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.
Saag paneer. Chana masala. Rogan josh. Chicken tikka masala. Bengun bharta. If these words mean nothing to you, immediately get in your car and drive north. You have not yet experienced the mix of spice, ginger, vegetables, or meat, cooked with a touch of cream and carefully spooned over fragrant basmati rice that we so fondly know as curry. Precede it with a samosa. Accompany it with a tangy lassi. Soak up the remainders with fresh-baked nan. Nirvana doesn't come close to describing how happy this will make you. Most curries cost from $10.95 to 12.95. Kebab also has a lunch buffet for $8.99.
You're seated outdoors at a wooden picnic table overlooking the Miami River, with a little dish of dolphin dip and a green plastic basket of Saltines in front of you. Nice start. An ice-cold draft beer ($2) arrives next, set down in a frosty glass by an amiable waiter, followed by a hunk of grilled dolphin -- freshly filleted up front in the fish market -- delivered in a fluffy bun ($7.95). Sandwiches come with choice of fried plantains, French fries, or any of a number of potential sides. The river rolls by. Time flows on. Life is composed of many sweet moments, and this one costs less than $10 -- assuming you can resist a second beer.
Ever since Bill O'Reilly uttered the romantic phrase "and then I would take the other hand with the falafel thing and I'd put it on your ..." -- well, we understand if getting back into eating the fried chickpea balls has been difficult. It may help to think of the Middle Eastern snack in a more biblical sense. With roots in the cities of Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, falafel was eaten by Abraham, Mohammad, and Moses. Apparently Jesus demurred. Archaeologists have even found traces of seasoned chickpeas in the tombs of pharaohs. If you still can't get over the O'Reilly factor, try going to Pita Plus and meeting your fears head-on. The crisp, never greasy spheres of falafel, along with a zesty salad of cucumber and tomato, are slipped inside freshly grilled pita bread. The sandwich is then slathered with hummus and tahini. The South Beach branch features tables on Washington Avenue as well as a funky patio out back. The Aventura outpost is located in the back of Loehmann's Fashion Island, an ideal spot to recuperate after a busy session at the discount clothing emporium. No spin-zone here: Pita Plus makes a better falafel than anyone else. And at $5.07, it's a cheaper thrill than phone sex.
Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! No, it's a plane! No, wait -- it's a brisket sandwich on rye! Located in the Sky Lobby of the I.M. Pei-designed Bank of America Tower is Sky Grille, a cafeteria mostly inhabited by the building's sizable workforce -- but open to the public. The corporate-handsome dining room follows the famous curve of the building, and a glass wall affords diners a bird's-eye view of downtown. An outdoor terrace with umbrella-shaded tables is even more picturesque, but the most breathtaking sight might very well be that of the food: It is miles above typical cafeteria fare. Grab a tray and mosey along the various stations (all clean and modern) until you find something that strikes your fancy. A salad bar at the front tempts with a wide array of garnishes and greens ($5.60 per pound), but so does the hot food station, which pumps out freshly grilled sandwiches (meaty churrasco, Philadelphia cheese steak) and full, warm meals. On any given day the latter might include paella, chicken Marsala, pork loin with citrus mojo sauce, or seared mahi-mahi -- with roll and two sides or salads it totals $6.99; two dollars more and you are privy to a 22-ounce soda and dessert. There is also a cold-sandwich station, where the breads (five types, including ciabatta) are stuffed with Italian coldcuts, mozzarella, tomatoes, chicken salad, and the like ($5 to $6). A one-third-pound hamburger off the grill is just $3.95. It's a gorgeous place to enjoy breakfast too -- Sky Grille opens for that meal from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.; lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Next time you are trying to think of a new place to eat downtown, look up in the sky.
Le Bon
You can't beat the beat-the-clock deal at this neat Lincoln Road café. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., the price for a half-kilogram casserole of steamy mussels with a side of Belgian fries is $5.30. At 5:47 p.m. the same serving costs $5.47, and as time continues to tick upward, so does price until 7:00 p.m. sharp! Regular price for a mussel pot is $15.50, which makes this the sort of bargain that can morph anyone into an early bird. The lusciously plump mollusks come steamed six wondrous ways, including with beer and smoked bacon; in a curry sauce spiked with lime, coconut, and chilies; and awash in white wine and lobster bisque. The rest of the Belgian-inspired, mostly seafood menu is solid as well, and more than twenty brews are served in their respective brewery-designed glasses. With its alfresco dining on Lincoln Road and incumbent people-watching potential, this mussels-from-Brussels eatery is worthwhile any time. Still, we suggest setting your watches for this deal.
