La Provence

If great bread is the staff of life, all of us here in South Florida are living on borrowed time, eating mushy, pallid, tasteless loaves made from ultrarefined flour that no self-respecting Parisian or Italian would use for a doorstop. But thankfully, for those special occasions, we have La Provence, where you can get a proper baguette ($2) or crusty loaf of sourdough ($2.25) or hunk of multigrain ($4.35). But man (and woman) doesn't live by bread alone, so if you're hungry for a light, flaky croissant; luscious Danish, fruit tart, or cheesecake; even savory quiches or empanadas, La Provence has you covered there too. Just no doorstops.

For more than nine years, Aziza Yuself has made Varanda's a place where Brazilians can savor authentic cuisine. That's why the low-key eatery draws so many of the Brazilian expatriates residing in North Beach, who can watch Brazilian television and have long conversations in Portuguese while dining on exceptionally good food, especially the muqueca de peixe, fish perfectly simmered in a coconut sauce ($14.95). Meat lovers will enjoy the picadinho ao mohlo, beef strips in a delicious hot sauce, for $10.95, or the frango ao mohlo curry, curry chicken in coconut sauce for $13.95. For many folks, Varanda's is a home away from home, but even if you're not from São Paulo, you can drop by too.

A+slice+of+Tuscany+served+in+a+simply+stunning+setting
Jonathan++Postal
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As much as we love the simple Tuscan cuisine on Cioppino's menu, we never seem able to finish our risotto scampi or signature mare e fetunta. Why? Because we gorged ourselves on the restaurant's savory bread basket, which brims with ciabatta and grissini flown in from Italy. It's even harder to stop picking at the Parmesan and rosemary lavash, baked on the premises by Cioppino's pastry chef, Frédéric Monnet. The bread basket is served with extra-virgin olive oil from Tuscany, a unique blend from Villa Manodori Artigianale by chef Massimo Bottura. Cioppino is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sawaddee Thai-Sushi

No more eating at the restaurant and then drinkin' in the alley for you, oh no. Have your dinner and drink, too, at Sawaddee on Normandy Isle. The menu, which comprises a great selection of Thai food along with the apparently mandatory assortment of sushi, is reasonably priced enough to justify a visit on its own. A basic pad thai costs about $8, and most dinner dishes are less than $15 and generously portioned. But the real secret is that you can bring your own booze, and it's a-okay with the owners. Can you crack a 40-ounce at the table? We don't know, but give it a shot! If you want something classier, try running across the street to Normandy Beach Supermarket, open until 11 p.m., which always has a decent red for five bucks or less. Bon appétit!

Prime 112
Photo by Gary James / Courtesy of Carma PR

The caesar salad at Prime One Twelve is bigger than life itself. Or maybe not. Would you believe bigger than a breadbox? How about bigger than any other caesar salad in Miami? And better, too, not because of any trendy twists such as cotton candy croutons (the ones here are born of buttery brioche) or a sprinkling of fennel dust (paper-thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano do the trick). Beneath the toppings are crisp hearts of romaine lettuce with a heady garlic-lemon-anchovy emulsion clinging to the leaves like Julius Caesar clung to Rome (or like Caesar Cardini held onto his original recipe for the salad). The caesar here is great because it is classic, as befits the city's most esteemed steak house. That it can feed two or three people makes the $15 price something of a bargain. One Twelve's fat prime steaks, Kobe beef hot dogs, or white truffle French fries are a bit pricier, but they complement the caesar quite well.

Caciques Corner

When it comes to café cubano, it's all speed — getting the black life-giving nectar from can to cup to belly fast enough to fuel you through that booooring meeting. Under the Metromover, across from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, and steps from Miami Art Museum, Caciques Corner is situated to please.

The café, which is shaded by blue awnings, has three windows ready to serve up a jolt of sugar and caffeine. During busy morning hours, cups are ready for loading and reloading. On Sundays, when much of downtown is shuttered, Caciques is open to shake off that hangover. And at 60 cents a cup, it taunts the caffeinated promises of the unnamed chain-to-go a block away.

