Il Migliore Trattoria
Devin Peppler
This humble neighborhood trattoria in Aventura boasts all the attributes one seeks in Italian dining: simple, rustic Tuscan décor; friendly, knowledgeable, efficient service; a great selection of "25 wines for $25"; and, most pertinent, perfectly executed Italian cooking. Chef/owner Neal Cooper's streamlined style of cuisine reflects the European tradition of freshness over flair and the Old World idea that honest ingredients are beautiful as is. In other words, Il Migliore's spaghetti pomodoro needs only sweet, ripe, fire engine red tomatoes to impress. Eggy fettuccine noodles rely simply on earthy wild mushrooms and a light perfume of white truffle oil. Juicy slices of grilled skirt steak, tenderloin of pork, and lamb chops are minimally, and quite seductively, dressed in varying outfits of garlic, lemon, olive oil, and fresh herbs. Hell, this place would have to be considered one of our finest eateries if only for its crunchy, golden brown homemade French fries that come absolutely inundated with fresh herbs. Main courses are heartily portioned, yet almost all are priced less than $20.
Neil Simon once said the only three sureties in life are death, taxes, and everybody loves Italian food. That explains why it is tough getting a table at Macaluso's. After all, in this town nobody cooks up better booty from the boot-shape country than this strip-mall restaurant on Alton Road. "Just say no" is the mantra here: No lunch hours, no reservations, no menus, no substitutions. Yet when it comes to chef/owner Michael Vito D'Andrea's Staten Island take on homespun Italian classics, all one can say is yes, yes, yes. Aromas of garlic and tomatoes waft from the open kitchen into the spare, square, osteria-style dining room, and so do thin-crust pizzas bearing golden edges, al dente pastas embellished with just enough sauce, and house specialties such as fluffy meatballs, prodigious prawns perked with spicy hot peppers, and a peerless tiramisu. Appetizers range from $10 to $20, entrées from $19 to $38. Waiters are well versed in the menu (they have to be; it's their job to recite it in full to each table) and knowledgeable about the wide range of Italian wines. Drink up -- the only other things you have to look forward to are death and taxes.
An estimated half of our nation's tomatoes come from Florida. Many are shipped from fields in the Redland's agricultural area less than an hour outside downtown Miami. Yet even in peak season, most supermarket specimens (including those at expensive specialty stores like Epicure) are ethylene-injected, semigreen things that are hard and tasteless. You might as well eat a baseball. Try this stand's produce instead. Most people discover Robert Is Here because it is located on the road leading to the main gate of Everglades National Park. The story: Six-year-old Robert Moehling Jr.'s farmer-father stuck him on the roadside with a table of surplus cucumbers. The first day, there were no sales because the youngster was not visible above car windows. The next day, armed with large signs reading "Robert Is Here" painted on hurricane shutters, he sold out by 11:00 a.m. Roughly 45 years later, Robert is still here (when not working the farm), as are genuinely red-ripe tomatoes and a host of South Florida's other mainstream crops. You will also find an array of weird and exotic tropical produce: Monstera deliciosa, black sapote, anon (sugar apple), canistel (egg fruit), et cetera. In addition he sells locally produced jams, sauces, and flavored honeys. Children love the giant tortoises and iguanas in Robert's minizoo out back. And everyone loves Robert's thick milkshakes, made from key limes, strawberries, or whatever else is in season.
If the tasty, inexpensive food at this hole-in-the-wall located in the back of a Jamaican market is not enough reason to journey to the far-off reaches of Kendall, the chance to hang out and schmooze with proprietor Audrey "Mama" Chai surely should get your rear in gear. As delightful as her modest little eatery, she will make you feel like a family friend who just dropped by for a meal. And a good meal it will be. Dig into callaloo with saltfish, a sturdy soup that eats like a stew, featuring the spinachlike callaloo and chunks of pungent salt cod. Or get your saltfish with creamy, buttery ackee, a staple fruit of Jamaican cuisine with the texture of softly scrambled eggs. Jerk chicken and goat curry are Caribbean comfort food, Mama's home cookin'. For a really great deal, check out the lunch specials available until 2:00 p.m. priced at only $5.75.
Once upon a time, the lands just northwest of Homestead promised agricultural bounty. Fields of tomatoes, strawberries, and tropical fruits stretched along Krome Avenue as far as the eye could see. The times certainly are a-changing. A recent tour of the Redland, west of South Dixie Highway, revealed a sad, startling dearth of U-pick farms and an influx of new development. Where farms once flourished stand plant nurseries, new buildings, and definite signs that urban sprawl is quickly taking root in the southland's fertile soil. Robert Moehling, proprietor of Robert Is Here, a bustling produce stand farther south, presents one theory. "The U-Picks are closing because the insurance rates are too high. Farmers just can't afford to let customers pick on their property anymore," he says while busily stacking tomatoes. Rachel Grafe, one of the friendly German Baptist women who work at Knauss Berry Farm, offers her own reasoning. "Farming is going out in South Florida. A lot of the farmers here are selling out to developers, and the farmland is just kind of disappearing," she says. Thankfully there's still Knauss Berry Farm, with its sweetly old-fashioned red-and-white structure that defies the drumbeat of progress. Urbanites with a hankering to pluck produce off the stalk are welcome during the season -- mid-November through April 30, Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. -- to pick plump tomatoes for $1 per pound and sweet strawberries for $2 per pound. Although the shop also sells lettuce and juicy onions, the real lure of Knauss is the wafting scent of baked goods. No visit is complete without a purchase of sticky cinnamon buns. A mere $6.30 buys a dozen, or shell out $8.50 for twelve pecan rolls instead. A succulent strawberry rhubarb pie costs $7.30, and the fresh-baked honey wheat bread is $2.70 a loaf. The traditionally dressed German Baptists greet every customer with a friendly smile and a helpful attitude that is just as refreshing as the fruity milkshakes they sell.
