El Carajo
George Martinez

Think of flan as the more feminine version of crème brûlée. Whereas crème brûlée is dense and custardy, flan is light and eggy. Whereas crème brûlée sports a thick, brittle crust of caramelized sugar, flan sits in a shimmering, golden pool of liquid caramel. And when you think of flan, think of Miami's only tapas bar in a gas station, where you can fill your tank with unleaded and your stomach with all manner of Spanish wines and delicacies. But in the end, what will keep you coming back is the soursop flan, which for all of $5 will seduce you with the texture of edible silk and the flavor of a dozen tropical fruits.

Chocolate Fashion

No flour, butter, or chocolate chips here. The main ingredients are walnuts, egg whites, and rich, deep red cocoa powder. The result is a bargain for $3.50: a giant, dark brown confection that's one inch thick and four inches in diameter. They are chunky, with a crisp exterior and a moist, gooey center. Flawless.

Dadeland Mall
Dadeland Mall

You can walk around this food court, eating free samples of international culinary treats, until you are just about full. Once you have finished making the rounds and have purchased some food, have a seat near Enrique's Café, where beer is served all day. This food court is not just about taking a free piece of chicken and sipping an icy-cold beverage; it is also about making new friends. The tables here are nearly all connected and you will be forced to sit next to strangers while you eat. So you've got great food, great conversation, and, last but not least, great service. The head janitor, Kevin Warhaft (check out his MySpace page, www.myspace.com/kevinwarhaft), has been working here for 17 years. His hat says it clearly: "The Man, the Myth, the Legend." We recently spoke with Kevin, and he told us about life at the food court. "I clean tables, I clean the bathroom, I take the trays from the tables," he said. "I also get to meet a lot of cool people here. A lot of hot girls come into the food court. I've seen fights break out here, and I've met some celebrities." Like who? "Rudy Sarzo [former bass player of Quiet Riot, currently with Ronnie James Dio] has been here more than once. I saw O.J. Simpson at the Johnny Rockets about eight years ago." So what's Kevin's favorite place to eat here? "Cozzoli's Pizza for sure. They have good pizza, and they've been here longer than I have. Chick-fil-A is very good; so is Chicken Kitchen. You have Johnny Rockets, and the new Tony Roma's is pretty good." Baby-back ribs and beer at a food court? What more could you ask for?

Many folks visit this Calle Ocho landmark for its fresh produce and flowers, or for the frothy mango, guanabana, and mamey batidos that are the open-air market's specialty. But the place also serves lunch daily — heaping out huge portions at a pocket-friendly $4 a pop. The only catch is that the menu is limited to one item. Don't worry — when the fricasse de pollo con ensalada y pan runs out, the blenders still offer a world of fruity nourishment that's always fresh.

Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina
Photo courtesy of JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa

Fries come fat, skinny, lightly colored, darkly colored, curlicued, shoestringed, Texas-cut, crinkle-cut, spiced, spicy, and salted to vastly varying degrees. So in the past, our pick for finest might have been influenced by a personal bias toward one style or another. But when Bourbon Steak arrived in 2007 at Turnberry Isle with acclaimed West Coast chef Michael Mina's signature duck-fat fries, the competition was left waddling behind, ankle-deep in soybean oil. Using duck fat as a frying medium is an age-old French tradition that lends a richer, fuller flavor to the potatoes. But Mina keeps things modern by serving the thin, crisp, twice-fried spuds three ways: truffled, perked with smoked paprika, and flush with fresh herbs. Each comes with matching accompanying dip (at $8 per order, these pommes frites demand more than Heinz). Of course French fries alone do not constitute a proper meal, so consider ordering one of the tastiest steaks in town on the side.

