Buenos Aires Bakery & Cafe

A Miamian's life is spent trying to avoid gridlock. But when a line regularly backs up to a bakery's door, it's generally best to ditch the highway-learned evasive tactics, join the massive crowd, and take a number. At Buenos Aires Bakery Café in North Beach, where a beginner's Spanish will be tested, you'll be rewarded by a display case full of beautiful, buttery-golden Argentine pastries, most made with a flaky, croissant-like dough. While the cream cheese Danish is pretty incredible, we like to cut out the middleman and go with the croissant, a miniature of the French pastry, crisped in butter with cloud-soft dough inside. Pair it with a sweet and milky cortadito. By the way, you might as well order three croissants and save yourself another trip through the line.

Scarpetta is Italian slang for "little shoe," or the heel of bread used to scoop up sauce from a heaping plate of Italian goodness. It's fitting, then, that a meal at this glossy Fontainebleau outpost of New York chef Scott Conant's polished Italian fare begins with one of the most enticing breadbaskets in the city. House-made stromboli filled with smoked salami and cheese are accompanied by fluffy focaccia and crusty ciabatta, all of which are primed to be dipped or slathered in the mascarpone butter, fruity olive oil, and hearty eggplant caponata that grace each table. Entrées run in the $30 to $40 range, but refills of the breadbasket are blissfully free.

Pesen's Breads & Panin

There are showier sandwich shops, for sure, as well as ones that offer more choices. Want jalapeños with that tuna sandwich? Sorry, Pesen's doesn't do peppers. But the tuna is made daily from white albacore and pressed into a ciabatta bread panini with ripe red tomatoes — a limo to Subway's subway. All the sandwiches at this clean and bright downtown Miami deli/market are made with care by the owner and his wife, as are the soups, salads, smoothies, and shakes. There are some 16 sandwich offerings in all, including a Caprese made with fresh mozzarella on baguette (or whole-wheat baguette); a Mediterranean hummus, feta cheese, and olive sandwich in pita bread; and those pressed panini, a Pesen's signature, each selling for $5.95 or less (soup and half panini is $6.50). Some folks take a seat at one of the tables in the quaint shop; many grab lunch (or a light dinner) to go. Pesen's is open 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Yes, they have no jalapeños, but Pesen's is hot.

L'Express Sandwicherie

Workers in the nondescript building at the end of San Remo are lucky indeed — in terms of lunchtime options, that is. Within a stone's throw from this beige, Gables-bland complex that houses a Coldwell Banker branch, an oral surgeon's office, and various other official-looking businesses, there's Publix, Whole Foods, and Sunset Place. And downstairs, tucked away at the back of a curiously tropical and leafy atrium, there's an authentic Parisian sandwich shop owned by a handsome blue-eyed Frenchman. Ooh-la-la.

The priciest sandwich at L'Express Sandwicherie is the $7.95 San Remo, which is an elegant, simple, crusty loaf filled with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, and fresh-made pesto. Panini include the typical offerings, and then there's "beefy" — roast beef, tomato, red onion, mayo and horseradish — and "porky," which is layered with ham, Brie, slender slivers of apple, and balsamic vinaigrette. Both are $7.55. You can get away with a delicious lunch in this quirky little oasis for ten bucks. Better still, you can take your food to the park across the street and pretend you don't have to go back to the office after your break.

University of Miami

Let's be real. There are two, maybe three mall food courts in the county where you would actually consider eating if you didn't have to. The rest are dirty places filled with generic burger joints that use clip art of smiling patties as logos. We wish they'd take a cue from University of Miami's Hurricane Food Court.

It's one of only a couple of food courts in town with a Panda Express, and if you've ever had the orange chicken there, you know how important that is (plus you'll always get wonderful service from Angel). And it boasts the only Miami-Dade location of Salsarita's, a health-conscious taco chain; it's like Taco Bell but won't give you indigestion. Rounding out the place are made-to-order salad shops; outlets specializing in sushi, Mediterranean food, and Caribbean cuisine; and your typical Wendy's and Jamba Juice food court fodder. Plus, thanks to UM's obsession with image, the area is always clean. We just wish you didn't have to spend $30K a year on tuition to make frequenting this little fast-food oasis convenient.

