Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Vix

Vix at Hotel Victor
There is no charge for walking through the elegant lobby of the Hotel Victor on your way to Vix. A tank of jellyfish glowing in blue light is a free attraction too, as is the shiny open kitchen's nightly revue of culinary theatrics. A basket of warm nan bread freshly baked in a tandoori is likewise complimentary, but just about everything else chef James Wierzelewsi and his kitchen crew prepare comes at a lofty cost. Everything on the menu sounds so good it is tough to choose. A seafood hot pot with coconut sauce is intriguing ($41), but so is a hefty prime rib chop with Portobello mushrooms and housemade steak sauce ($48). "Seven sins of chocolate, as experienced through the spice route" is a sensuous signature dessert ($15). Would a cheese plate be overdoing it? Not if your host is picking up the check. There are multiple selections, but chevrot (goat), Ayrshire cheddar (cow), and Pyrenées Brebis (sheep) provide an apt sampling of farm animal products ($14). Naturally you will want to share a bottle of wine -- add 50 bucks. The final tab for this feast will be sky-high, but the ingeniously crafted contemporary cuisine is so consistently fresh and fabulous, and the service so sublime, that the money spent will seem eminently justifiable. And a downright bargain when it's coming from another person's pocket.
Afterglo
Why are Americans obese? Blame it on Rich Melman and Jerry Orzoff, two Chicago restaurateurs who, in 1971, installed the first known salad bar in their aptly named J.R. Grunts. Ten billion pounds of mayo-soaked surimi salad later, Americans gleefully waddle from all-you-can-eat salad buffet to all-you-can-eat salad buffet, filling their plates with canned vegetables and their heads with delusions of becoming healthier for it. Hardy-har-har, chubbsies -- not gonna happen. It takes a beautiful mind to make you feel good about what you're eating. No, not your beautiful mind -- that's the name of one of the salads at Afterglo: A Beautiful Mind. It brings a brainstorm of baby romaine leaves, blueberries, walnuts, Brazil nuts, sun-dried Himalayan goji berries, Thai coconut meat, pomegranate-chia seed jelly, and ground raw cacao -- all splashed with rosemary, ginkgo, and gotu kola vinaigrette. "Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen" is also a smart, sensual salad, but we would need another page to list all the ingredients. Fact is, the complex, multitexture compositions at this hip South Beach restaurant taste so fantastic it really doesn't matter that the foodstuffs are grown without chemicals and pesticides, and are chock full of proteins, vitamins, minerals, alkalines, antioxidants, living enzymes, and omega-3 fatty acids. The aim is not to leave here with a rosy glow to your cheeks, but to avoid exiting with mayonnaise dripping down your chin.
Making caesar salad is like playing rock guitar: Everyone does it, but hardly anyone does it well. Joe Allen does caesar salad well. The world's most popular salad (well, it seems to be, anyway) arrives at your table a study in pastels -- pale, crisp inner leaves of romaine under a blizzard of Parmesan cheese studded with crunchy, golden croutons, and tossed with a properly rich, creamy dressing. Unlike some, Joe Allen's salad ($7 for a small, $13.50 entrée-size) whispers rather than shouts the classic caesar trio of garlic, anchovy, and lemon, leaving your breath acceptable to polite company. During peak hours, you probably will have to shout to be heard by anyone at your table, though; the noise level here can rival that of the most egregiously overamplified rock guitarist.

Best Restaurant to Take Out-of-Towners

Barton G.

