Ariston Restaurant

Thanasis Barlos has been the proprietor of the highest Michelin-rated restaurant in Greece, as well as of Elia, a posh Mediterranean eatery in the Bal Harbour Shops. But when he and partner Michelle Shimon opened Ariston in February 2008, the goal was more informal. They wanted to serve simple, well-executed Greek cuisine in a festive neighborhood-restaurant environment. Mr. Barlos's mother, Noni, provided recipes that come to life via vivid execution by chef Alexia Apostolidi, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. The mainstays are all on hand, including luscious renditions of tarama and tzatziki and a textbook moussaka. But what distinguishes Ariston are the suckling piglet roasted in a wood-burning oven ($21.95) and lamb aromatically spun in a charcoal rotisserie ($25.95) — both accompanied by potatoes softly roasted in olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs. Service is sharp, the wine list extensive, and the honey-dripped walnut cake (karithopita) not to be missed — and you won't miss it if you show up from 6 to 11 p.m. (or Saturday until midnight).

It was nearly a decade ago when Pascal Oudin opened his eponymous 55-seat restaurant. This is noteworthy because it began the trend of Miami's top chefs leaving big-money establishments to start modest places of their own. The restaurant is also noteworthy because Oudin, from Bourbon Lancy, France, is an unquestionably gifted chef. Using classic French technique gleaned from years of working under masters such as Alain Ducasse, Roger Verge, and Jean-Louis Palladin, he artfully creates light, fresh fare such as creamy lobster bisque with corn flan and tarragon, twice-baked Gruyère cheese soufflé, and duck dolce forte with pears, fingerling potatoes, and Savoy cabbage (entrées are in the $30 range). Well-priced bottles are on the wine list, white linens and delicate flowers are on the tables, the waitstaff is on the ball, and if you've never eaten at Pascal's on Ponce, you should get right on over there for lunch or dinner (open until 10 p.m. weeknights and an hour later on weekends).

Rincon Argentino

Walk into Rincon Argentino with any doubts about the restaurant's philosophy and they'll quickly melt away. The reason: the gigantic fire pit in the middle of the dining room that's usually covered with dripping racks of sausage, beef, and sometimes a whole pig. Argentine cuisine is all about the carne, baby. An Argentine barbecue special brings a sizzling iron grill right to your table, with juicy flank steaks, kidneys, sweetbreads, and blood sausage simmering atop white-hot coals. Italian-Argentine appetizers such as queso proveleta Argentina (a giant hunk of grilled, fresh cheese) and mozzarella Caprese with prosciutto are delicious warmups. Then comes the main attraction: a whole menu of steaks, ribs, chicken, offal, and sausages spitting hot off the grill and washed down with fishbowls of perfect, best-value-in-the-world Malbec. Quiet your inner carnivore with the media parrillada, or half Argentine barbecue, a gut-busting rack of steaks and sausages for $19.95. The Coral Gables location, a warm space two blocks from Miracle Mile, has been around since 1987, when Argentine-Italian couple Miguel and Illena DeMarziani set up shop. Their son, Michael, opened the Kendall spot in 2001. Both restaurants feel as close to Buenos Aires as the Magic City can get. And that, che, is close.

Yiya's Gourmet Cuban Bakery

Whenever some young, enterprising chef chooses to tamper with food basics, he or she runs the risk of popular revolt. And often the result is total failure. But now and then, a place such as Yiya's Gourmet Cuban Bakery arrives, executing the essentials with high ambition balanced by common sense, style, and unparalleled craft. Since opening in early January 2009, co-owners Delsa Bernardo and Abbie Cuellar have served an assortment of their simple yet sophisticated pastelitos filled with guava, coconut and cheese, and meat. And there are no high prices of the sort usually brought on by the word gourmet. In fact, all pastries cost between 95 cents and $1.25, including the hefty dulce de leche strudel. Add espresso or a smooth, not-too-sweet café con leche, and you have breakfast. Then, until 6 p.m. (AKA closing time during the summer), Delsa prepares the shop's signature lunch specials: a $5 pan con lechón and the slightly pricier goat cheese pizza on Indian nan crust. But whatever you do, don't rush off. This place was made for loitering. Slouch down on the throne-like leather sofa, sample some free wi-fi, and enjoy the modern, sun-soaked interior. Remember, though, to get a loaf of homemade bread or a half-dozen buttery croissants for the road. You'll love yourself the next morning.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®