Most tandoori chickens look and taste the same: bright red and charred. Tikka, too, teases the taste buds similarly just about wherever it is served. Korma, biryani, vegetable samosas — we know them well. Tipu Rahman and his wife, Bithi Begum, both from Bangladesh, put out respectable renditions of all of the above for lunch and dinner at their handsome 45-seater (with just as many seats on an outdoor patio), but the less conventional dishes are what distinguish this North Miami Beach spot from other vindaloo venues. You won't, for instance, find the Bangladeshi appetizer of fried grouper fritters (mas bhora) on every menu, nor karahi specialties in which meat, poultry, or fish gets quick-cooked in a woklike skillet heated by coals. Heelsha's lamb karahi is one fired-up stir-fry: succulent pieces of meat melded with tomato, onion, green pepper, and garlic, then kicked up with cumin, coriander, and cardamom. It is worth a trip here just for the restaurant's namesake fish, a sweet, freshwater, silver-skin shad flown in frozen from India, and roasted with all manner of aromatic spices. Prices, however, are more typical of other Indian restaurants — meaning entrées are under $15 to $25.
Gil Capa's Bistro
Famous not only for his cooking but also his gigantic handlebar mustache, owner Gil Capa walks in and out of the kitchen, greeting his customers with jokes in Italian. You can almost hear the Godfather theme as you enter this small Italian bistro tucked away in a tiny strip mall. Patrons receive warm greetings as they are seated. "It is like a big family here; most of our customers are the children of our customers," says Gil's wife, Carmen. The only employees here are Gil, Carmen, and Carmen's two older sisters, Olga and Teresa. They've all been with the restaurant since it opened in a previous location in 1976.They serve food in the traditional Italian way. "We bring the pasta out first," says Carmen, smiling, as she sets down a small bowl of thin linguine with delicious homemade tomato sauce. For the main course, try the chicken marsala ($14), which is sautéed with (also homemade) wine sauce and fresh mushrooms over a tender filet of chicken. And don't even think about leaving without trying the tiramisu ($5). "I have to go to confession every time I eat one. It is sinful," says Gil. "Pure gluttony."
Cheli's Cafe
This Design District spot is so tiny you can easily miss it. That would be a shame, because for $2.65 you can get a more-than-adequate breakfast complete with three eggs any style, toast, grits or potatoes, and coffee. In other words, a refreshingly simple and filling meal for the price of a cup of joe at Starbucks. Sit under an umbrella at one of the two rickety tables outside and revel in your frugality.
Il Migliore Trattoria
Devin Peppler
The Oxford English Dictionary traces "French-fried potatoes" back to 1894, and suggests that the usage is American in origin. "French-frieds" were first mentioned in print in 1915. The term "French fries" dates to the Thirties. "French 75" is a cocktail made from gin, Cointreau, champagne, and lemon juice, and has nothing whatsoever to do with potatoes. French fries cut thinly, fried crisply, entwined in a nest of fried fresh herbs, and piled high upon a platter are informally known as "patate frite alla Toscana." You can get them only at Il Migliore, the ultimate neighborhood Tuscan-style trattoria that is also known for perfectly cooked pastas; scrumptious meat, poultry, and seafood dishes; reasonable prices; and a can't-be-beat 28-wines-for-$28 program. The French fries at Il Migliore were first mentioned in print as the best in town in 2007 by Miami New Times, which traces the origin of the recipe to chef/owner Neal Cooper, credits the fries' fulsome flavor to Mr. Cooper's relentless quest for quality, and notes that the price for a table-sharing platter's worth is $6.95.
