Good bakeries open early, and great bakeries open at 5:00 a.m. There are not many places left in Miami where you can pick up your food before sunrise, but La Nueva Fe is one of them. Even if you don't need to have your party table set up before you drink your coffee, this Hialeah gem will still impress with its appetizing treats. The price is right too; you can buy enough food to feed 25 people for less than $20. Choose from bocaditos, pastelitos, and every other "itos" you can think of. Empanadas de guayava have a crisp, buttery crust, and cangrejitos are plump with meat filling. But don't leave without a platter of the mini medianoches -- ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches glazed in honey. They are certain to please every guest at your fiesta.
With restaurants such as Nobu, Casa Tua, Talula, Pacific Time, Prime 112, Vix, OLA, o-R-o, et al., it would be easy to forget about Mark's South Beach. After all, the stylish Deco restaurant is tucked away invisibly in the boutique Hotel Nash, and namesake culinarian Mark Militello is the quietest of star chefs. Also, many of the aforementioned spots have had splashy openings and attendant press coverage within the past couple of years, but Mark's has been excelling since 2000. Although this fact should be a plus, it has relegated the restaurant to yesterday's news. Fact is, Militello's menu of Caribbean-, Mediterranean-, and Latin American-influenced cuisine is as up-to-date and relevant as any in town, and executive chef Larry LaValley orchestrates the sunny fare with a consistently deft touch (he is as underrated as the venue). The food here is light, delicate, brilliantly conceived, and meticulously crafted. Witness the cracked conch ceviche-style scorched with vanilla rum. Or line-caught Gulf pompano with rock shrimp and ethereal vegetable agnolotti ($38). Or black grouper in sweet herb broth with baby artichoke potato hash and blue crab rémoulade ($30). Every note on the menu is played cleanly. Pastry chef Juan Villaparedes shines, too, and uses El Rey chocolates to create unimaginably luscious treats. The wine list boasts an array of mid- to high-end bottles from Old and New World vintners, and offers two dozen selections by the glass. Service is among the most polished in town. The overall dining experience here is simply superb. And very memorable. Which means that the only folks who will forget about Mark's place are those who've never dined here.
Las Olas Cafe
Leah Gabriel
In a region so densely populated by Cubans and their ancestors, a tasty Cubano should be as easy to come across as a wannabe model in South Beach. Not so. Finding a place that serves the ubiquitous sandwich is a breeze, but sinking your teeth into a truly fresh and flavorsome version presents a far greater challenge. And that is precisely why we do this -- to save you the bother. Next time you hunger for South Florida's favorite snack, head to this Beach staple. Las Olas is one of the cleanest cafeterias in town -- and a Cuban sandwich aficionado's dream locale. Watch the friendly staff layer juicy ham, succulent roast pork, Swiss cheese, a slathering of pickles, and mustard onto a sliced, buttered hunk of moist Cuban bread. But even with the freshest fare, the secret to this great sandwich lies in its grilling. And these beauties are popped into the traditional la plancha until the ingredients meld together and the exterior achieves the desired crunch. Buttery, gooey, crisp, and, of course, diagonally sliced, it compares to nothing else. Oh yeah, and it will set you back a measly $4.82.
Origin Asian Bistro & Sushi
Thanu "Joe" Sinevang and his daughter Lena Sumonthee found success after moving from Bangkok to America, and still more success after relocating their Origin Asian Bistro from South Beach to South Miami. The small square dining room hardly prepares diners for the big, round flavors inherent in chef Sinevang's mouthwatering menu of Thai, Japanese, Korean, Cambodian, and Chinese compositions. Sushi, sashimi, carpaccios, and tartares are splendidly fresh, but that is just the beginning -- there are plenty of other pickled, peppered, piquant pleasures to come. Crescents of sweet ripe papaya frame charred slices of rare filet mignon. Pan-roasted salmon is soothed by velvety saffron curry sauce. Fat-as-doorknob sea scallops are folded into ethereal custard and then steamed in a banana leaf. Sumonthee manages a well-trained waitstaff; a full bar slings specialty tropical drinks that in the old days would come with parasols, and prices are moderate -- in the $20 to $30 range for main courses. SoBe's loss is SoMi's gain.
Paquito's Mexican Restaurant
Aran S Graham
At first glance, you might think a Technicolor piñata had exploded here. Tables hide their tops in throbbing shades of violet and orange, vibrant streamers flirt from the ceiling, and landscapes in the colors of a Frida Kahlo painting cram just about every inch of available wall space. But what will really send you into orbit are Paquito's fajitas. For $15, you receive a fragrant, sizzling platter of meat -- beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, or fish -- with a substantial helping of caramelized onions, green bell peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. Pile on generously jalapeño-heated salsa verde or, for those with more delicate sensibilities, the carrot-sweet (yet sufficiently garlicky) red salsa. You also, of course, get a saffron-flavor heap of rice, creamy refried beans, a hearty mixture of both cheddar and jack cheeses, and a buttery mound of guacamole. Choose from fresh, steaming packets of either white or corn tortillas. (Tip: The corn pairs especially well with the salmon or tilapia version.) Wash it all down with a fancy margarita. Try the $8 La Pachanga -- doused with Sauza Tres Generaciones tequila and Marie Brizard Grand Orange liqueur au cognac -- and pretend you are on the range. Except for the froufrou, though delicious, cognac margarita, it don't get more cowpoke Tex-Mex than this.
