La Parrilla Liberty
Natalia Molina
When is a South Beach restaurant not a South Beach restaurantç When it's a modest little Argentine grill just a handful of blocks away from the gold-paved streets of Lincoln Road. Actually to call Parrilla Liberty modest is an understatement. But who caresç The food is good and plentiful, the ambiance is downright neighborly, and prices are low, low, low. Less than ten bucks gets you a hearty churrasco dinner with fries that put those served at the toniest steakhouses to shame. A few bucks more gets you an appetite-busting parrillada — blood sausage, chorizo, sweetbreads, short ribs, flank steak, and a choice of sides. Give me liberty or give me Parrilla Liberty.
Coco Gelato
Gustavo Sidelnik was a young man in love when he first started making gelato. He had caught sight of a beautiful Italian maiden, Rosa, sitting at the counter of her father's gelateria. Sidelnik strolled in and begged the owner, Don Giuseppe, for a job. The old gelato-maker agreed. Sidelnik worked hard, learning the art of churning deliciously creamy confections in all sorts of flavors, while secretly yearning for the lovely Rosa ... until she ran off with some scoundrel named Bruno! Years later, in 1993 to be exact, Sidelnick came to Miami, where he opened the first Coco Gelato inside the CocoWalk mall. Everyone fell for Sidelnik's gelato. In addition to traditional flavors, he produced magnificent new ones that reflect Miami's Latin American and Caribbean influences. On the menu you will find tamarindo and guava right alongside bubblegum and dark mousse. (A small — two scoops — sells for $5.25.) Sidelnik has expanded his operations to include Miami International Airport, Bayside Marketplace, and South Beach. All four locations are open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., except for the Washington Avenue location, which closes at midnight.
PK Oriental Market
Considering how few truly good authentic Chinese restaurants there are in Miami-Dade County, it is astonishing how many excellent Asian markets there are. And while a few, like Japanese Market on the 79th Street Causeway, specialize in the ingredients of a single country, most carry packaged products from a full range of eastern nations: China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. At least a couple of these pan-Asian markets (notably Lucky, in Westchester, and Chung Hing, on NE 163rd Street) also carry an assortment of oriental veggies and fruits that matches PK's impressive produce department for variety, freshness, and display. What makes PK special is the small but scrumptious-looking glass counter on the far left side of the store, displaying the market's housemade Chinatown-style barbecue. Among the items hanging are glistening whole roast ducks and soy-marinated chickens, their skins dark and crispy, the meat within bursting with succulent juices. There are regulation reddish strips of regular roast pork, but also crispy pork — wonderfully moist meat capped with light, crunchy panko breading. And on Saturdays and Sundays only, you'll find barbecue spareribs, plus pei pa duck. (The latter bird is flattened, deep-fried crisp, and hung, a laborious process that renders out nearly all subcutaneous fat, while crisping the skin and concentrating the meat's flavor.) The 'cue runs $14 per large piece, which includes hoisin or soy dipping sauces, plus custom butchery by a tiny woman with a terrifying cleaver.
Rio's Churrascaria
Brazil, like the United States, is a big-ass country. When you have a big-ass country, you generally have a cuisine that's all about the fat of the land. Every animal, plant, fruit, and vegetable should be abundantly heaped upon the plate of a big-ass country's big-ass meal.When you bring a big-ass country's cuisine to the U.S. (witness China, Mexico, India) we have the odd tendency of serving it up buffet style — putting no limits on whatever fat-of-the land meal is already being dished out. Nowehere is this truer than at Porcao, where salad, pork, lamb, and beef are boundless. Consider the $43 dinner price a ticket to meat land. The Brazilians know how to do it, after all. And at Porcao they do it right: real classy, with a nice view of the bay. Ah, sí.
Peking One Chinese Restaurant
You wouldn't think there's much special about Peking One if you just pass by. It's a three-table takeout space with pink Formica walls, white tile, and a counter. Above the counter, the menu is a series of photographs of typical dishes, each on a flowered white plate surrounded by baby's breath and roses. You can see the boxes of Asian ingredients in the kitchen behind the register and hear the grill sizzle as a cook yells something in Chinese. Yet this dull exterior well conceals the tasty food that's being created inside.Among the chef's specials is General Tso's chicken, a staple at most Chinese restaurants. But Peking One makes it better. The chicken is as moist as can be and swims in a sweet-yet-spicy sauce garnished with crisp broccoli. Orange chicken is similar, but the subtle citrus flavors are perfectly balanced. Pepper steak, just like Peking One's other beef dishes, is tender and divinely spiced. And the good news goes beyond the flavors: Peking One is also pretty cheap. A "jumbo" portion of pork fried rice — three quarts — goes for $12.50. If you have a really large party, ask for the "mega" size ($30). If it's just you, lunch can cost under $5, and that includes a main dish, fried rice, and a soda.
Mondongo's
It may sound like the name of an Atari videogame hero, but the namesake stew at Mondongo's is a serious meal. Twelve bucks gets you a massive bowl of pork, potatoes, and peppers, with sides of rice and arepas. With its two Medellin restaurants doing booming business, Mondongo's has exported its popular paisa cuisine to Doral. Take your pick of typical dishes, including, appropriately enough, the Típico, a heaping platter of rice, beans, meat, eggs, plantains, chicharrones, and all kinds of tasty Ají sauces, for $11.25. It's a hard-core protein-and-carbs place with good cocktails, reasonable prices, and takeout, if that's your style.
Bamboo Garden
Little Garden secret: If you eat in, you get scrumptious ice cream for dessert. You also get brilliant service, bright surroundings, and damn good Chinese-American food. But the Garden's also the place for takeout — right on Biscayne, plenty of parking, and damn good Chinese-American food. The wonton noodles are tight and layered, the primo pork plentiful in dishes such as lo mein, the honey-garlic chicken battered better than any you'll find. The chef here clearly has confidence, and rightfully so. For example, unlike at most such places, the pork-fried rice is fried rice with pork rather than the typical toss-in-anything mélange/mess. Be sure to ask them to pack in some of the house mustard — it's tears-of-joy material. There are many reasons B.G. II is a repeat winner. The main one: damn good Chinese-American food.

