Chef Creole
For some reason there's an unspoken rule among many Miami restaurant owners to include some variation of conch fritters on their menus. Most of them possess the requisite crunchy exterior and soft interior; but few compare to the fritters that fly out of Chef Creole. The size and shape of a smashed tennis ball, peppery and delicious, these deep-fried delicacies represent fritters at their finest. For $4 you get four, and though they're scrumptious and spicy on their own, for extra zing, try them with Chef Creole's homemade pikliz sauce — made of hot peppers, vinegar, cabbage, and other secret ingredients. A tip: Follow the fritters with an order of sweet plantains, and your tongue will thank you.
Frankie's Pizza
No seats, no atmosphere, no booze. A menu shorter than Paris Hilton's attention span. A location only a strip mall developer could love. No amenities or accoutrements, no bells, whistles, or dancing bears. Only the best goddamn pizza on the planet. For 52 years, six days a week (Mondays off), Frankie's has been dishing up pies that are as elemental in their construction as they are satisfying. Nothing fancy here; you won't find smoked salmon pizzas or Thai chicken pizzas. Frankie's toppings are simple and offer few choices —tomato sauce, meats, veggies, cheese. They're all good enough. But what makes Frankie's pizzas the best on the goddamn planet is the crust—a little crunchy, a little chewy, remarkably light, with a faint char from the oven, and tasting of fresh-baked bread. Better still, a large deluxe tops out at $20. Who needs atmosphereç
Uncle Tom's Barbecue
Courtesy of Uncle Tom's Barbecue
The barbecue at Uncle Tom's is so good that when you get home, expect Fido to jump on you for scraps of leftover ribs. Chances are there won't be much left for your four-legged companion. The place looks like it's stuck in time circa 1948, when it first opened. Walls are adorned with old photographs of Rita Hayworth, Mae West, and Liberace. Tom's is best known for its ribs, hot dogs, pork sandwiches, and corn on the cob, but a new sheriff is giving this place a fresh twist. The new Cuban owner, Alfredo Rosales, is bringing some additional flavor to the menu by adding Latin favorites such as palomilla steak, vaca frita, ropa vieja, tostones, and also seafood. Prices range from $5 to $14. Uncle Tom's still has entertainment, but no longer plays old movies. "We play a lot of music videos from the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties," says William Marcano, manager. You know, sounds to lick your fingers to.
La Camaronera Seafood Joint and Fish Market
Courtesy of La Camaronera
It's standing room only come lunchtime at this long-time Flagler fish market, not only because locals flock here in abundant numbers, but also because there are no chairs. There is a counter to lean on, however, and all the makings of a real Cuban fish fry — including, most important, a steady supply of fresh seafood. Like the yellowtail snapper that gets breaded, fried, and plunked into a semolina bun. For $3. That's all there is to it. Sure you can find places to get pish-poshier fish sandwiches, maybe on focaccia with mango mayonnaise, but it won't taste as good as this one. La Camaronera also makes incredible fried shrimp (as the name would imply), but that's a "Best of" category for another year.
El Nachito
Anyone who's been in South Florida long enough to know that the summer heat and humidity can suck the blood right out of your veins also knows that some of the best Mexican food around can be had in Homestead and nearby Florida City. El Nachito is a bit off the beaten Krome Avenue path, but it's worth the short journey to just past Homestead Air Force Base for reliable, well-prepared versions of traditional Mexican favorites, as well as first-rate ceviche. It's not fancy — a precise dice of fresh-tasting tilapia, gently "cooked" in lime juice, tossed with thin-sliced mild white onion, tomatoes, and cilantro, and served on a bed of shredded lettuce — but is that much better for its very simplicity. Sometimes less really is more.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
Oceanaire has it all. Some 300 seats set like a luxury cruise liner, all sleek curves and warm woods. A bustling service staff and buzzing clientele, a serious wine list, and patrons lined up at a glistening oyster bar bedecked with shellfish from both coasts. Fish are brought in from all over the world, as well as from local waters, and include species you don't see elsewhere: Carolina striped bass. Hawaiian wahoo. Arctic char. About fifteen fresh catches are featured each day, either grilled, broiled, sautéed, steamed, fried, or gussied up in Latin-Caribbean manner, like seafood stew a la Cubana, or spear-caught hogfish "a la Chorillana." Chef Sean Bernal formerly steered ship at Tambo Restaurant in South Beach, and brings his bright ceviches and tiraditos to Oceanaire as well. Steakhouse sides such as hash browns and creamed corn, and steakhouse desserts such as baked Alaska and a banana split round out the extensive, crowd-pleasing bill of fare. Prices sail high, with entrées between $20 and $35 for lunch and $25 to $60 for dinner, but dinner includes warm boules of sourdough bread with softened butter, and a crudité tray perked with pickled herring. Finally: a classic American seafood house in Miami. Readers' Choice: Joe's Stone Crab
Almazar Greek and Middle Eastern Fine Foods
This Greek/Middle Eastern newcomer draws FIU students from across the street for solid shawarma and falafel, but the star is the baklava. Flecked with pistachio or walnuts, for a mere buck and a quarter, the flaky delicacy is a godsend in Greek-poor Miami. Have yours with a cup of super-aromatic espresso and, perhaps, an academic conversation with a stranger.
