Phyllis Richman abhors restaurants that provide "service that isn't really a service, such as by pouring your water every time you take a sip." Robert Sietsema bemoans "the frequent difficulty of getting the check," while Gael Greene's main gripe concerns waiters asking, "Are you still picking at that?" Restaurant critics and diners frequently express all kinds of beefs regarding service, so when a dining establishment such as Pascal's on Ponce avoids the aforementioned plethora of pitfalls, it is worth taking notice. Not only is chef/owner Pascal Oudin's contemporary French cuisine peerless, but also his team of professional waiters satisfies their customers' every service need in seamless, silent fashion. "A great restaurant," according to food writer Arthur Schwartz, "is a place that makes you think that you're being treated as well as one of the regular customers." Pascal's on Ponce is just such as place.

Trump International Beach Resort

You don't have to be a real estate mogul or a reality TV star to get everything you desire in a cocktail. Nor is notoriety or a vicious comb-over a prerequisite. You can walk into Neomi's Grill at the chic Trump International Beach Resort and order a Trumptini, and the bartender will serve you a buzz, a jolt of energy, and a t-shape slice of lemon all in one glass. The flavors are semisweet and might remind you of a cosmopolitan, but once you taste the Citron, Absolut Mandarin, Absolut Peach, and Wet Mango power drink alongside the essential cranberry juice, you'll know the ladies of Sex and the City never had this libation. And it goes for only $11.57 after taxes. Cheers.

"Thinking of Miami, the first thing that comes to mind is summer/beach and of course a great body figure." So says the website of this family-run Middle Eastern café, and if your priority is indeed a great figure, the signature Lemon Fizz (made with oranges, bananas, pineapples, mangos, apples, strawberries, other seasonal berries ... everything except lemons) is the nothing-but-fruit smoothie that'll get you there. But there's no legal definition of smoothie; tradition, since the first smoothie was created in California around 1940, dictates only that the drinks be based on fresh fruit, liquefied, and whipped in a blender. By that standard, even this café's lightest juice — a frothy mix of lemon and mint — is a smoothie. The fruit shakes here run the gamut from healthful (OJ, strawberries, and hazelnuts) to sinful (white grapes with milk and vanilla ice cream), but almost all are inventive. And there are also fruit-free chocolate or vanilla frappés for folks who'd rather forget the figure.

The DiLido Beach Club

A magical nanny once said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," but if she were our wet nurse, we'd have to ask what we could eat a spoonful of to make our weight go down. Or maybe we'd inquire about a dessert that's tasty without wreaking havoc on our teeth and vital organs — because that's what refined sugars are doing to us as we scarf down that Snickers bar. The answer is the DiLido Beach Club's mango sorbet, a confection made with natural ingredients that your body is well versed in digesting. Neither you nor your nutritionist will argue with the simple recipe of very ripe mangos, organic honey, lime, and a bit of salt. Created by chef de cuisine, a.k.a. the hot chef of our dreams, Jeff McInnis, this sorbet is one you can feel good about shoving down your throat. Or you can just head to the Ritz-Carlton's chic oceanfront restaurant, shell out five bucks, and eat it spoonful by delicious spoonful. Oh, and the strawberry, coconut, apricot, lemon, and orange varieties will do your body just as much good.

The Mahogany Grille

Miami's hip-hop fans are quick to identify our city as part of the "Dirty South." Musically, perhaps there's an argument to be made. But when it comes to cuisine, Miami may as well be North Dakota. It's practically impossible to find a decent soul food joint in these parts. We're talking real soul food — not one of those so-called American cuisine joints that just throws on their menus some ribs and mac 'n' cheese drizzled with truffle oil or baked in balls studded with weird chunks of jalapeños. A real down-home soul food joint has got to have barbecue. It's got to have real macaroni and cheese. And it also should have grits, collard greens, and candied yams. Plus it'd be really nice if the joint weren't a hole-in-the-wall; just because the place is offering down-home cookin' doesn't mean the décor can't be elegant. Mahogany Grille has all of that and then some. The chefs here go above and beyond, offering regional fixings such as Southern fried chicken and waffles (served with a generous portion of sweet potato fries), as well as plenty of jerk recipes, conch fritters, and oxtail stew for island transplants looking for the kind of food mama used to make. And it's affordable. The priciest item on the menu is the $32 rib eye. As the name implies, Mahogany's atmosphere is plush, dark, warm, and inviting. The dessert menu is to die for — any first-time visitor shouldn't miss the butter sweet potato pecan cheesecake. It's as rich, sweet, and decadent as you'd imagine.

Delicias de España

Ten Reasons why Delicias is better than the rest:

10. Quaint, low-key tearoom setting.

9. Spanish-style breakfasts are served, as well as lunch, dinner, and chocolate con churros for merienda (afternoon snack).

8. Dining room leads to Delicias's Spanish import market (both opened in 1997 and seem to expand every few years), which sells thousands of items such as hams, cheeses, sausages, wines, perfumes, ceramics, and a wide array of paella pans.

7. Fresh fish flown in from Spain's Cantabric Sea twice a week.

6. Fabiano Asturiana, a meat-and-bean specialty from Asturia, Spain (native land of husband/wife owners Ernesto Llerandi and Isabel Miranda).

