Your average Yucatecan wouldn't know a taco from a meatball parmigiana sandwich, but don't tell that to the owners of this neat and petite 40-seat restaurant, which specializes in cuisine from the Mayan peninsula. After all, if they want to sneak some fetching Mexican and Tex-Mex items onto their menu, it would be wrong of us to spoil things with regional quibbling — especially when among the non-Yucatecan delights are the most kickass tacos al pastor in town.The trio of corn tortillas come sumptuously plumped with nothing but pork, the smoky nubs of meat softly grilled and subtly sweetened with pineapples and onions. Refried beans, salsa verde, and guacamole are served on the side, which is downright generous for a plate costing just $8.49. Plus it leaves plenty of pesos for glasses of Dos XX on tap.
Historic Blue Marlin Fish House
Oleta River State Park, the largest urban park in the state of Florida, offers the most picturesque of settings for lunch. The informal Blue Marlin Fish House is located where the original Blue Marlin Smoke House stood in 1938. It was a trading post back then, a place where people could anchor their boats and barter their catch. Now the grounds boast a nature center that details this history, a smoke house, and a breezy eating area with a view of the Oleta River rolling by. The menu is mostly composed, perhaps to no great surprise, of smoked fish specialties straight from that smoke house. Blue marlin, salmon, and mahi-mahi are the primary smokees, and can be sampled together in a tasting plate ($8.95); as sandwiches or wraps ($7.45 to $7.95); atop salad with walnuts, grapes, and creamy tarragon dressing ($10.95); or as entrées with rice or pasta ($12.95). Burgers, hot dogs, pizza, and other nonsmoked kiddie-fare is available, too. After lunch, you can walk a few yards, rent a kayak, and float away.
Off the Grille
Natalia Molina
It might seem off the wall to say that the place to get great fajitas is an upscale, healthy-fast-food eatery in a traffic-choked Kendall shopping mall. Not if you've eaten at Off the Grille Bistro, though. This sleek little place proves that good-tasting and good-for-you are not morons of the oxy variety, whether you're grabbing a daily lunch or dinner of hearty salads, burgers, or juicy marinated pork. Or fajitas, which at Off the Grille are presented already packaged as wraps, but still deliver all the flavor of the more traditional version without adding a spare tire to your waistline. A whole wheat tortilla gets stuffed with tender chunks of smoky grilled sirloin and bulked up with sautéed onions, roasted peppers, cheese, and salsa. Like virtually everything else on the menu, it's less than $10. Now, that is really on the mark.
Bellante's Pizza & Pasta
There's a miniature soccer team running toward your car and it looks like you're the one who's expected to feed them. Don't panic. Get all their seat belts tight and drive over to Bellante's. Kids age ten and under can eat all they want at this buffet for only $2.99, and adults pay just $4.89. Bellante's offers a pizza for every finicky eater. There's pepperoni, sausage, traditional cheese, chicken alfredo, ham and pineapple, barbecue chicken, and Mexican. They have cheese bread and pepperoni bites, breadsticks and cheese rolls. You couldn't find more cheese if you took the kids to a dairy farm. Pastas are good too. You have your choice of spaghetti aglio olio, pomodoro, or alfredo. Soup and salad are also included in the all-you-can-eat price, as are the desserts, like an apple pizza sprinkled with granola or a chocolate velvet cake. For those who can't sit still, a game room awaits in the back corner. Better yet, parents don't have to go running after their joystick happy kids — each corner of the dining room has a video monitor where you can see all the angles of the game room. So the kids will be full and entertained, and parents can relax and enjoy an adult conversation, if only for a brief time.
Date Aqui Pana
Native to Venezuela and Colombia, the arepa is a corn pone split in half and then stuffed with goodness, resulting in a stomach-expanding cornmeal sandwich. At this small Venezuelan strip mall cafe, they have every variety, each less than $5: There's the basic cheese-and-butter filling with traditional Venezuelan queso de año — a salty cheese that's white and crumbly. There's the arepa de perico, full of eggs scrambled with peppers and tomatoes. The reina pepeada has a filling of chicken salad mixed with potatoes, carrots, and avocado. And the best is the arepa de carne mechada, where the corn cake is stuffed with a juicy beef that's been stewed with tomatoes and onions — not unlike ropa vieja. All are served greasy and hot with a plastic bottle of garlic mayonnaise to squirt on top.
