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.

Om Garden

Raw foodists, vegans, and juice addicts already treasure this tiny, hip place convenient to Brickell. Will they make room for the rest of us? Om Garden takes vegetarian cuisine a step further and dives headfirst into the realm of the raw or barely cooked. Whether it's the dairy-free pizzas, meatless burgers, wraps, or soups, nothing here is heated over 118 degrees. That way, the food is closer to nature's intention, and its taste is super-fresh too. Feel free to ask your server about the day's best bets if you are not sure what to try first. Entrée prices generally range from $10 to $20, and the desserts and smoothies run just short of a sawbuck. Open for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.

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.

Lemoni Cafe
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 Seafood & Oyster Bar

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®