Best Caesar Salad 2009 | Loftin's at Casa Casuarina | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

There's something poetically appropriate about ordering a caesar salad, one of the most ubiquitous of Ocean Drive's culinary offerings, in a spot that put the frenzied strip on the map. Earlier this year, Casa Casuarina — AKA the Versace Mansion — opened its restaurant to the public with a menu of exquisite Mediterranean fare. Chef Dale Rey's version of the pre-dinner salad is composed of the crispest romaine dressed with an ethereal garlic-and-olive-oil emulsion accompanied by flatbread "croutons" and plump marinated anchovies. The salad will set you back $13, less than the price of a cocktail in a South Beach club. It's best enjoyed in the mosaic-tiled courtyard, as Madonna no doubt did countless times before selling her manse and heading north.

Natalia Molina

In this subtropical oven we call Miami, a cool snack can be as short-lived as a snowball in, well, the Sahara. Not to worry, though. Smoothies from Lemoni Café — a cozy Argentine- and Moroccan-owned sidewalk sandwich shop on NE Second Avenue just north of the Design District — won't sit around for long. They're too tasty. Try the 20-ounce honey-peach-mango with soy milk for $4.50. It's sweet (but not too sweet), velvety (think less icy than Jamba's), and strangely comforting. Opt for the simple, more traditional fresh raspberry or orange if you want something tart and tangy. The place has a jovial neighborhood vibe — with free wireless Internet and flowing conversation — and you'll likely leave feeling a few degrees cooler.

The River Oyster Bar photo

The River Oyster Bar sells nearly twice as many oysters as anyplace else in town (some 200 to 300 dozen per week). It offers nearly twice as many varieties (usually eight to 12 types split along West and East coasts). The oysters shucked at this unpretentious restaurant just south of downtown are nearly twice as good as anyone else's too, and — here's the pearl — they cost only half as much during happy hour (4:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday). Other times the price will range from $1.75 to $3 each for Cape Cod Bays, Blue Points, Wellfleets, Belons, Kumamotos, Hunter Points, Fanny Bays, etc. Chef and co-proprietor David Bracha has a passion for all sorts of seafoods, as well as progressive American cuisine — like, say, those Fanny Bays fire-roasted with sofrito butter, ancho chili cream, chorizo, and Manchego. Oyster enthusiasts among the River's loyal local fan base, however, will not even bother asking for menus — they'll simply take a seat at the mahogany-and-slate bar and mull over the mollusks spread out before them in an ice-filled trough. Bonus: a great selection of beers and wines to pair with the briny bites.

Hear that? It's not the screech of a crazed scooter driver cutting off a Lamborghini, but a singing cricket. And that scavenging creature isn't a tanorexic SoBe shopper pawing through a Prada bin; it's a hungry raccoon. Welcome to that thing called nature, 15 minutes from downtown Miami. If you think your day is beginning to improve now, wait until you try the fish. The casual Boater's Grill, with a dining porch overlooking No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne's Bill Baggs State Park, is the waterfront vacation home you never had, complete with chefs who can cook Cuban-influenced seafood better than you or even your tia could ever hope to make it. Share an irresistibly crisp whole fried fish (ask the server what kind is most fresh) for $25.95 to $39.50, depending on size. Then wash it down with a pitcher of sweet sangria and watch the sun set as boats creak in the harbor. You'll swear you're in Kennebunkport.

Best Restaurant for Intimate Conversation

Buena Vista Bistro

— I brought you here because it's a romantic little bistro where we can talk with one another over escargots, some slices of baguette, a bottle of red wine... plus I thought you would especially enjoy it because you're French.

— I'm from Antigua. Didn't you read my profile?

— Sorry, thought that was in France. Point is, the escargots are tenderly cooked Provençal-style with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, and basil — the finest in town. And the snapper meunière and lamb chops and duck magret in green peppercorn sauce are fantastic.

— Come here often?

— Heh-heh. I like a gal with a sense of humor. And I like that the décor here makes you feel like you're inside a cozy Parisian café.

— We're sitting outside.

— Well, that's because I love sitting at the tables out here as well; it's as though we're on a quaint Parisian street. Plus they were booked solid inside.

— I can't read the blackboard menu from out here, and I can't see the carte du vin that seems to be written on one of the mirrored walls.

— Think of a French bistro dish and they'll likely have it. Pâté, steak/frites, ratatouille, tarte tatin — almost all entrées are under $20, sides are $3, desserts only $4.

— Thanks for sharing that with me.

— The mostly French wines are also affordable, in the $25 to $50 range. Want a bottle?

— Yes, and some food as well. It's getting late.

— No worry. Buena Vista stays open until midnight, so we still have hours left for intimate conversation.

— When do we begin?

