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!

Prime Sushi

The name "Sam's Kosher Restaurant" would make sense. "Moishe's on 41st" I wouldn't have a problem with.

Here we go with the names.

I'm sorry, Mr. I've-heard-it-all-before, but I still say "Prime Sushi" doesn't sound right for a kosher restaurant.

They serve sushi — what else should they call it? Would Prime Kosher Raw Fish maybe be better for you? Their special roll of tuna, salmon, whitefish, avocado, cucumber, and that meshuga crab happens to be delicious. And the crunchy, spicy tuna roll, too. Charging $6.50 for a small roll, and $11 or $12 for a big, fancy schmancy roll, the restaurant could be called Prime Adolf and I'd still sit my tuchas down here for dinner.

Don't say such things. Besides, I don't eat sushi.

But their pizza with the fried eggplant on top I've seen you gobble so fast you'd think it was the first time you saw food. And $10.95 is not a bad price.

Okay, so the pizza is good. What, they should get an award for making a tasty kosher pie?

I feel like yelling out, "Help! A starving woman is sitting next to me!" every time you eat the eggplant Parmesan sandwich. And I still have aches in the finger where you poked me with the fork when I tried to taste some of your fettuccine Alfredo.

Who told you to reach over like an animal? Who does such things in a fancy restaurant with white tablecloths?

I'm just saying you like Prime Sushi as much as I do. That's why you schlep here with me for lunch and dinner. I notice you don't stay home when I go to Sunday brunch here, either.

What, I should stay home alone while you stuff your face with bagels at the all-you-can-eat buffet? I come here just to make sure you don't embarrass yourself. I suppose you're complaining because you have to shell out a mere extra $16.95 for me?

The Caribbean nachos — don't ask. You stuff them down your throat like there's no tomorrow. God forbid I should have to use the restroom — I'd come back and all the fried plantains, melted cheese, sour cream, and salsa would be gone.

What kind of name is Caribbean nachos? It doesn't sound kosher.

Oy, again with the names.

Barrio Latino

God promised a land flowing with milk and honey, but maybe people would have paid more attention if He had offered a land flowing with lobster bisque from Barrio Latino. Cream is much more heavenly than milk anyway, and this bisque is loaded. It's a buttery, rich bowl of joy. Sweet lobster meat floats serenely, grateful it was never canned. A hint of sherry highlights the end of each sip. If you want to experience this bliss, you must arrive on a weekend, for it is served only Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You won't need to go to confession before arriving, but you will need to hand over six bucks.

Rosa Mexicano
Courtesy of Rosa Mexicano

Rosa Mexicano brought upscale and authentic south-of-the-border fare to New York City in 1984. It is still thriving there, and in recent times has expanded to new territories; this past year it moved into Mary Brickell Village. A new Rosa Mexicano tribute CD has just been released, in which mostly long-in-the-tooth rockers do covers of their past hits but with reworked lyrics. Here is a sampling:

• "(I Know) It's Only Guacamole": "But I like it, like it, yes I do," sing the toothless — er, ageless Rolling Stones in their rockin' ode to Rosa's signature dish of extra-ripe Hass avocados — with tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and salt — barely mashed tableside in a molcajete ($12, for two).

• "Bridge over Troubled Tacos": Paul Simon starts off the song with a wistful recital of failed taco preparations he has tried in South Florida. Then, in an emotional moment for all, Art Garfunkel joins in and they harmonize about Rosa's tacos de carne asada, the juicy strips of grilled skirt steak atop Chihuahua cheese, served in a cast-iron skillet ($17.50).

• "Oops! ... I Did It Again": Britney turns the now-ironic title into a comic admission of eating all the red bean chorizo chili and corn esquites, as well as licking the tomato-chipotle sauce from her plate. And also eating the zarape de pato, or pulled morsels of roast duck in tortillas ($9.50). And the butterflied snapper brushed with guajillo chili sauce ($22.50). Who can blame her?

• "Pomegranate Margaritaville": Jimmy Buffett rejuvenates this overplayed mediocrity by injecting praise of the trendy fruit. And how he likes drinking Rosa's famous pomegranate margaritas at the restaurant's sleek, long, always-hopping bar; how it is only $7.95; and how it's his own damn fault his career is over.

• "U Can't Touch These": MC Hammer is talking about his enchiladas mole de xico, two soft corn tortillas filled with shredded chipotle beef and capped with Veracruz mole made with raisins, plantains, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and mulato, ancho, and pasilla chilies. He clearly doesn't want you to touch them, but they're just $16.75, so you'd think he'd be able to afford to buy another plate if you did.

Pelican Restaurant

Choose the number that matches the letter:

a. Ocean Drive restaurants

b. 168 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty, and Pelican Restaurant opened in the Pelican Hotel

c. $7; $18; $15

d. Gliding by are rollerbladers, skateboarders, bicyclists, baby strollers, beautiful people, and wide-eyed tourists

e. A great place for lunch in any neighborhood, but a downright oasis of fresh flavor on Ocean Drive

f. A wonderful bird is the pelican ...

1. Pelican Restaurant

2. Its beak can hold more than its bellican (Ogden Nash)

3. Tourist traps

4. Fennel salad with arugula and cucumber in lemon dressing; gnocchi in sauce made from fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil; cheese plate with choice of Gorgonzola, Manchego, aged pecorino, Asiago dolce, and others, paired with pear-walnut marmalade and Tuscan toast

5. The view from Pelican's outdoor patio

6. 1995

Answers: a. 3; b. 6; c. 4; d. 5; e. 1; f. 2

La Cofradia Ceviche Bar

This stylish Peruvian/Mediterranean restaurant excels in everything a dining establishment can. The room is modern and elegant, imbued with warm walnut notes and a sky-high ceiling. Service summons a professionalism not seen often in these parts. The wine list (and for that matter, the artisanal cheese selections) are extensive and smart. And co-owner Jean Paul Desmaison, one of Lima's rising star chefs prior to landing in South Florida, orchestrates a cuisine as riveting as any — not just in the Gables, and not just within a Peruvian or Hispanic context, but also in all of Miami. Proof of this can be attained via a taste of chupe de camarones, a classic Peruvian soup with shrimp, butternut squash, lima beans, corn, cheese, and a poached quail egg. Need more evidence? Pick up a forkful of pork slow-braised with pisco and grapes, or of baby octopus in Tuscan ragout, or, for dessert, of flambéed pineapple with purple corn demi-glace and white chocolate semifreddo (main courses run between $28 and $40, desserts $8 to $10). La Cofradia is under many diners' radars, but it is also on many diners' radars, so reserve a table in advance — especially weekends.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®