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!

Thai House South Beach

Adventures in high-ticket parking and sunburned tourists are just a part of a trip to South Beach. Steps from the din of vacationers is an oasis of amazing Thai cuisine. Once you've removed your shoes and are comfortably perched at a low table inside Thai House, the aromas of curries and peanutty sauces just whisper that what you're preparing to indulge in is well worth a battle through the SoBe hubbub. The exotic names of dishes such as si-oew (your choice of meat sautéed with scallions, ginger, and honey sauce) and tom kha kai (a soup of chicken, mushrooms, lemongrass, and coconut milk, $4.75) will have you blubbering to a waiter, but the staff will gladly walk you through each course. And when your server asks what spice level (from one to four) you want, be aware that four means "can melt a gut of steel," so even three has enough spice to make your eyes run. Instead of trying to cool your tongue with water, try resting your eyes on one of the antique Buddhas or reveling in the feng shui, and the cool just might spring from within. Whether you like your curry red or green and your duck crispy or diamond, Thai House has traditional favorites prepared to accentuate the five essential elements of the fare: sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and salty. Plus there are large portions, all items made fresh-to-order, and reasonable prices, with staples such as chicken curry going for $15.95 and pad thai for $13.95. In other words, it's Thai worth the trek.

Orange Cafe Art

It's as American as apple pie,

Find it at picnics, in your fridge, and probably contributing to the fat in your thigh.

Because the fact of the matter is, whether you're poor or rich,

Almost everyone can afford a can of tuna fish.

You can spread it on a Ritz,

Or hide it between slices of bread if you wish.

It's also good on top of salad,

Or straight from the fork, however you like.

Sometimes it's really good, like, ahem at Orange Café,

And sometimes it tastes like that crap you had the other day.

But this Design District hotspot has it down to a science:

Mayo, celery, of course tuna, and then a handful of scallions.

Try it on a baguette, a.k.a. the Rembrandt, for just $5.75 or

Keep it simple and order greens with the atun on the side.

Nestled in the cradle of Opa-locka, Ida's Restaurant might be the only joint in the nation to serve Buffalo turkey wings and Buffalo turkey nuggets. "What Hooters done to chicken, we done to turkey," says Steve Barrett, the restaurant's general manager. His wife, a local cop, is the owner. Ida's offers a generous array of seductively rich Southern cakes and soul food heavy enough to belly-bomb an elephant. But the turkey is key. Five bucks gets you a pair of large wings dressed up in the sauce of your choice (lemon pepper is the way to go) plus fries. Dine in, surrounded by a 50-year-old mural of a hayseed and his girlfriend ricocheting a bullet through a vast countryside. Chat with Steve about all the dirt that goes on around town. Get some coffee. Stay awhile. You're in Opa-locka, baby.

Indomania

Did you know jaja is an Indonesian word for "fishing net," but jaja jaja indicates an AC electrical outlet? Didn't think so. Indonesia isn't the world's highest-profile country, nor is its cuisine globally embraced like that of China, Italy, or Mexico. So it isn't surprising that Indomania hasn't stirred a mania among the masses. The location on 26th Street off the corner of Collins Avenue in Miami Beach doesn't exactly shout out for attention. Neither the humble Dutch husband-wife owners nor the modest, informal setting are the sorts that grab front-page headlines. All Indomania offers is an array of tempting traditional Dutch-Indonesian cooking in a friendly atmosphere and at excellent prices (appetizers $6 to $12, all main courses $20 and under). To wit: Rijstaffel, a plentiful "rice table" with eight plates of different tastes (just $22 per person); nasi goreng, a.k.a. fried rice with a kick; and two exceptional house specialties — duck or snapper steamed in a banana leaf with Balinese herbs. Next time you are looking for a no-fuss place for dinner, aim your radar a bit below the obvious choices.

Garden of Eatin

Let's say that for some reason you get the munchies while you're cruising through Little Haiti. You need a place to chill and enjoy some authentic home-cooked Jamaican vegan food. Garden Eatin is a hidden gem. Pull into the parking lot of this establishment behind a convenience store, and prepare to get high on not only the food but also life in general. Walk past the clucking hens near the front door and enter this Rastafarian paradise. Posters of Ethiopia's last emperor (and living god to his adherents), Haile Selassie, adorn the mirrored walls. Reggae music blares from the speakers, creating a good vibe. Local Rastafarians and activists regularly gather here. You get the food yourself, cafeteria style. Grab a tray and ask Ms. Brown, the restaurant's owner, to make you a $6 sampler plate. She will load up all kinds of meat substitutes and organic vegetables, forcing you to bow in the face of Jah. Bok choy, beets, pumpkin, and string beans cooked Ital style (that's like kosher for Rastas). The ginger-soy fried "chicken" legs are better than real chicken, and a tasty bamboo stick serves as the bone. Move over, Colonel Sanders.

