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.
Abbey Brewing Co.
In the land of mojitos, the Abbey Brewing Company is king of beer. Among Miami's precious few microbrew purveyors, the Abbey serves up a tasty selection of home-brewed elixirs. This is the place for full-body, high-alcohol-content drafts such as the Abbey India Pale Ale ($5.25 a pint); the smooth, nutty Abbey Bock ($6 for twelve ounces); and Trappist-style 12-Degree beer. In addition to fourteen beers on draft, you will find a good selection of bottled beers from around the world ($4.75 to $12), a few wines, and some decent pub food. This cozy, laid-back little bar is the perfect remedy for velvet-rope bullshit and watery beer.
The Cereal Bowl
Trix are for kids. So are Cocoa Puffs, Cap'n Crunch, Froot Loops, and so many of the 35 hot and cold cereals served here. But it's the fixings that are likely to spark your child's gifted imagination, some 50 sweet toppings including mini Milky Way bars, Oreo cookies, malt balls, Reese's Pieces, gummy bears -- you get the idea. The youngsters will get to play with fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and strangely flavored syrups (like peanut butter) too. Then again, you might want the professionals on premises to bring one of their more mature, predetermined "Cereal Bowl" combinations. Say, for instance, a Frostbite composed of Frosted Mini-Wheats, Frosted Cheerios, and Frosted Flakes with Snowcaps, coconut flakes, and marshmallows. Or a "Hot Bowl" called "Don't Cake My Heart": oatmeal, pound cake, white frosting, sprinkles, and a maraschino cherry on top. There are saner and healthier combinations, too, as well as oatmeal smoothies and cereal shakes ("Thrilla in Vanilla" blends Rice Krispies and yogurt). Prices are children-friendly: A 16-ounce bowl is $2.99, a 32-ouncer goes for $3.49, and Cereal Bowl selections cost from $3.29 to $3.79. A coffee bar, Internet access, and newspapers are on hand for parental units who are, quite frankly, more prone to getting excited over Cocoa Krispies than their kids. Plasma TV sets offer cartoons and, for laughs, CNN.
The $2 café con leches are always perfect at this tiny, uncrowded Cuban diner on Coral Way. You never have to fumble with the sugar, because the Bustelo espresso, served aside a cup of steamed milk in a little tin pourer, is just as sweet as the cute and friendly little waitresses behind the diner-style counter. Villa Habana opens every day at 11:00 a.m., which makes it the perfect place to get you over the midday slump with a caffeine fix. If you want to nibble, try some of the authentic Cuban sides -- all made from scratch -- like the $1 croquetas or the $2 chicken creole soup.
Norman's
There is talk that Norman's ain't what it used to be. That the more time Mr. Van Aken spends overseeing his growing restaurant empire, the less attention he can pay his flagship Gables operation. It all makes for easy cocktail conversation, but those who have actually dined at Norman's lately can attest it remains one of South Florida's finest establishments. It's true Norman is not as involved as he used to be, and it's also a fact it's been more than twelve years since this brash Mango Gang chef first banged out his breathtaking New World cuisine. We have since taken it for granted that our bounty of tropical produce, fresh seafood, and Caribbean/Latin ingredients and influences can be merged into vibrant and delectable foods, but it was a radical idea when Norman and a handful of other local chefs first proclaimed it. And it remains important in the context of American regional cooking. Norman's cuisine still exhilarates; the front-of-house staff, service, and wine list still excel as well. Stormin' Norman may have left the building, but his namesake restaurant still sets the bar for provocative, professional dining in Coral Gables.
If café Cubano is fuel for your own biped power vehicle, then David's is the best and most convenient service station in town. Located just off Lincoln Road, this South Beach stalwart has been around for almost three decades. Every day of the year David's dishes up hearty Cuban fare in its dining room and adjacent counter, as well as keeps thousands of hearty partygoers going by dispensing café Cubano in little plastic cups from a window on Meridian Avenue. David's café Cubano has just the right combination of firepower and lusciousness; it tastes like caffeinated candy and jumpstarts your nervous system like a jolt of electricity. Plus David's is open 24 hours, so there is no excuse for burrowing your face in the pillow until the sun comes up. Or even then, for that matter.
North One 10
Chef/owner Dewey LoSasso changes his menu with the seasons, but everything else about North One 10 remains comfortably consistent. Wife Dale oversees one of the most professionally serviced dining rooms in town and promotes an ambitious wine list via special nights and flights. And night after night, the creative contemporary cuisine boasts audacious but honest combinations of fresh, local ingredients. Beefsteak tomatoes come embellished with salty prosciutto ham, a sweet/tart triangle of goat cheese bržlée, and an earthy, roasted garlic-pine nut vinaigrette. Penne pasta is luxuriously bathed in boneless short ribs, foie gras, and demi-glace. Mahogany-skin roast duck is vibrantly garnished with sun-dried figs, Gorgonzola cheese, and orange-lavender sauce. Desserts are no less dashing, though this is such a wine-friendly place you might want to finish your bottle with a "blues and Brie" cheese plate. North One 10 is people-friendly too; Dale and staff are so personable that after one visit, you will feel as though you have been a customer for years. Prices are moderate (most entrées between $20 and $30), and a daily supper menu from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. offers a three-course meal for $28 per person. That is, as the early birds like to chirp, "Cheap! Cheap!"
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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®