Barton G. the Restaurant
Max Shapovalov
When out-of-towners visit our restaurants, they want more than good food -- after all, most are privy to fine cuisine where they come from. They desire something they can't get at home. For instance, someone from up north might wish to dine outdoors, in midwinter, amid lush tropical foliage. Barton G.'s lovely orchid garden would do that trick. Perhaps other folks from Peoria or Peru would prefer a pulsating SoBe social scene. They would need to look no further than Barton's bustling bar. A couple from San Jose or San Juan can be titillated by lobster pot tarts served in a toaster; a toddler from Tallahassee will squeal with delight at the make-a-shake dessert that features ice creams, syrups, toppings, and a blender to mix it all up; and when Midwesterners get served a swordfish shish kebab ($31) the size of Sinbad's scimitar, well, they'll know they're not in Kansas anymore. Then again, maybe one of your guests, possibly a faint-hearted dieter from Delaware, disdains the idea of orange-glazed duck dished in a wood decoy. That person could choose from straightforwardly grilled meats and fish (ranging from $20 to $59). Regardless of how you order, everything here is done with panache, and in elegant surroundings. Barton G. is a place your guests will be talking about long after they depart Miami. Which is precisely the point.
With its towering translucent blue columns offsetting imposing crystal chandeliers and an all-white décor, o-R-o looks like a Fifties Hollywood set designer's idea of Heaven. Meaning it is the kind of place where Marilyn Monroe's soul might hover in a sable stole (bleached white, naturally). It does not seem like the sort of joint where you would find simply heavenly soul food. But chef Christopher Sepe's fried chicken is to die for. A whipped egg-white batter makes the coating impossibly crisp yet light, giving all the sinful gratification of normal breading without the burden of the grease. This near-miraculous crust also protects the white meat of the quarter-bird, so the breast portion is as delectable and juicy as the leg and thigh. A mushroom-studded country gravy imparts even more moisture. But be prepared to wait until you have one foot in the grave for your order; it would seem that since opening at the end of last year, o-R-o has hosted a considerably larger crowd than anticipated and servers simply can't keep up. Fortunately the tag for this entrée is down-to-earth -- just eighteen bucks -- so while you're waiting in limbo, it's easy to blow the bank on something more typically Hollywood-heavenly, like a little spoon-size $250 portion of Iranian caviar served in a crystal Fabergé egg.
El Palacio de los Jugos
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Jacques Pépin's choice for a final meal would be "a good piece of bread and some good butter." Ferran Adrià says he would ask for skillet-fried asparagus with olive oil and sea salt. Our ideal last supper involves indulging in anything our heart desires at El Palacio de los Jugos. We would begin with a batido from the jugo portion of the premises. Maybe coconut-mango-guanabana. No need to sweat calories. The juice counter also dishes out greasy, meaty chunks of chicharrones. Make it a double portion. We would take a triple even, except then we wouldn't have room for our appetizer of thick, cheesy arepas. Next stop: The plantain station, where the sturdy bananas are peeled, sliced, and fried frantically, flawlessly, nonstop -- in a closet-size, glass-enclosed room. Best platanos in the city. Plus it's entertaining to watch them being made, and the idea of being entertained at one's last meal is appealing. Juicy lechón asado, oozing full, robust roast pork flavor, would be the main course, which we would carry to the outdoor tables out back -- along with some yuca in citrus mojo sauce, black beans and white rice (moros y cristianos), and heck, throw in some oxtail stew. We would eat slowly, savoring every delectable bite, just as a host of Cuban families would be doing at the other tables. They know El Palacio de los Jugos is Heaven on Earth -- and thus a perfect setting for our last meal here.
El Pollon Grill
It slowly turns, browning to perfection, becoming so tender it falls off the bone. The chicken at this Peruvian grill will take you back to the glory days of Lima's La Granja Azul. And though no chicken outside Peru could ever match what you got in Santa Clara, El Pollon makes for a tasty alternative. And it beats getting on a plane or trying to go back in time (especially since a whole chicken with a side costs just about $10 here). Be sure to ask for fries too. They're the hard-to-find real-potato kind, and they come with traditional dipping sauces, such as huancaína and aji. Order an Inca Kola and reminisce or simply enjoy your meal.
The Knife Argentinean Steakhouse
Each diner begins with a bottle of red or white wine, or two glasses of soda, or two beers. Warm, soft baguettes are promptly brought to the table. Oink. A salad bar well stocked with greens, vegetables, appetizers, and just about any refrigerated item imaginable stands ready to be ravished. Oink-oink. A grill almost as long as the Great Wall of China sizzles and spits out beef brochettes, crisp sweetbreads, spicy chorizos, blood sausages, churrasco steaks, New York strips, flanks, rump roasts, short ribs, stuffed pork loin, bacon-wrapped chicken ... oink-oink-oink! French fries, mashed potatoes, or rice are offered as sides. Desserts include treats such as rice pudding, profiteroles, chocolate mousse, and dulce de leche cr?êpes. Oink-oink-oink-oink! Now add a cup of coffee. All this for $23.85 on weeknights, $25.95 weekends, and even cheaper at lunch. You don't have to be piggish to take advantage of this deal. Just smart. And very hungry.
Fact: Our planet is home to more chickens than people. And just as all men are not created equal, neither are all fowls. Don't believe us? Strut over to Sports Grill and order a platter of wings (10 pieces for $7.50; 16 for $10.80; 25 for $16.25) and then say we lie. One look at these monstrous, plump limbs and you would be forgiven for thinking the owners of this eighteen-year-old Kendall eatery had a full-time clucker-squad scouring the globe in search of the fattest birds alive. Okay, size isn't everything (yeah, right!), but these beasts also taste as succulent as they look. Wings are plain grilled -- so not dripping with grease -- and served unadorned. Simple yet, ah, so delicious! Sink your gnashes into the Grill's ever-popular "special grilled," or get saucy with the likes of Buffalo, barbecue, or garlic flavor. To those who rarely leave the Beach, Kendall might seem like a world away, but then Sport's Grill's wings are a world away from ordinary.
Walking into the Gables Juice Bar feels like stepping back in time. Most stores nowadays go for a cool, modern look, or attempt some kind of cohesive theme. Not this one. The walls are eclectically decorated with brightly colored paintings created by owner Fernando Lopez, accented with framed posters from gangster flicks like Scarface and Goodfellas. A row of colorful, twirling mobiles hangs from the ceiling, and hand-painted glass bottles line the front window. From the kitschy, cozily cluttered vibe, it's evident the place has been open for a while -- twelve years, to be precise. "When we first opened here, there was nothing," says co-owner Belkys Lopez. A steady stream of white-collar customers stops at her counter for low-carb, protein-rich "power pizza"; delicious wraps made with good-for-you ingredients such as brown rice, hummus, and falafel; salads (FYI, the Exotic Honey Ginger Salad is to die for, and a real deal at $5.25); and low-fat soups. But at the end of the day, this is a juice bar. And no fancy-pants chain establishment can hold a candle to the delicious smoothies and healthy beverages concocted here. When the lovely Lopez admits she's about to become a grandmother, it comes as a real shock. Perhaps all that sipping freshly squeezed vegetable/fruit elixirs has preserved her sexiness. A glass of fresh-squeezed OJ will set you back $3.50. Concoct a jumbo twenty-ounce combination of carrot, spinach, ginger, and apple juice for $3.75. The smoothies are made with your choice of sweetener -- sugar, honey, Equal, or Splenda -- and come with amusing car-theme names. The Co-Co-Vette is a mix of pineapple, coconut, and banana. The Beemer blends apple juice, peanut butter, and strawberries. No, the PMS smoothie isn't meant to alleviate the syndrome. It's made of pineapple, mango, and strawberries. But it's sweet enough to sate even most monthly cravings.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®