bloody marys, and free Internet access -- in case you are dining alone. When it comes to brunch, it is clearly preferable to think inside the box.
Bistro Bisou
The perfect French fry is a thing of true beauty. It should be skinny, but not so skinny as to upset its delicate balance of textures. It must be golden, not too pale, not too brown. Of course it must be crisp, typically the result of frying at least twice (once to seal the exterior and mostly cook the inside, the second time to add crispness and color). It must also be creamy on the inside; equally important, it absolutely must not be greasy. It must be fried in clean oil and be properly salted, which is to say aggressively but not so much it obscures the mild potato flavor. The fries, or to be more precise, frites, at this budget-chic Kendall bistro meet all of these requirements. These classic frites accompany, quite appropriately, a slab of grilled rib eye (less than $20), though you could be forgiven for casting aside the meat and concentrating on these deliciously addictive sticks of crisp potato.
Arbetter's Hot Dogs
Photo courtesy of Arbetter's Hot Dog
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates Americans will eat more than seven billion little red tubes of "specially selected meat trimmings" between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. Most will come fluffed in the traditional white hot-dog bun that H.L. Mencken once described as being made "of ground acorns, plaster of Paris, flecks of bath sponge, and atmospheric air." We wouldn't have it any other way, because if there is one thing Americans agree on, it's that we like our dogs simply prepared and plopped into a plain white wiener-shape roll. That's how they've been doing it at Arbetter's since 1960 (it moved to the current location in 1972). The lifting of the mostly pork frankfurter from its steamy water bath provides a hot-dog traditionalist with no less mouthwatering anticipation than a fine diner feels when witnessing the removal of his lobster from its tank in a high-class seafood house. The menu is as simple as it gets: hot dog with tangy relish ($1.60), kraut dog with mustard and sauerkraut ($1.70), chili onion dog ($1.75), and "all around dog" with mustard, onion, and relish ($1.45). Don't be shy when ordering -- the franks here are small enough that you can eat up to four in one sitting. The best of all dogs is the hot dog: It feeds the hand that bites it. And the best of all hot dogs are the precious pink pups at Arbetter's.
La Loggia Restaurant
It has a power location, smack-dab across the street from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. A full bar boasts a full breadth of high-octane fuels: brandies, cognacs, scotches, and specialty drinks, such as the Lawyer's Liquid Lunch, a martini glass of Absolut vodka and sweetened espresso. The main dining room's lofty ceiling and frescoed walls reverberate with the click, clatter, and chatter of meals and deals. Old-school waiters are attentive and discreet. The menu is distinguished by no-nonsense Northern Italian cuisine like fried calamari ($9.25), spaghetti Bolognese ($12.95), veal scaloppine ($14.95), and chicken Parmigiano ($14.95), and the fare is so consistently fresh and deftly prepared that even attorneys will be hard-pressed to dispute its merits. Power requires calories, and lunch at La Loggia is a hearty affair. Sirloin steak ($15.95), for example, is served with arugula salad, roast potatoes, and spaghetti pomodoro. You can handle it, and so can an Atalon Cabernet from Napa Valley. If your negotiations go well, celebrate with a puffy, bittersweet chocolate soufflé ($5.95). You need not be a lawyer or power broker to afford the moderate prices, which makes La Loggia a lunchtime deal you can't refuse.
Proprietor Salvatore Squadrito wants to fatten you up. That's the conclusion you reach once you're served any one of his pasta dishes. You get loads of silver-dollar-size ravioli. You get baseball-size meatballs in your spaghetti. You get heaping mounds of baked ziti. All of it made with the sweetest, tangiest tomato sauce this side of Napoli.
Flanigan's Seafood Bar & Grill
Eat or sleep? That is generally the question as the clock bears witness to a long night's descent toward morning. But if you consider that life is short and Flanigan's menu is long on lip-smacking, late-night snacks, the answer becomes clear: Grab a stool at the bar or a seat at the table and dig in. Big Daddy Flanigan knew something about staying up past midnight -- he opened his eponymous business in 1959, as a nightclub chain in seven states. By 1986 Flanigan's had evolved into casual restaurants scattered throughout South Florida. Late-night noshes include chicken wings, loaded nachos, fried shrimp, peel-and-eat shrimp, steamed clams, a fat Philadelphia cheese-steak sandwich, ten-ounce burger, spicy fries, and the signature one-and-three-quarter-pound hickory-smoked, fall-off-the-bone baby-back ribs (which outsells every other menu item three to one). Prices are eminently reasonable -- burgers and snacks less than $10, ribs and other heartier fare less than $20. Better deal: The wings come free with every pitcher of draft beer, soda, ice tea, or lemonade every evening from 10 p.m. until closing -- which means 4 a.m. That still leaves plenty of time to digest and go to sleep. Let's hope, for your sake, you don't have to get up for work the next morning.
King Palace Chinese BBQ
When it comes to Chinese take-out, some produce powerful essence and others do not. And it is vital the food magically permeates your automobile's interior with that uniquely intoxicating aroma we like to call essence of carry-out Chinese. What, exactly, causes this heavenly fragrance? Perhaps a beneficent god. Perhaps MSG, red dye #9, or something else we would rather not know about. What we do know is that often the meals with mojo come not from fancy restaurants but humbler joints, like King Palace, where specialties are Chinese barbecue and fresh seafood from the eatery's live tanks. Décor here is nearly nonexistent; the only thing you will miss by not eating in is the realization that almost all of your fellow diners are Asian. So order your goodies (especially recommended: clams with black bean sauce [$11.95]; lightly breaded salt-and-pepper crab heaped with diced chilies; live lobster [$17.95 per pound] or fish with green onion and ginger; crackling-covered crisp pork [$7.50 per pound]; and garlic-sautéed water spinach) to go. And enjoy the drive home.
Lan Pan-Asian Cafe
George Martinez
Located on the ground floor of Dadeland Station, this unassuming restaurant delivers the heartiest lunch deal in town. Simply put, it is truly affordable, truly yummy, truly filling Pan-Asian fare. What makes it so delicious? Simplicity matched with quality, such as pharmaceutical-grade sushi, delicately dressed seaweed salads with just enough sugar and acidity, and steamed, nutty brown rice. The lunch deal goes like this: You start with miso soup; then your server quickly brings you a rectangular platter with an eight-piece California roll in one box, mixed greens with a tangy cilantro-ginger vinaigrette in another, white or brown rice in a third, seaweed salad with sprouts in a fourth, and your entrée in a fifth -- all for less than $10. Entrée choices vary, but they include stir-fried Thai basil chicken with cremini mushrooms and bell peppers; seared beef with spinach and garlic; or four hefty pieces of nigiri sushi. The meal is the size of Hokkaido, and if you throw in some slurps of the frothy, sweet, outrageously delicious green bubble tea, you may not wish to eat again for days. Lan recently changed its frequent-diner card policy: Every dollar you spend at lunch earns you points -- such as four for a $3.78 glass of bubble tea. Once you hit 250 points, you get, yes, a free lunch. Note: The restaurant is closed Mondays, but the lunch deal extends from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, making it a perfect place to take a work -- or shopping -- break.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®