You probably have no idea there is a parade of great food marching through Vida's seductive dining room five nights a week. Duck magret over Granny Smith risotto. Char-grilled Bahamian wahoo with grape tomato vinaigrette. Panko-crusted prawns atop chilled peanut vermicelli. These very dishes could conceivably compose the first three courses of an always-changing prix-fixe menu. The meal progresses from light to hearty, with red meats such as Wagyu steak, farm-raised venison, and pecan-crusted rabbit loin following the fish courses in step. Luscious desserts such as bananas Foster cake with brûlée topping compose the festive finale. A seven-course dinner is $75, five courses cost $65, and $40 brings a three-course meal. A five-glass flight, ordered à la carte, is $50. Service is intensely attentive yet appropriately discreet. This is not the sort of dining you will want to partake of every evening, but keep Vida fixed on your radar for any special occasion. Particularly a romantic one.
What other food court features professionally trained culinary school students preparing your meal? Don't rack your brain: The answer is none. The Mix, located on the North Miami campus of Johnson & Wales, not only has an enviable pool of talented workers from which to draw, but also the bright lineup of ethnic food stalls is more dashingly designed than those you are likely to find in airports and malls. The categories of cuisine proffered are similar to the norm -- coffee and pastries, subs, Tex-Mex, Mediterranean -- but the menu changes daily at each of the eateries, and foodstuffs offered are more ambitious than most. Meats slowly roasted on a rotisserie, seafood items sizzled on a grill, and pizzas and pastas baked in an open-hearth oven are especially noteworthy. But something else makes The Mix unique among food courts: After lunch, you can peer into nearby classroom/kitchens and watch the chefs of tomorrow fidgeting with chickens and things.
Rosita's
Consider the taco an element, like boron or lead or molybdenum. Beans, cheese, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream -- such abominations correspond to a taco about as much as wasabi beurre blanc does. A soft corn tortilla, meat -- lots of it, gum-tender, and highly seasoned -- and a dollop of salsa, preferably one with a kick to it, are all that compose a proper taco. And Rosita's turns out proper tacos. You can get three of them -- shredded beef (the best), chicken, and chorizo and potato -- plus rice, refried beans, and a small tomato-lettuce salad for $6.50. That is about as cheap and elemental as you can get, especially considering the price of a three-fer of molybdenum these days.
Talula
Duluth's feisty alternative newspaper, if it has one, probably doesn't accord a Best Outdoor Dining award in its annual roundup of the city's finest. That's one reason we don't live in Duluth, Minnesota. Miami, on the other hand, features a plethora of al fresco restaurants all year round. How can one choose among so many options? Hint: Select the surroundings with the best food, wine, and service. Talula is that place. The canopied garden patio, which seats 55, is lushly landscaped, luminously lit, and -- in summer -- tented and air-conditioned. The contemporary American cuisine of chef/owners Frank Randazzo and Andrea Curto-Randazzo likewise shines. In fact you really don't need to feel the warm night breeze caressing your face in order to fall in love with a starter of cascabel-crusted barbecue quail with brandy-porcini demi-glace, or with crisply fried Chesapeake Bay oysters with watermelon-blackened corn salsita. And entrées such as sake-marinated Alaskan halibut with miso-orange glaze, or porcini-crusted venison loin with truffle-parsnip puree, would be luxuriously delicious even if eaten in a dark, dank alley. Appetizers range from $8 to $18, main courses $24 to $32. Service is as friendly as you would find in Duluth (they are very polite out there), and Sunday wine specials bring discounts on the savvy global selection. Look hard enough and you can probably find a grander open-air setting for dinner, but you will not discover a better outdoor dining experience than the one Talula consistently delivers.
La Dorada
"The sign of good paella is really in the rice," says Beatrice Bajares, owner of Spanish restaurant La Dorada. "It's the same as with pasta. If pasta is not cooked al dente it tastes bad." And to get the rice right, explains Bajares, a good paella must be prepared fresh, slowly, and on the premises. La Dorada offers two varieties of the dish: a traditional fish and shellfish version, and a black paella cooked with squid, baby calamari, and fish. Every evening around 11:15 p.m. (5:15 a.m. in Spain), Bajares phones her contacts in the Spanish port city of Malaga as the daily fish market opens. She ascertains what seafood the fishermen have that morning and then places an order according to her needs. "The fish are put on ice and flown from Malaga to Madrid to Miami that day," she informs. "The razor clams arrive at the restaurant still alive." In addition to the best rice and just-off-the-boat seafood, she says La Dorada uses only fresh saffron and high-quality extra virgin olive oil. The paella costs $26 per person and is worth every penny.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®