Listen up, all you wimps who lack the backbone to quit smoking. Sure, you don't have a pack of cigarettes lying around the house. It will only tempt you. But sometimes you just need a fix. Whaddya doç You can find loosies in any New York bodega or Philly Chinese carryout, but Miami is well, weird. So here you have to head for the Alton Food Plaza, which is the local go-to spot for pathetic peeps. Try the Marlboro Lights for just 25 cents — and pick up some frozen mozzarella sticks or empanadas while you're at it.
El Titan de Bronze
Evelio Guelmes, age 83, is steeped in the knowledge of what it takes to create a robust, full-bodied cigar. The master, who crafted his own brand of cheroot, El Turco, in Carbaiguan, Cuba, is one of eight veteran roleros — with a combined 150 years of tobacco-twisting experience — who work their nimble-fingered magic at El Titan de Bronze Cigar Factory in Little Havana. Run by Don Carlos Covis and his clan, the factory manufactures a line of quality stogies on site using a sublime mix of the aromatic leaf from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, North America, Indonesia, and Brazil. Popular brands include La Herencia Cubana, El Titan de Bronze, and Gran Reserva — and range in price from $3.50 to $5.25 for a single cigar to $85 to $120 per box. For those looking to spark up a stick offering earthy, optimal flavor and a sweet draw, these babies do the trick.
At night this space is an empty lot, desolate and spooky. By day it's a thriving mini farmer's market in the middle of bustling Little Haiti, usually staffed by Bernadette, a large Haitian woman who doesn't speak English but has a mile-wide smile. She and a few other Haitians sit under umbrellas and sell produce straight from Homestead out of the back of a van. Sometimes they stack crates of produce on tables, sometimes not. Onions, peppers, and muddy-looking root vegetable offerings come and go, but plump papayas, sweet pineapples, and tall stalks of sugarcane are mainstays. Occasionally Bernadette fires up a grill and roasts corn ears to sell, and another woman comes by to peddle housedresses. Pineapples go for around $3 to $4 (as opposed to $5 to $7 at Publix and Whole Foods), but feel free to haggle. Don't be surprised if you get your final tally in Kreyol — that's part of the joy and adventure of Miami, and of buying fruit out of the back of a van.
The warehouse and wholesale food district on NW Twelfth Avenue between Twentieth and 29th streets features some pretty apocalyptic shopping scenes — tubes of ground chuck longer and fatter than human legs, twenty-foot freezers, cans that look like steamrollers, and cases of ramen noodles big enough to float to Cuba. Great prices, yes, but the experience can be daunting for anyone without a forklift. Brothers Produce breaks that daunting wholesale barrier. Yeah, its entrance faces a loading dock and is sometimes partially blocked by crates of fruit, but don't let that stop you: Inside you'll find an accessible store with great bargains and a stupendous selection. Especially good are the varieties of spices, bulk dry goods (ranging from twenty to 50 cents a pound), and exotic hot sauces and marinades. The produce is surprisingly fresh and unbeatably cheap — who can say no to plum tomatoes at 89 cents a pound (although prices change daily)ç On your way out, check out the massive fish heads in the freezer. Halloween is not that far away, after all.
Ocho Placas Tattoo Company
Karli Evans
Upon entering this tiny den of epidermal art, you might wonder where all the tattoo designs are. The answer: in your head, from where they will be skillfully extracted by an artist (and they are real artists, working in a variety of media other than skin). This parlor does custom ink only. For $150 per hour an Ochoplacas artist will create an everlasting masterpiece of your own making, right there on your bod. The walls of Ochoplacas are covered with staff-made art, including a family portrait of sorts of the collective's five main creators. The legend reads: "8P: Miami's Most Hated Crue." They're actually pretty nice guys. Which isn't to say their work is painless — but is anything more painful than the permanence of a bad tattooç
U.S. 1 Discount Mall
This air-conditioned shopfest offers not one, but eight jewelry places that'll be pleased to pierce you anywhere. So if you don't like what the lady behind the counter is wearing or the way she chews her gum, just walk over to one of the other half-dozen piercing joints. And if you're still not too keen on the idea, you can shop around in the mall's roughly 200 booths until you work up the courage to get something shiny stuck in your ear, belly, eyebrow, or other body part. As the sting of getting stuck begins to wear off, mosey around and consider having your hair (Mohawk) and nails (black polish, please) done. Maybe even visit one of the phone kiosks for a cell with which to tell all of your friends what's in your skin.