Photo by Aran S. Graham

A diner doesn't have to serve sausage gravy poured over a hot, open-faced biscuit with scrambled eggs and a side of buttered rye toast. It doesn't have to provide bottomless cups of coffee, warmed up with a smile by waitresses who remember your name and always seem to know exactly when you're ready to order, need more ketchup, or would like that frittata wrapped, please. It doesn't have to look like the old Hawthorne Grill, the diner, tragically torn down in 1999, that Quentin Tarantino used as a set in Pulp Fiction. It doesn't have to have a counter nearly as long as the building itself and lined with swiveling stools that are always occupied by neighborhood regulars who don't need a menu and don't even need to verbalize their order because everyone, including the person on either side, already knows it. It doesn't have to hang a sign that reads, "Only a Greek can make Greek salad." It doesn't have to line up all the cereals in those plastic containers made famous by Jason Siegel's character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall on a shelf above the coffeemaker. It doesn't have to be devoid of all pretense, focused solely on serving well-made food at affordable prices to a local clientele. It doesn't have to be open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. It doesn't have to be conveniently located on Biscayne Boulevard in the middle of the Upper Eastside's MiMo District, and you don't have to go there. There's a Denny's right down the street.

Warning: If your idea of a perfect farmers' market includes patchouli-scented homemade candles and organic hypoallergenic honey, Laurenzo's is probably not the place for you. Laurenzo's is not hip, it's not outdoors, and it has all the new-age, hipsy-dipsy ambiance of Big Lots. But if you're looking for the freshest fruits and vegetables at straight-from-the-farm prices — which is what farmers' markets should be all about — you can't miss out on Laurenzo's. Tucked into an unassuming building just west of U.S. 1 in North Miami Beach, the place is lined with shelves that overflow with bright Honeybell oranges, pears, and fresh Florida grapefruit. Caribbean delicacies such as Costa Rican mangos, Dominican boniatos, and Jamaican yellow yams are as fresh as the heaps of fresh cilantro, basil, mint, and dill. The avocados are soft, green, and as big as a peewee football. And if that's not enough enticement, you don't even have to wait for weekends to roll around. Laurenzo's brings the fresh produce seven days a week.

Photo by Ana Adams

Sung to the tune of "What a Wonderful World":

I see grilled langoustines, veal Milanese,

Twenty-five years in the Gables, no empty tables,

And I slip a bill to the host,

"Can you get us in please?"

I see fried Scarmoza cheese, mozzarella Caprese,

Owner Nino Pernetti, knows great spaghetti,

And I think to myself,

I could use more Parmesan cheese.

The room is seeped in richness, the service so divine

The sea bass comes with truffles, the duck breast in red wine.

I see pasta e fagioli, very old-school,

Expensive as well, but hey, what the hell,

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant


Simon Hare

The little man felt very bad,

One meatball was all he had.

And in his dreams, he hears that call:

"You gets no bread with one meatball."

Owing to this damn recession, it's appropriate to drag out Depression-era ditties like the one popularized by Josh White in 1944. And it has also reached the point when one meatball for $15 just doesn't cut it anymore. Joey's, a quaint 70-seat Wynwood café, solves this Italian-food-in-tough-times dilemma. For one thing, it doesn't serve meatballs. But it does dish Venetian chef Ivo Mazzon's freshly made pastas — such as spaghetti pomodoro, which reminds us of the pure, simple aromatic appeal of perfectly cooked semolina with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and a hint of garlic and olive oil. And try putting this in your red sauce: A hefty half-order can be relished for $5, and a larger portion is $7. Add a small house salad splashed with fresh orange juice-olive oil dressing for $3. Or splurge and try a grilled sirloin steak with softly braised spinach, fennel, and Swiss chard ($16). A great bottle of wine from a boutique Italian vintner for less than $40? Not a problem, nor is a glass of it for under $10. Honest food, fantastic value, an outdoor patio wrapped in foliage, and convenient hours — open for lunch and dinner till 10 p.m. weekdays and 11:30 p.m. weekends. Depression? Joey's is the perfect place to fuhgeddaboutit.

Racks Italian Market & Bistro has taken the stage at North Dade's Intracoastal Mall and is rocking with an incredibly ambitious agenda of providing Italian food in almost every conceivable format. Open seven days for all three meal periods (until 2 a.m. every night but Sunday), the 4,000-square-foot location includes a 204-seat restaurant serving coal oven pizzas, salads, cheeses, pastas, antipasti, and small plates of regional fare for under $20. There's also a Venetian-style bar boasting a wide array of Italian wines from boutique vintners, a 20-seat communal table, outdoor trattoria patio, and waterfront terrace. An espresso bar serves Segafredo coffee. Gary Rack, of Boca Raton's Coal Mine Pizza, is the impresario. Executive chef Matthew Danaher, formerly of Vic & Angelo's, conducts.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®