Everyone in this neighborhood knows the Jamaican-born Cliff, who has been cooking up a storm in his ramshackle roadside restaurant since 1986. It's difficult to find anybody around here, in fact, who hasn't sat down at one of the stools lined along a counter and dug into curried shrimp, stew peas, pork chops, cow feet, or other West Indian specialties that Cliff's crew does just right. Lunch specials include any of the aforementioned, with pigeon rice, steamed cabbage, fried plantains, and fruit punch or lemonade — for a downright neighborly sum of $5.50. The same price brings a breakfast of yam, banana dumpling, and callaloo, but we haven't even mentioned the really lip-smacking stuff found at Cliff's: curried goat with a devilish ginger-masala kick, and barbecued and/or jerked chicken and pork ribs that get slow-cooked in a black barbecue smoker outside. Ask for the hotter barbecue sauce, which is perked with piquant Scotch bonnet chilies, and request a Red Stripe Beer to chug along. You are set. Cliff's roots, rocks, and reggaes on weekend nights, when giant speakers gush island music until 3:00 a.m
Nikki Beach Miami
Courtesy of Nikki Beach
All-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffets aren't about precision-cooked food; they're about luxuriating in horn of plenty-type decadence for a few hours before the weekly grind begins again. And Nikki Beach — with its bed tables and private dining (or whatever) teepees in the oceanfront dunes, not to mention its famously hard-partying patrons and equally famous mojitos — so defines decadence that it's hard to believe the word existed before the place did. So it's good to know that after about a year's experiment with a normal, choose-one brunch menu, the more fitting too-much-ain't-enough beachfront buffet is back. You've got your sweets: mini croissants, Danish, muffins, bagels, and so on, plus a full array of desserts, including lovely fruit tarts, flan, and cr?me brûlée. You've got your salad station, featuring fruit and Caprese salads (both the fruit and the mozzarella fresh), several prepared mixed salads, crudités or greens with a choice of dressings, and a selection of cold cuts and cheeses. There's sushi — tuna, salmon, and vegetable makis, and good seaweed salad and edamame to go with it. There's even breakfast food — scrambled eggs, French toast, and omelettes that are custom-prepared, with diners' choice of smoked salmon, cheese, ham, mushrooms, and much more. There are bigger brunch buffets in town, but at $29.95, this one's less than half the price of the biggest ... and, considering the setting, more than twice as suitable for a self-indulgent Sunday.
Francisco Cabrera came to Miami from Havana in 1980. "I am a licensed food vendor, living the American dream!" he proclaims, smiling. You might see Francisco speeding up and down Biscayne Boulevard in his bright-orange mobile hot dog stand. It looks like a large golf cart with a small cooking grill on the back. "I like to call it the snow cone mobile," he says. A jumbo hot dog with French fries and a snow cone goes for $3.50. Free condiments include sauerkraut, sweet onions, relish, and of course ketchup, mayo, and mustard. Super Franizado is the antithesis of a drive-through, since cars can wave him down to pull over. Which he always does.
Francesco Restaurant
Other dining establishments might pop to mind when dwelling upon Coral Gables' finest, for the "City Beautiful" boasts an enviable array of worthwhile dinner spots. But this Peruvian gem, tucked away on a quiet, nondescript street, is suffused with the sort of across-the-board excellence and attention to detail that would make a Michelin writer swoon; especially considering that entrées are so very reasonably priced, in the mid-twenty-dollar range (although some go up to $44). The room is warm with woods and wines (an exceptional list, natch). Fresh-cut flowers grace the tables. Service is personable and refined. Owner Franco Danovaro keeps a close eye on the operation, while his father Aldo runs the original Francesco in Peru — one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Lima for two decades now. Aldo brought a few chefs from that city to help him re-create great Peruvian cuisine here, and it is evident from the first bite of bracing ceviche just how fully they have succeeded. Tiraditos are top shelf too, as are the rest of a slew of seafood dishes — none better than stewed octopus on Peruvian white bean risotto (seco de pulpo). Come Tuesday and Wednesday evenings there is even live cello music. Now how are you going to beat that?
Taste of Bombay
This little downtown spot is a favorite of lawyers and bankers in the know — leave it to affluent powerbrokers to find the best deals. For $9.95, you get a beautiful feast of chicken, beef, and lamb vindaloos and tandoris, piles of flaky samosas, pools of creamy dal, and addictive vegetable dishes such as aloo gobi, an aromatic blend of cauliflower, potatoes and green peas. Okay, you're thinking, but I don't want to eat in some grungy joint. Far from it: linen table cloths, nice silver, and prompt service make Taste of Bombay an all-around sensory treat. If for some reason one of your party can't handle the Indian delicacies, they can check out the smaller Chinese buffet and pizza selection at Taste of Bombay's next-door annex.
When prehistoric man cooked the first piece of chicken, he dreamed of a succulent piece of meat encased by a jacket of crispy, perfectly seasoned skin. And that hunch-backed, big-foreheaded man dreamed of said chicken being juicy, and with a hint of thyme and rosemary that would dance on his tongue. And he thought, "Maybe it would be good propped up on a pillow of horseradish mashed potatoes!" Sadly, bro-Magnon's chicken probably didn't come out the way he imagined it back then, but thanks to his reincarnation as a Geico spokesperson he does have another chance to fulfill his dream with the "Crispy Chicken Madison" at 510 Ocean. For $22 you get a hunka-hunka chicken and a mound of perfectly spicy mashed potatoes. The words to describe this dish go something like mouthwatering, scrumptious, divine, et cetera, et cetera. It's so delicious, even a caveman can tell.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®