Café Prima Pasta
Photo courtesy of Cafe Prima Pasta

This Sopranos-esque red sauce joint is the kind of place where locals and celebs such as Matt Damon elbow for space in the old-school wooden bar, so it's no surprise that the eager-to-please management would go one better than a prix fixe menu with limited choices. Make your way to the North Beach institution between 5 and 6 p.m. and your entire meal is half off, including drinks and dessert — the whole shebang. Which means you get belly-filling classics like eggplant parm, veal gardino, and crab raviolotti for as little as $8 a dish.

A La Folie Café
A la Folie Cafe

Picture it: a steaming fresh beurre-sucre crêpe, dripping sweet, sugary butter all over your plate, served under a shaded tree in front of a warm orange-hued storefront on Española Way. Pedestrians stroll past as myriad savory scents waft by. How's $3.50 sound for that slice of delicieux Parisian life? At A La Folie, it's waiting for you every morning. Another $3 buys the freshest strawberries on South Beach for your crêpe, and a few bucks more brings you handmade caramel crêpes or the "forestière," with savory sautéed champignon mushrooms. For $4, you can tack on the punch-bowl-size "grand crème café au lait," the best frothy espresso this side of the Seine. And if the most decadent breakfast special on the Beach is on the agenda, watch out for the "tartiflette," a devious mix of bacon, potato, onion, cream, and Reblochon cheese.

People's Bar-B-Que

The first thing that greets patrons walking into People's Bar-B-Que is Shepard Fairey's iconic red, white, and blue Obama "Hope" poster on the kitchen door. Then there's the smoky oak aroma, the home-style ambiance, and hospitable waitstaff. Then there's the food, heaping portions of it. Just off of I-95, this Overtown mainstay has been serving barbecue ribs and chicken, oxtail, pork, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and other soul food staples for nearly four decades. The meat is cooked over an open fire, smoked to perfection, and smothered in a delectably tangy barbecue sauce made from a secret family recipe. Sides include pigeon peas and rice, fried okra, candied yams, baked beans, sweet peas, corn, and mashed potatoes, among others. The macaroni and cheese and cornbread alone are worth the trip. And while the servings are generous, save room for desserts such as the sweet potato pie and banana pudding. Lunch platters, which are served with two sides, start at $8 for barbecue ribs and $10.50 for a ribs and chicken combo. There's even take-out service. The essence of great soul food is heritage and the warm embrace of comfort and home. At People's, that spirit is delivered in abundance.

Shing Wang Bubble Tea Cafe
Devin Peppler

Vegetarians put on a happy face when courageously diving, over and over again, into soy patties and seitan casseroles, but don't be fooled: The animal-product-eschewing set has functioning taste buds. Meatless menus, however, are often limited to the same old options. To the rescue comes Shing Wang Vegetarian, Icee, and Tea House, perhaps Miami's first entirely vegetarian Chinese restaurant. All the favorites are here, from General Tso's "chicken" to Ko-Po "pork" and crispy "duck" — all are reincarnated in soy by Buddhist owner/chef Sing Kelly, who once ran a popular meat-serving spot nearby. Don't miss the "veggie sticky rice in leaf," a tamale-like rice, egg, and peanut dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaf. The Chinatown staple is usually impossible to find meatless. Wash it all down with one of the bubble teas and finish up with a Taiwanese shaved ice, an addictive dessert far more complex than its American carny cousin.

Prana Health Food & Restaurant

Once you enter the realm of high-fat, preservative-filled foods, it's not easy to turn back. Your bod will eventually begin to crave crap, and you'll find yourself shoving the greasiest grub down your gullet every chance you get. The same goes for healthful food — if you have it, the desire will come. And if you buy it in a virtual one-stop shop of wholesome goodness, you'll be in your own little tasty Shangri-la. Prana Health Food & Restaurant is just that, a place that's half grocery store and half vegetarian restaurant. The shelves are stocked with organic skin-care products, gaggles of books and supplements, and everything else your boho heart yearns for. And for your boho belly? A wide array of freshly squeezed juices and freshly pulsed smoothies is at your disposal. Monday through Saturday, the small steam table in the back serves up vegetarian goodies highlighting the flavors of seasonal ingredients ranging from eggplant and squash to locally grown tomatoes and fresh beans. For just $9, your body will thank you for feeding it something that doesn't come wrapped in a piece of greasy paper, and even better — you won't need to ask, "Where's the beef?" Soup is on only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., because, ya know, all good things must come to an end.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®