Beehive Natural Foods

Miami's food critics have long neglected this healthful gem. You'd barely notice it, tucked in the rear of a cluttered health food store. Load up on soups, Jamaican patties, and pies prepared fresh by Carlos Schichi, the delightful Japanese-Brazilian chef. The wild-haired Schichi was on track to become a classical musician in Brazil but got struck by the good-food bug. While studying music in Austria, he cooked up a storm in his dormitory. In 1993, he rented the lunch counter, where he's developed a loyal following.

He rotates about 500 dishes, including a fresh special (typically about $5) that arrives every day around 12:45. So order a $3 glass of carrot juice and ask him what's cookin'. Have a cookie while you're at it. And a slice of carrot cake. What the hell? It's all-natural baby. You'll eat like a pig without feeling weighted down or groggy. A three-course meal might run you $10. But when was the last time you ate something that didn't contain roast pork?

Fresh Cafe

Downtown Miami might not be the number one place for healthful vegetarian eating, but newly opened Fresh Café is a glimmer of hope. Upon entering this cute, quaint modernly designed dine-in chomp-shop, one can't help but admire the grand menu selections, especially the elaborate vegetarian wraps. There's the Mediterranean vegetarian, which is a white wheat wrap stuffed with homemade hummus, roasted peppers, mozzarella, and kalamata tapenade. Or the ever-so-popular Asian tofu wrap, filled with fresh veggies, roasted tofu, and homemade sesame ginger sauce. Or the pesto Caprese: fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes, and basil pesto. These satisfying wraps are served with either a side of salad or their signature pasta salad, all moderately priced at $8.25 or $8.50. And owner Dina Popper's bubbly personality will surely keep you entertained and well informed about the latest health news. So if by coincidence you find yourself in the whirlpool of downtown Miami mayhem, enter Fresh Café for some healthful jolts of food and peace of mind.

Hy Vong

Hy vong in Vietnamese means "hope," which pretty much sums up the emotional state of the nightly crowd that lingers outside this 36-seat hole-in-the-wall in the heart of Calle Ocho.

"We're running on Cuban time tonight," says Kathy Manning, co-owner of Hy Vong, who placates the hungry mob with fistfuls of imported beer including China's Tsing Tao ($3.50), Belgium's Kriek Framboise raspberry ale ($6.50), and, of course, Vietnam's 33 Export ($3.50). But what's new? Ever since Manning met Tung Nguyen — who in 1975 was 28 years old, pregnant, and fresh off a fishing boat fleeing war-torn Vietnam — and opened Hy Vong in 1980, these two food-savvy ladies have been reeling in the masses. And unless they're part of a party of five or more with reservations, patrons have to endure the restaurant's strict (and arguably cruel) first-come/first-served policy. Even though a wait for a table can take up to an hour, this place isn't like neighboring Versailles or La Carreta, where grub comes quickly. Expect to wait an additional hour for thit kho (pork stewed in coconut milk, $12), duck breast with black currant dressing ($15), or any other of the fresh and exquisite made-to-order entrées. After one bite of a dish such as fish wrapped in pastry with watercress/cream-cheese dressing ($15.95), combined with extremely reasonable prices — two simple yet mouth-watering cha glo spring rolls are only $4 — you'll forget about the delay.

Even mishaps such as running out of food are excusable. When the fish for a seared fresh fillet served with mango and peppercorns ($16.95) ran out on a recent Saturday night, Nguyen quickly improvised with large, succulent scallops smothered in strips of mango and pineapple, exceeding any diner's expectations.

Roused but not sold? Warm yourself up to the place with one of Hy Vong's Heat and Eat Delicacies ($6 to $7), which includes house favorite rolling cakes stuffed with a pork-mushroom mixture. These frozen delights are available at local gourmet markets such as Gardner's Market (7301 Red Rd., Miami) and Norman Brothers Produce (7621 Galloway Rd., Miami). Unlike an evening in the restaurant, the wait time is only a few minutes.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®