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.

Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish Market
Photo by Michael Campina

Garcia's Seafood Grille is on the waterfront in a very On the Waterfront way. The family-owned venture isn't glitzy, pretentious, or expensive (sandwich with a side is $8, dinner with two sides $12 to $14). The outdoor terrace view is not of yachts and million-dollar marinas, but of weather-beaten docks and warehouses, of old freighters heaped with used bounty. There are no karaoke nights, saketinis, or salad bars. Garcia's is simply an informal, old-timey fish house with a fryer, a grill, and a market's worth of fresh seafood to dunk into the former and toss onto the latter. There are fish soups (grouper chowder), fish salads (dolphin caesar), fish fritters (conch), fish sandwiches (the signature mahi-mahi), and full fish dinners (including stone crabs when in season) — all preceded by complimentary smoked fish spread and crackers. The beer is cold, the breezes balmy, and the ambiance unbeatable. Gosh, Karl Malden would have loved this place.

Captain's Tavern

This old-fashioned family seafood restaurant boasts large aquariums, filled with live exotic fish, that surround the restaurant's eating area. We recommend going on Tuesdays for two-for-one Maine lobster (market price). And what better way to wash down some fresh lobster than with a bottle of fine wine? There is no wine list here; it's more like a telephone book-size tome. The best vino for your buck is a bottle of Martin Codax for $19. Described as an "elegant, full-bodied white wine with flavors of ripe apple, peach, apricot, and lemon zest," it tastes great with an order of seared salmon ($20.95). If you have some extra loot, try a bottle of Dom Perignon ($175). The listings are divided into Italian, Spanish, French, Zinfandel, Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon, white, red, and dessert wines. For dessert, try a slice of rum cake ($4.50) with a bottle of Arrowood Late Harvest Riesling ($39). The most expensive is a bottle of Penfold's Grange from Australia (a 1997 goes for $300, and damn was that a good year).

Bar-B-Que Beach

Hunks of meat wood-smoked slowly at low temperatures, so the fatty juiciness doesn't cook out, with enough natural smoky flavor cooked in that sauces are an enjoyable extra rather than a necessity: that's real barbecue. And that's hard to find in Miami, though our town is geographically about as Deep South as you can get. Though it seems especially unlikely that you'd find honest 'cue in South Beach, this joint has it. The brisket ($13) would be a contender even in Texas (where barbecue means beef), its flavorfully fatty succulence sinful enough to convert even hard-core pork fans. As for the latter, pulled pork won't have North Carolinians ready to surrender the crown, but it'll satisfy their homesick blues. Elephantine spare ribs, available either wet (sauce-basted) or dry-rubbed, are not the falling-off-the-bone kind — which are generally par-boiled flavorless to reach that state — but are boldly meaty specimens that are tender yet chewy enough to be interesting. Even the whole barbecue chickens are beautifully moist — and bargain-priced ($8.95). All platters come with two sides; choose creamy slaw and nut-studded sweet potato/banana mash, and throw in an à la carte order of deep-fried dill pickles, for a down-home meal that'll thrill all but your cardiologist.

East Side Pizza

Bacon? Check. Overly strong coffee? Check. Overly sweaty line cook? Check. Eggs served in multiple forms, including breakfast sandwiches? Check. Paper plates and plastic cutlery? Check. Setting of sublime urban decline punctuated by traffic jams and rusted fences? Check. A place, like a pizza shop, that no one would expect to serve breakfast and therefore must lower prices to attract business? Check. Only $4.25 for way too much food? Check. Near-crapping of designer jeans on the way home? Check. Fourteen hours of regret and pledges to eat only fruit before noon? Check. A return to the same place 36 hours later to purchase the same $4.25 special? Check.

Misha's Cupcakes

Admittedly, Miami is a bit behind the cupcake craze that swept New York and Los Angeles, oh, six or seven years ago. The market was ripe for a clever cupcake entrepreneur to step forward and put the city on the miniature dessert map. That person was Misha Kuryla-Gomez, purveyor of Misha's Cupcakes. Offering ooey-gooey deliciousness in bite-size portions, the stay-at-home mom used her mother's longtime recipe to create her own yummy success. Now her fare is sold at Books & Books Café, Town Kitchen and Bar, and the Van Dyke News Store, among other locations. Her Dadeland Mall kiosk, Lix by Misha, is conveniently parked near the Coach store, so husbands can soothe their sweet teeth outside while wives crank that credit card at the cash register. Misha's red velvet is the most talked-about flavor, but our favorite is cookies and cream. Or is it coconut? Or Kahlúa? They're all yummy. Mini cupcakes cost a buck; larger ones go for $2.25. Try the scones too!

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®