Le Bouchon du Grove

Bistros are like antiques: They are supposed to be old. That's why even new ones often look as though they've been around for years. It's easy to find aged bistros in Paris, not so easy in South Florida. Le Bouchon du Grove has been sating patrons with its rustic French fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner since 1994 — which in local restaurant years translates to having been around since 1846. It looks pretty good for such an old joint. Indoor and outdoor tables spill into one another and create the relaxed and comfortable feel of a perfectly worn pair of jeans. The food is assuaging as well, starting with a crusty baguette with creamy butter and segueing into adeptly executed homemade renditions of country pâté, salad Niçoise, escargots, pommes frites, gratinée Lyonnaise (French onion soup), steak in green peppercorn sauce — all the bistro classics. Other assets include an outgoing staff and exuberant French chef, a laid-back Sunday brunch, friendly French wines, and affordable prices (dinner entrées $20 to $30). Bouchon boasts experience and age, but dining here never gets old.

Fidele Restaurant

"I've been doing this a long time," Julien Cesar says about frying chicken. "Since 1991." For its first 16 years, this eatery, which specializes in Haitian-style seafood dishes, was situated at NE 72nd Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Near the end of 2007, Cesar moved to nicer digs in North Miami. "The fried chicken is the same as it's always been," he claims, which is to say provocatively spiced on the outside, incredibly moist within. The secret is removing the skin and setting the bird in hot water before frying. A hefty portion — accompanied by rice and beans, fried plantains, and salad — is presented by a friendly server for an astonishingly low $6. So we have come to praise Cesar, and do so every time we eat his fried chicken.

Cacao

Tired of pretentious Pan-Everywhere eateries where fusion equals confusion and deconstruction means some sadistic chef screwing with your mind? Try this nonconfusing fusion place, where deconstruction is done for fun — as in congenial, creative chef Edgar Leal's marinated shrimp/mussels/calamari Argentine-style empanada ($14) — and all lunch specials are $11.99. Leal's childhood years — spent swinging back and forth between rural Venezuela and New York City — seem an ideal background for sensibly dealing with the foods of many countries (though mainly Peru, Argentina, and Venezuela) and also imbued him with an instinctive flair for transforming traditional rustic dishes into cosmopolitan contemporary creations — such as his warm "cachapa" soufflé with creamy guayanes cheese ($12), an elegantly lightened take on a common corn cake street snack. New-style ceviches and tiraditos, subtly flash-marinated and garnished to evoke the varying typical flavors of numerous nations, are definitive must-not-misses — an exciting comparative taste test, and a gut-level lesson in the benefits of international coexistence.

Roma Organic Gelato

We know gelato is just a fancy-schmancy Italian word for ice cream. But the frozen goodness at Roma needs — no, requires — a term of its own. The stuff is smooth, rich, and flavorful, bordering on manna from the Arctic Circle. It's a tad expensive (one scoop costs $4, two scoops $5, three scoops $6), but it's an acceptable splurge. Try the stracciatella, which is similar to chocolate chip but not as cloyingly sweet. Or venture into fruit flavors such as tangy raspberry. Not all varieties are always available; the Italian owners hand-make the gelato daily, so offerings vary. The small shop is also a great place to relax while you enjoy your treat; the décor — featuring model airplanes, balloons, and powder-blue walls — gives a sleek yet adorable European feel.

Perricone's Marketplace & Cafe
Photo by Lynn Parks

It takes practice to achieve perfection, particularly with regard to gnocchi. It's an easy recipe — usually just potatoes, eggs, water, and flour. But making it is somehow quite difficult. Add too much water and you need more flour; add too much flour and you get a dumpy mess.

Luckily for gnocchi lovers, George Tavares has been practicing his craft for more than 30 years. He makes the delicate Italian dumplings served at Perricone's. Not only does he have the experience to make them great, but also he has the passion. Rafael Van de Water, a chef at the eatery, says of Tavares: "I have watched him make them numerous times, and it truly is a labor of love."

You can get them served with coral pink, quattro formaggi, or Perricone's famous pomodoro sauce. They're amazing with any of the three. At lunchtime, a plate will cost $12.95; at dinner, $14.95. Perricone's is open Monday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®