Best Colombian Fast Food Restaurant

KokoRiko

KokoRiko
George Martinez
"Welcome to Kokoriko," said a smiling young employee in a bright-pink-and-khaki uniform as we entered this brightly lit fast-food restaurant. Just as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and all of those other multinational fast food chains have invaded the world, KokoRiko has infiltrated America. KokoRiko has been Colombia's largest fast-food chain since 1969; the first U.S. franchise just opened right here in Miami. "Local Colombians love KokoRiko," says the employee. "On the weekends we have a line out the door and down the block. It is unbelievable, and the funny thing is they wait for three hours sometimes. "Try special number three, which includes two pieces of rotisserie chicken served with a side of rice and red beans ($5.89). They also serve beer — Heineken and Coors Light only. "Can you guess where we are opening our second U.S. KokoRikoç" asks the employee. "Los Angelesç" She shakes her head. "New Yorkç" "No, Hialeah!" she giggles.
Put together two of the tastiest food items on the planet — freshly made pasta and lobster — and you have one reason why this tres French Coconut Grove cafe is a bright new addition to our local dining scene. Take a creamy-dreamy force of Maine lobster; pipe it into pillowy half-moon ravioli; then sauce a bunch of them with a silken, bisquelike sauce redolent of everyone's favorite crustacean — what's not to likeç Equally likable is that a portion large enough to stuff one or (with an additional small salad or appetizer) satisfy two costs all of $13.95 ($11.50 for lunch). And you have the pleasure of dining in an utterly charming, thoroughly unpretentious restaurant where the food is as good as it is a good value.
Ideas Restaurant
Chef Alvaro Beade hails from the rich culinary region of Castilla y Leon in Spain, and so do many of Ideas's ingredients (and ideas). The wine list, for instance, is laden with lush Leonese labels from Toro, Rueda, and Ribera del Duero. Mediterranean seafoods are flown in too, like lubina (sea bass), dorada (sea bream), and the calamarilike cuttlefish. Roasted piquillo peppers, courtesy of the Ebro River Valley, get piped with bacalao and drizzled with cognac sauce. We're not sure where the crackly-skinned suckling pig comes from, but we do know it is sumptuously simmered in its fat for three hours before getting finished in the oven — and that it is unspeakably, lip-smackingly good. So are consommé of Serrano ham, carpaccio of king prawn, veal cheeks braised in red wine, and a 35-ounce, bone-in rib eye steak for two. Yet a finish of saffron-soaked pineapple carpaccio capped with scintillating lime sorbet just might sound the highest note of all. Cuisine this delicious and authentically Spanish doesn't come cheap (entrées are $28 to $36), but the price includes entertainment by way of a picture window in the elegantly appointed dining room that allows diners to peer into the glistening kitchen and watch the gastronomic goings-on. Does your favorite Spanish restaurant have all thisç We didn't think so.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®