5. Gazpacho andaluz, garlic-laden clams, and peppers stuffed with bacalao and rice, each under $10.

4. Small tray of luxurious Ibérico ham ($25).

3. Large tray of luxurious Ibérico ham ($45).

2. Pastry cases filled with homemade charlottes, tarts, cakes, soufflés, petits fours, truffles — plenty of choices to accompany a steamy café con leche.

1. Monkfish in garlic sauce ($25) and lubina a la plancha (griddled sea bass, $25), langostinos a la plancha (griddled king prawns, $30), served with garlicky roasted potatoes. That's about half what it would cost in your favorite Spanish restaurant.

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

Maine lobster, spice-poached prawns, stone crabs, East and West Coast oysters, littleneck clams, and complete caviar service. That's the raw bar. Lobster, crab, foie gras, and American Kobe beef compose some of the appetizers — each luxe item offered three ways. Such as lobster-bacon-and-shiso-wrapped fritters with yuzu crème fraîche, or butter-poached lobster with chanterelles and corn pudding crêpe, or lobster grilled cheese croutons atop heirloom tomato soup. "Michael's Classics" include whole-fried organic chicken, Kobe burgers, and tapioca-crusted yellowtail snapper. Sides? How about the signature trio of duck-fat fries? Yes, that's fries fried in duck fat. Let's take a breath before getting to the steaks. This is a steak house, after all. An acclaimed steak house, in fact, that celebrated West Coast chef Michael Mina opened in The Fairmont Turnberry Resort this past year. There are all-natural certified Angus beef steaks; American Kobe steaks; and the exquisitely marbled Japanese A5 Kobe steaks. And rack of lamb and pork short ribs and all kinds of cuts. Get ready for the clincher: All meats are poached in fat prior to grilling. Steaks in butter, lamb in olive oil, and pork in bacon lard. It might also be mentioned that the décor is gorgeous, service superb, wine list exceptional — but is that even necessary? And we can close by saying how oh-so-costly it is to dine here — but does that really matter?

Astor Cuba Restaurant & Lounge

More than a decade ago, the Hotel Astor in South Beach was renowned for its Sunday brunch. The food was good, but it was gospel queen Maryel Epps who brought the crowds in. Well, Ms. Epps has once again been belting out soulful tunes at the Astor's "Inspirational Brunch," but this time she is doing so in the new Joley Restaurant, where the cuisine is bright enough to share the spotlight (the chef is John Suley, who trained under Daniel Boulud and Gordon Ramsey). Diners start with a mimosa and then choose one of nine appetizers (oysters on the half-shell; crisp quail, sweet potato, collard greens, and chorizo); a dozen entrées (eggs Benedict; pancakes with bananas Foster sauce; omelet stuffed with wild mushroom, Parmesan, and white truffle; steak frites); and five desserts (cinnamon walnut coffee cake; lemongrass soup with coconut ice cream). The brunch runs from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., the singing from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Performance and meal: $44.

TRUE OR FALSE:

1. Matsuri looks like a dive.

False. Used to be true, but last year the place was renovated. Now it is swathed in soothing woods and exudes a rather upscale appearance.

2. The menu is written entirely in Japanese so non-Japanese diners have no idea what they are ordering.

True. But there is a different, somewhat similar menu written in English.

3. It has been open in West Miami-Dade since 1988.

True.

4. Yaki ika, hotate yaki, madai, and o-toro are the names of Japan's latest pop music sensations.

False. Just some cuts of sushi you won't find at many places other than Matsuri.

5. Matsuri's waiters dress like Johnny Cash.

True.

6. Ankimo monkfish liver is also known as "chopped liver for the goyim."

False. It is, however, sometimes referred to as "Japanese foie gras," and Matsuri's got it.

7. Mori awase is Japanese for "cheap crap," and at Matsuri is an all-you-can-eat-for-$5 buffet featuring fish that doesn't smell so good.

False. Mori awase is Matsuri's top-end sushi assortment, and it offers stellar-quality slices of nigiri.

8. Thirty-five percent of Matsuri's clientele is Japanese-American.

False. It's closer to 40 percent. Or 45 percent. Or maybe it is 35 percent. Hard to say.

9. Matsuri's product is fresher than anyone else's, yet it costs considerably less.

True.

10. Matsuri has the best sushi.

How many damn ways do we have to spell it out for you?

Xixón Spanish Restaurant
Photo by Michael McElroy

Girl: The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.

Professor: Again.

Girl: Octopus in vinaigrette never leaves one with regret.

Professor: Huh?

Girl: I eat chorizo in apple sidra and pork sausage frita whenever I read the Bhagavidad Gita with Rita.

Professor: Let's take it from the top.

Girl: Xixón Café serves some two dozen tapas all day, on Coral Way, till 8 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, till 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday without delay, but hey — not Sunday.

Professor: I said "top," not "tapas."

Girl: Fried white anchovies and gazpacho are more macho than a nacho.

Professor: Now you're just being obnoxious.

Girl: Steamed clams, ma'am, with a bocadillo of that damn Serrano ham — and it's no flimflam scam, tapas are $6 to $14 and can be eaten on the lam.

Professor: Okay, maybe we should break for lunch.

Girl: Spanish wines, cavas, and queso Manchego. Let's take the Winnebago, Diego.

Professor: By George, I think she's got it!

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®