The sweet smell of cakes a-bakin' tickles your nose way before you step into Mary Ann Bakery, and you'd have to be subhuman to resist the urge to walk into this unassuming little spot tucked away on 163rd Street. The front window is filled with birthday and bridal cakes, and although they look (and probably are) delicious, the real gems are inside. Side-by-side, draped in icing, and calling your name are the most fabulous minicakes this side of the Little Debbie factory. Whether you fancy mocha, chocolate, strawberry, orange, or almond, one of the dozens of confections in the refrigerated case of this Chinese bakery will surely hit your spot. The spongy texture of the cake plus the not-too-sweet yet oh-so-buttery icing make these treasures better than anything vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag. And none costs more than $1.25, making your decision to pass up the 7-Eleven baked goods aisle that much sweeter.

They spell it cebiche at this Japanese-Pan Latin newcomer. And the renditions served here are distinctive in other ways as well. For one thing, they're prettier than others — the seafoods steeped in flavor without being seeped in a puddle of lime juice and buried in cilantro and red onions. The garnishes and marinades are more creative than most: Lobster luxuriates with slivers of fresh mango in key lime juice; cold-water prawns get invigorated by chipotle-tangerine sauce; tuna tangles with yuzu tobiko, wasabi, scallion, and soy. Prices are $12 to $16 for a generous portion, but a $30 sample proffers any three cebiches of your choice, accompanied by a refreshing scoop of shiso-kiwi sorbet. While you're here, you'll probably want to try this stylish restaurant's sushi, tiraditos, or flashy Latin-Asian fusion dishes. But it is the cebiches that will keep you returning.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

There is the burrito of soft, warm tortilla stuffed with succulent shreds of cumin-spiced, chipotle-marinated barbacoa beef. The burrito bursting with slowly simmered pork carnitas. The burrito caressing chunks of chipotle-marinated chicken. Fact is, the burritos here make those you get at other Mexican chains about as alluring as a yapping Chihuahua. The streamlined menu ("2 things. Thousands of ways"), sleek urban-industrial design, and eco-conscious use of paper goods make the mighty Mickey D's and Burger King seem old and dethroned by comparison. That Chipotle uses products such as Niman Ranch pork, Bell & Evans chicken, and Meyer Natural Angus beef puts it in an entirely different league from all other chain restaurants from fast to casual-upscale. And its use of antibiotic-and-hormone-free meats, organic beans, vegan cheeses, sour cream free of synthetic growth hormones, and total ban of sugar, eggs, nuts, trans fatty acids, and artificial colors or flavorings simply puts the rest of the industry to shame. The bang-for-the-buck meter swings in Chipotle's favor too: Prices top out at $6.10.

Laurenzo's Itialian Market

"The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese," wrote author G.K. Chesterton. If only one of our literary laureates had visited Laurenzo's market, no doubt they'd have been inspired to describe curd and whey in verse. They might have boldly strutted through the door, pen in hand — which would be easy because the place is open from early morning until dinnertime, and has been since 1951. And while they were there, they might have picked up homemade pastas, prepared Italian specialty foods, produce (at the green market across the street), and the staple of all poets: wine (many fine bottles at prices even wretched scribes can afford). But what would most inspire their imagination would be the cheese. It has so much to offer that it might produce this gem:

Emile Zola never wrote of Gorgonzola,

Especially not Galbani from Lombard

With its pungent pulse veined in bluish green.

Nor did Ezra Pound ever expound

On what a bargain $6.99 a pound

Was for milky, made-on-premises mozzarella

(It is said he preferred the smoked variety.)

Emily Dickinson ignored aged Fontina Val d'Aosta,

As though its grassy aroma and trufflelike flavor never existed.

Why did she not pick up pen for wine-cured Pecorino Toscano,

Haunted with hints of Tuscany's taunting wildflowers?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®