Graziano's
If you somehow miss the point of this cult favorite on a charmless stretch of Bird Road, well ... you're either unconscious or already dead. The huge grill and giant flaming asador (a sort of industrial-size rotisserie), displayed like fine china behind a wall of glass at the entrance, say with authority that Graziano's is all about the rustic, primal glories of meat. Sizzling over a pile of quebracho colorado wood at lunch and dinner daily are skewers holding everything from whole chickens to suckling pig, as well as especially luscious short ribs, big and meaty and imbued with smoke ($27.95). From the parilla comes perhaps Miami's definitive mixed grill, an enormous serving (for a piddling $17.95) of house-made blood and chorizo sausages, along with sweetbreads, more of those short ribs, and a big slab of skirt steak. You get the point.
Pita Hut Israeli Restaurant & Grill
One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that he had changed overnight into a giant falafel ball. There was something fishy going on. Soon enough Gregor would figure things out: He was indeed a falafel ball, and a nice plump one at that — although "giant" is probably stretching things. He was at the new, bigger, brighter, improved Pita Hut on Arthur Godfrey Road. And what was fishy is that Pita Hut is now also a kosher sushi restaurant (who would make a better bagel rollç). The full-service Japanese menu includes miso soup, basic rolls, specialty rolls, tempura rolls, and riceless rolls. But Mr. Samsa couldn't care less about the raw fish. He had other things on his mind, as you may well imagine. Besides, he was away from the sushi, in the next-door portion of the restaurant where shawarma, shish kebabs, and hummus get prepared. And where finished falafel sandwiches are, quite honestly, things of beauty — cleanly fried, simply and faultlessly dressed in freshly diced cucumber and tomato salad, splashed with tahini, and fluffed into a soft, always warmed pita. At $5.99 each, the sandwiches remain less expensive than lesser attempts around town. Needless to say, Gregor was not thrilled to have metamorphosized into a falafel ball, but he always prided himself on being eternally optimistic. The silver lining in this case: He was not just any falafel, but the very finest.
1909 Cafe
If you're looking for just any sandwich, head over to one of the fast food sandwich spots. If you want an amazing sandwich, go to 1909 Café. The contents of their delicious creations are just as original as their quirky names: Italian Stallion, with prosciutto ham, mozzarella, and tomatoes seasoned with vinaigrette; Piggy Back, featuring slow-roasted pork blended with sweet barbecue sauce, melted Swiss cheese, banana peppers, and red onions; and the French Kiss, made with imported salami slices, melted goat cheese, and a sun-dried tomato spread. To accompany these mouthwatering babies, they've concocted some of the best sides you'll ever taste. Forget potato chips. Try the potato salad. Their bean salad is super tasty as well. The sandwiches are huge, so come hungry or save the other half for dinner. You won't be bored by the selection: turkey, chicken, pork, ham, vegetarian, seafood, and beef options abound. You choose the bread: French, whole wheat French, tortilla wrap, or croissant. And there are daily specials. Also sold: gourmet soups, salads, and taste bud-kicking desserts like vanilla rum cake, banana bread, carrot cake, and cookies. Sandwiches cost between $6 and $8.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®