Emilio Robba was first inspired by watching his mother arrange a handful of flowers into a bouquet. Decades later, Robba makes bouquets of his own, and he's known around the world for it. Only he doesn't grow or buy the flowers like most florists. He builds them. Christened by the international press as the "Sculptor of Flowers," Robba creates silken flower clones that are so believable you'll only realize a week later, when they're still not brown or wilting, that they're not fresh-cut. He crafts these reproductions of roses, lotuses, exotic birds of paradise, and cacti — complete with inch-long thorns — from looking at photos. He also creates flower fragrances and handmade vases. Robba sells premade arrangements for $25 to $3500, but on Saturdays you can visit his Coral Gables boutique and commission your very own sculpture. He also sells his flowers by the stem for $6 to $30.
Kerry's Bromeliad Nursery
They've got orchids that hang, orchids in pots, even orchids with names. In fact Kerry's grows more orchids than any nursery in the United States. And if you aren't an orchid person, don't worry, because Kerry's is the second largest bromeliad grower in the country, too. Want a Guzmania named Hilda or a Vriesea called Tiffanyç You can cruise to Homestead and pick them up at Kerry's cash-and-carry shop, or check them out online before you go. There's also a section on the Website about how to care for your plants. And if that isn't enough, you can e-mail the orchid (or bromeliad) grower. Not bad for Kerry Herndon, a guy who began with an ornamental plant business he started in his grandmother's back yard during high school. The Homestead native and ag businessman's flower empire now includes facilities in Apopka and Costa Rica. His plants are also sold at retailers like Home Depot and Publix. But Herndon doesn't let the success go to his head. He says of his orchids: "It's basically beautiful broccoli."
Enough with the coladas and the chain coffee stores. It's time to slow down and drink a nice cup of tea at a place owned by a local. Amate is perfect. Sit in the covered patio on a comfy orange couch or sprawl out in the bamboo-lined outdoor area. The space is a tiki-Zen mashup, but it's a welcome respite in this hardscrabble northeast neighborhood. A giant Buddha statue smiles as you peruse the long list of teas (green, black, infusions, tea with caramel, fruit infusions). They start at $2.95 (a big cup, infused tableside in a French press-like tea contraption), while larger, three-cup options run $3.95. If you're lucky and indecisive about your tea selections, the effervescent Milagro will help you choose a blend. Amate owner Emilia Pena promises to hold poetry, music, and matchmaking nights. She also stocks a small stack of games (checkers, backgammon, Parcheesi) if you're into that sort of thing. If you don't want to participate or mingle, you can always order a cup of Marrakesh mint and hunker down with your laptop: Amate offers free Internet access.
The room is alive with the flickering of computer screens and clicking of keyboards. Gamers of every age, shape, and size battle each other, as well as hundreds of others online around the world, to see who is the best at Counter-Strike, Battlefield 1942, Diablo II, and EverQuest. The three locations of E2 are powered by a dedicated T1 server and stocked with 45 PCs. Patrons can bring their own computers too. And the pricing is pretty reasonable. Rentals cost $3.75 an hour for nonmembers ($2.50 for members), and E2 also offers multihour packages and discounts if you become a member. If destroying mutants, fighting elves, and playing soldier leaves you famished, check out the concessions, where you can buy a bagel with cream cheese for $1.35 or a cheeseburger for $2.40, among other quick bites.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®