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?

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
Photo courtesy of Genuine Hospitality Group

This is a lifetime achievement award one can win only once. The first five inductees were Norman Van Aken, Mark Militello, Allen Susser, Pascal Oudin, and Philippe Ruiz. This year's entries into our hallowed hall of fame are two toques who have been wowing Miami diners for more than a decade and who are, at the moment, presiding over the pinnacle of their careers. Michelle Bernstein and Michael Schwartz are not only the hottest, most talked-about chefs in South Florida (or, for that matter, Florida), but also their respective restaurants, Michy's and Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, are near universally acknowledged as the very best we have. Bernstein broke into the big-time ranks during her dazzling stint at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; Schwartz made his name as chef/co-owner of SoBe's perennially popular Nemo. Both had to deal with obstacles on their way up — need we remind Michelle of her short work at The Strand, or Michael of his ill-fated helming of the Atlantic Restaurant? — but they worked hard, with full integrity and passion, until they succeeded on their own terms. That the two are known to be genuinely nice, humble human beings only makes the story of their rise that much sweeter.

It's one of the great culinary success stories of our time — how the useless appendages of a bird about as capable of flying as an anvil became this incredibly popular thing to eat. Chicken wings are mostly skin, bone, and gristle, but their little meat is tender and succulent. They fry up nicely and take well to virtually any sauce you can imagine. House of Wings is the Michelangelo of chicken appendages, with some 50 sauces ranging from lemon-pepper-garlic to barbecue to curry to Jamaican jerk. For less than a buck apiece, they come grilled or fried. Go for fried. The joys of crisp-crunchy skin and juicy, well-seasoned flesh trump lard-filled arteries every time. You can either grab 'em to-go or hang out in the no-frills room, where sporting events play relentlessly on a multitude of TV sets.

Although you won't find lou mei — a dish made from animals' internal organs and entrails — at China Steak House, the eatery could hold its own in the Guangdong Province of Southern China. But the restaurant is located just a few blocks east of the NW 122nd Street exit off the Palmetto Expressway, tucked between a Rent-A-Center and Solid Bodies Gym. There's plenty of parking here and a comfortable bench where you can wait and eyeball the diners at this clean-as-can-be joint. Try one of the 18 house specials on the menu. Our favorites are the Cantonese-style roast duck and the China Steak, a broiled prime sirloin with mixed Chinese vegetables and a secret house sauce. At $9.25 and $15.95, respectively, these entrées are a bargain. The joint also looks out for the anti-meat crowd, serving up a phenomenal Szechuan-style bean curd and a mouthwatering ma po tofu for just $7.95 each. On weekdays, choose from a list of 20 lunch specials ranging in price from $3.95 to $5.35. Each dish includes pork fried rice and a cup of egg drop soup. The same entrées are available as combination dinners. Prices vary, but none costs more than $10. China Steak House is open Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

All right, we all know Miami isn't renowned for high-quality Chinese food. Sometimes when you order in, the most you can hope for is a clearly understandable English speaker on the other line and an edible lukewarm meal when the delivery man eventually arrives. But hey, there's Lotus House. The Kendall strip-mall staple never disappoints. The honey chicken is par excellence; tender deep-fried morsels are served with honey sauce on the side. Get the dinner combo with won ton soup, an egg roll, and pork fried rice for a mere $7.95. The sweet-and-sour sauce comes liberally studded with canned pineapple, and the lunch combo costs a mere $4.55. The restaurant specializes in both Cantonese and Mandarin dishes, so you can mix it up with moo goo gai pan or Szechuan-style beef, depending on your Asian food mood. Service is good, delivery is quicker than you expect, and, thankfully yes, the operator speaks excellent English.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®