New York's Big Apple Deli
Diamond Jim Brady is often referred to as the greatest glutton in American history, but iconic food writer M.F.K. Fisher disagrees with this assessment: "That he ate nine portions of sole Marguéry the night George Rector brought the recipe back to New York from Paris ... does not mean that he gorged himself upon it, but simply had room for it." Which is what we remind those sitting to dine with us at the redundantly named New York's Big Apple Deli as we mull over the almost infinite menu. Excepting some desserts, all the food here is made on the premises, and there is simply so much one needs to try. Like the "world famous" matzoh ball soup. Stuffed cabbage, cheese blintzes, knockwurst (kosher, of course). Smoked whitefish. "Lower East Sides" like potato salad, cole slaw, and kasha (roasted buckwheat) knish. Mile-high sandwiches, including our favorite, the Rachel (pastrami reuben). Rugelach or rice puddingç Both! Sandwiches start at $6.95, a bowl of soup is $3.50, desserts are all under $4. With such reasonable prices, you will be amazed at how much room you have. So go for the New York cheesecake, too.
The Mahogany Grille
A nattily dressed postchurch crowd packs the Mahogany Grille (owned by Marlins player Andre Dawson) each Sunday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. The Sunday Supper menu contains the same Southern soul food favorites as that of the regular menu — oxtail stew, shrimp with grits, fried chicken and waffles, need we say moreç — plus a few low country and Caribbean dishes. But a few specialties tacked on, like baked, glazed ham, and braised turkey wings in giblet gravy, are tantalizing tasty, and the sumptuous banana pudding with crushed Nilla Wafers is reason enough to mark Sunday on your calendar. Prices are great — hearty main courses, with two sides of your choosing, are less than $20. The Mahogany Grille, for that matter, is a praiseworthy restaurant every day, too (although it's closed Mondays and Tuesdays). It's just got a little bit more soul on Sundays.
El Carajo
George Martinez
One would not ordinarily expect the top tapas in town to be tendered from the interior of a Citgo gas station. Or any gas station, for that matter. Yet enter the convenience store in the Citgo just off U.S. 1 and SW Seventeenth Avenue, mosey on by the motor oil and potato chips and stuff, and you will surely come across this quaintest of tiny tapas bars, designed like a faux courtyard. And just as thoroughly unexpected as the location is exactly how high Argentine-born, Italian-trained chef Luis Javier Cano raises the tapas bar with finger-licking finger foods such as garlicky gambas a la plancha (griddled shrimp); corvina ceviche; grilled sardines; and a must-order, show-stopping rendition of picadillo pepper puffed with bacalao. Tons of choices, all blessedly cheap ($5 to $18). There are also approximately 1500 bottles of wine on the shelves, many from Spain, any gladly opened and poured by an amiable waiter for a $10 corkage fee. The price on Halvoline Motor Oil isn't bad, either.
Yakko-San
Photo courtesy of Yakko-San
Most late-night spots stay open to serve revelers who just don't want to go home, and the menus reflect this purpose — burgers, burritos, pizza, and Denny's-diner-type crap. Fuck that. Some of us who dine past midnight aren't drunk or drugged when doing so. In other words, we can taste the food. This holds especially true for those sushi chefs from South Miami to Broward County who take the late-night drive to Yakko-San after they pack their knife kits up at their respective Japanese restaurants. It is in order to accommodate these chefs that Hiro's stays open until 3:30 a.m. on the weekends (2:00 during the week), and it is something of a gift that the rest of us are invited to take advantage as well. You'd be surprised how many people do. Since opening in 2000, Yakko has become an enormously popular destination, the sparse, 60-seat room filled at all hours with folks enjoying traditional Japanese food freshly cooked and presented in no-frills, small-plate servings (and eminently affordable, with hardly an item over $10). Instead of the burger: crystalline chrysanthemum leaf tempura. In place of the burrito: piquant kimchee hot pot with pork, tofu, and baby clams. And as a pizza substitute: okonomiyaki, described as "Japanese pizza, veggies, egg on brown sauce, mayo" (really more of a fried pancake/omelet, but it will do the trick). Late-night revelers needn't miss a beat either — two dozen sake selections should help keep the party going. Speaking of which — Hiro's Yakko-San sleeps in, opening for dinner at 6:00 p.m. Readers' Choice: Denny's
Mofongo is urban street lingo for bold and sassy in demeanor; a sultry or delicious presence; an attitude. As in: I mean like, damn son, dat bitch gots crazy mofongo, word up, all sorts of wanting to tap dat, for real ... mmm.... This colorful slang derives from the traditional Puerto Rican specialty of mashed plantains mixed with garlic and other flavorings and fried up in a pan. It can be served plain, as a side dish, but when it's stuffed with chicken, beef, or some other meat, mofongo becomes an entrée — bold, sassy, sultry, etc. In the center of the island it's often made with pork. On the coast, it is almost always stuffed with fresh fish or shellfish. At the informal, inexpensive Papa Rudy's, they serve it plain, stuffed with shrimp, stuffed with churrasco steak, stuffed with pork chicharrones, stuffed with fried chicken chops, and stuffed with grilled chicken breast ($7.25 to $19.95). For the past nine years, nobody has been making a better version of this starchy mash than Papa Rudy. Mmm ... dass nice, kid.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®