Bugatti
It happens like clockwork the first Wednesday of each month at 11:30 a.m. Sizable flocks of patrons file into Bugatti, settle into seats, take a cursory peek at the menu of Italian fare, perhaps peruse the reasonably priced wine list, dip their rustic breads into a plate of greenish olive oil, turn to the waiters, and say, "We'll have the lasagna." Then when it arrives steaming-hot, they ooh and aah, only to fall silent as they relish the fresh, chewy noodles; mild minced beef and veal; and smooth, white Parmesan-pumped béchamel sauce (note: no gloppy cheese, no overpowering red sauce, no oily sausage). Newcomers are welcome to join this once-a-month cult of lasagna lovers, but those who don't arrive early enough for lunch will most assuredly have to wait some time for a table. And there is one cruel ritual of admission for those who are tardy for dinner: Not only will you wait for a seat, but also you will be burdened with the horrifying knowledge that the lasagna inevitably sells out well before the last diners are seated.
A tip of the toque to Pascal Oudin, who five years ago left the safe and prestigious confines of the Grand Bay Café's grand dining room and set off to open a little French bistro of his own. It was a roll of the dice, a decision to work harder for less security and surety of financial reward. He did it because he wanted to cook his food his way in his restaurant. And it has paid off for him and, more selfishly, for us: There is nothing better than eating in a small, personal dining establishment run by a talented chef/owner. Tim Andriola followed suit by leaving Mark's South Beach for his own Timo; Dewey LoSasso sailed from China Grill Management to open North One 10; and Frank Randazzo and Andrea Curto-Randazzo bid adieu to the Gaucho Room and Wish to form a tasty tandem at Talula -- and we have three more great restaurants because of it. This year Frank Jeannetti jumped from Pearl to his own Ernie's Restaurant, Michelle Bernstein took the big leap from Azul to Michy's, and Norman Van Aken has plans to establish a more intimate eatery of his own in Key West. This all bodes well for those who crave authentic, chef-crafted cuisine served by staff who care -- in other words, a great dining experience. It also provides an optimistic countering force against the worst new local dining trend: upscale-casual restaurants.
Michy's
Not every kitchen crew breaks down its own chickens, ducks, steaks, and fish; rolls and cuts all the pastas; and prepares molé, mayonnaise, and madeira-laced foie gras torchon from scratch. Not every restaurant rustles up rustic dishes such as polenta with runny poached egg, bacon, Pecorino-Romano cheese, and shaved truffle; Southern-fried quail with honey and peaches; and watercress/tarragon salad with goat cheese, caramelized shallots, and halved green grapes. Nor, for that matter, do many eateries offer all menu items by the half-course (ranging from $6 to $12), which makes sampling multiple plates much more affordable. You will not easily find an in-house pastry department that churns out comfort desserts with contemporary twists -- specifically the baked Alaska with dulce de leche ice cream, though the strawberry shortcake perfumed with orange blossom would fit the bill as well. Admittedly Michy's is not alone in affording patrons a comfortable dining room, amiable service, pristine raw bar, and concise, cutting-edge wine list, but it is unique in having a chef of Michelle Bernstein's caliber working in the kitchen. Her influence alone is enough to make Michy's big news, but it is all of these other distinctive characteristics that make it the best new restaurant in town.
This category was established last year as a sort of hall of fame -- win once, and you're no longer qualified. Because we have a lot of catching up to do in honoring our best chefs, from here on in we will induct two at a time. Last year's inaugural winner was Norman Van Aken, which makes Mark Militello and Allen Susser the obvious choices to follow. These three, after all, are most closely associated with rediscovering the region's bounty of fresh fish and tropical produce and resuscitating them into a vital, nationally recognized New Florida/New World cuisine. Mark has a few more restaurants, Allen a few more cookbooks, but between them they have won so many awards there is probably no room on their walls to display this one. What a slap in the face! Still, we salute the passion, integrity, charitability, and unbridled culinary talent of these two prominent pioneers, who unlike typical hall-of-famers continue to excel in their fields: Chef Allen's (since 1986), Mark's South Beach, and Mark's Las Olas (the original Mark's Place opened in 1988) are still, after all these years, counted among South Florida's elite restaurants.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®