Taquerias El Mexicano
Courtesy of Taquerias El Mexicano
You might think tacos are the specialty here -- they usually are at tacquerías. Plus this place serves eight types, including spicy pork, steam-cooked beef, and roast chicken, as well as a mean brain taco, but we mention that only so you will note this joint's allegiance to authenticity. But what sets Taquerías el Mexicano apart from other local south-of-the-border eateries is not only its tasty take on tacos, tostadas, and tamales, but also harder-to-find specialties such as braised lamb, spare ribs in hot sauce, succulent roast pork, and a slew of robust chicken stews. There are seven brands of Mexican beers to choose from too, but that's not all: Breakfast here is the bomb. Try the chilaquiles, which are tortilla chips simmered in green sauce and smothered in scrambled eggs, cheese, sour cream, rice, and beans. That's quite a meal for $4.95, and a buck more will bring an exemplary café con leche. Can you say that about your favorite Mexican restaurant?
This used to be known as the place to go for stone crabs when you couldn't get a table at Joe's main seafood house next door. It still is, but over the years, Joe's Take Away has emerged as a worthwhile destination in its own right. The sweetest of stone crabs are packed up with mustard sauce, melted butter, a bib, and a bag of Joe's signature assorted rolls. The fried chicken sandwich flies with the best and is only $5.95. Half a bronzed rotisserie chicken, lacquered with Asian-style barbecue sauce, comes with corn muffin, coleslaw, and potato salad for $6.95 -- accompanied by a bag of those rolls, as are all orders. Classic salads (caesar, chopped) are gargantuan, and fresh seafood (oysters, crabcakes, grilled or fried fish) are what Joe's is known for -- well, that and the famous sides of creamed spinach, fried green tomatoes, and steak-house potatoes (hash browns, lyonnaise, and so on). One of the world's great key lime pies is available at the extensive coffee bar and bakery section, as is chocolate pecan pie, giant cookies, biscotti, and a heavenly angel food cake with chocolate chips and chocolate whipped cream. Wines, beers, and espressos are poured too, which means you can grab a table inside the brightly lit shop and turn your take-out foods into an eat-out dinner -- just like at Joe's main restaurant, except without waiters or wait. Plus you can get something here that's not available next door: breakfast.
The first symptom of the craving is when everything else you eat suddenly feels like chewing chalk. You suddenly understand why people are addicted to getting tattoos and body piercings -- that desire for stimulation sets in. Mustard and horseradish and onions, endowed with unnamable healing properties, begin appearing in your dreams. Or perhaps it is some primordial connection to the sea, this sudden craving for brine and salt and fish oil that insistently pesters and will not shut up. This feeling can be satisfied only by entering Arnie and Richie's and witnessing the slabs of Nova Scotia and belly lox and sable sprawled in a glass display case and sniffing that smell, the one that separates the lover of flavorful food from the finicky hipster. You sit down and await your platter; spread the cream cheese carefully on your toasted onion bagel; layer it with the pink fish, a ripe tomato, and some onions; love that you are going to smell like this all day. One bite and you're transported to the tenement housing of your ancestors, to their love for the pungent, for the pumpernickel and rye. You utter a silent thanks for their persistence, which took them from the ice fields of Eastern Europe all the way here, to paradise, where you honor them through eating. Most dishes cost less than $10; breakfast ranges from $3.50 to $7.
Like many of their countrymen, Carlos and Rosalina Martinez fled their native Nicaragua in the summer of 1979, within days of the Sandinistas' taking control of the civil-war-ravaged nation. There was no way the couple would have remained in their homeland, considering Carlos was one of a handful of West Point-educated captains enlisted in Anastasio Somoza Debayle's reviled national guard. "I didn't even know how to fry an egg before coming to Miami," Rosalina reveals. "But we had to find a way to earn a living." In 1981 husband and wife opened El Masayita, named after their Nicaraguan hometown. The only local Nica restaurant with more longevity than El Masayita is venerable steak house Los Ranchos. Located in Little Havana, El Masayita is also more moderately priced than its high-end counterpart. A churrasco dinner costs only $10, while a seafood platter of pescado a la tipi tapa is a reasonable $14. On the weekends, El Masayita makes other popular Nicaraguan dishes such as bajo (shredded pork meat with yuca and salad) for $7, vigoron (salad and yuca) for $3, and small and large cups of sopa de mondongo (a creamy broth made with tripe) for $3.50 and $6, respectively.
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®