Pizza Fusion
Aran S Graham

It's tough to take artery-clogging fare like pizza and turn it into an eco-friendly, health-conscious option, but North Miami's outpost of Pizza Fusion does so with a casual confidence that belies its high-concept pies. Luckily, those pies are damn tasty, whether it's the whole-wheat organic crust with soy cheese and hormone-free chicken or the gluten-free crust with feta and organic eggplant. This gourmet pizza satisfies on all the right levels — salty, carby, and belly-filling. Pizzas prices range from $7 to $23. Wash it all down with a gluten-free beer and you have a guilt-free feast.

University Restaurant & Patio

Michael Vasilas approaches a group of four patrons sitting at a table on the outdoor wood deck of his University Restaurant & Patio. The handsome Greek-American holds a heavy metal plate in one hand and a small torch in the other. He squeezes a lemon wedge over the white kasseri cheese square on the plate. Then he sprinkles a little pepper on it. He fires up the torch and flambées the queso, which forms a goldish, crinkly exterior. Vasilas places the plate on the table and everyone digs into the saganaki, one of several deliciously sinful Greek dishes served at this little spot near Jackson Memorial Hospital. In addition to the $7.50 saganaki, you can indulge yourself with $9.95 charbroiled octopus, $6 homemade hummus, and $5.95 melitzanosalata — a fresh-roasted eggplant blended with garlic, olive oil, and potatoes. Vasilas, along with his brother and business partner Steve, took over the restaurant two years ago after moving to the Magic City from the Windy City. In addition to the quaint wood deck, the brothers put in a fully stocked oakwood bar inside the main dining room, where doctors and nurses finishing their rounds can enjoy happy hour. "We wanted to create a place where the neighborhood could feel at home," Steve explains, "and where the people who work around here can get something fresh to eat." University Restaurant & Patio is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

The Federal Food Drink & Provisions

This quirky, wallet-friendly spot in a Biscayne strip mall touts itself as the home of Latin soul food, and indeed there's plenty of soul in the epic menu of small-plate delights. Order a pitcher of sangria and start off with fried garbanzo beans with chorizo, a Spanish omelet, and crisp patatas bravas. The vegetarian-friendly options include a respectable paella and innovative plates such as tostones "Caprese" with mozzarella and green plantains. The atmosphere is laid-back and artsy, as is the crowd, so settle in for a leisurely dinner (open till 10:30 most nights, 11:30 Fridays and Saturdays).

Barbu

Locavores rejoiced when news that Marc and Blue Solomon opened an organic tapas bar around the corner from Sardinia. And for good reason — the quirkily named Barbu is the latest incarnation from the husband-and-wife team behind the beloved but shuttered organic A in the Design District. Pull up a stool at this new spot on the corner of West Avenue and 20th Street, and feast on small plates of French-Caribbean fare such as roasted pear with honey and Roquefort ($8), broiled escargots with cilantro ($9), and chili and chicken Creole with key lime and papaya purée ($15). Most or almost all of the ingredients are locally sourced or organic, making for a belly-filling guilt-free night of gourmet eats. Feel free to bring along your own beer or wine — the corkage fee is just $5.

Caballo Viejo Restaurant

First, close your eyes. Now say it aloud: "arepa." Next, take the images of the nacho-yellow cheese-oozing grease pancakes you bought at the street festival last week and banish them from your brain. Then head over to Caballo Viejo for your arepa re-education. It's a tiny storefront eatery in a nondescript West Miami-Dade strip mall. Look for the faded sign with the Venezuelan colors. Watch some telenovelas, pick up the latest copy of El Nacional, and behold the real deal — a steaming roll of slightly sweet cornbread, grilled to a crunchy husk on the outside and stuffed with barely melted, savory queso blanco, just like they make it in Caracas. Education is delicious, yes?

Jimmy'z Kitchen
Rebecca Blanco

Another sunny Saturday morning — why are they always so bright in Miami Beach? — and your head is pounding from Friday night's indiscretions. Your stomach's demands are explicit and unyielding: something heavy, flavorful, absorbent, delicious, and quick. What's it going to be? More IHOP? Perhaps you'll allow us to whisper gently in your ear: "mofongo." What is this miracle tropical delicacy, beckoning so insistently on a hung-over Saturday morning? Jimmy Carey, chef of Jimmy'z Kitchen, a hole-in-the-wall strip-mall eatery just off Alton Road in South Beach, is here to help. Mofongo is a traditional Afro-Boricua dish -— a round lump of mashed fried green plantains, garlic, olive oil, and crunchy pork rinds, soaked in a rich tomato sauce with a kick. Jimmy'z makes it like no one else — a moist, textural clump of tangy flavors, available only Fridays and Sundays. Don't just lie there in bed trying to will away that headache while ignoring your neglected appetite. Jump up and say it with us: "mofongo!"

Best Restaurant for Celebrating a Birthday

George's in the Grove

George's in the Grove

Upon entering this boisterous bistro, you might surmise that a celebration is occurring. After all, the room reverberates with the din of clamorous patrons shouting and laughing with glee, and chef/owner Georges Eric Farge runs about waving and whistling and whatnot. Perhaps it's somebody's birthday? Oh yeah. After grabbing seats amid the mayhem, your group will be brought complimentary flutes of champagne to help lubricate your way into the festivities. At some point during dinner, while you are savoring salmon tartare, chicken tagine, or steak au poivre, or any of the hearty bistro offerings, the mayhem will escalate to madness — bells, whistles, beams of light darting from mirrored disco balls, an earsplitting blast of "YMCA" or "Dancing Queen" — this is when you will know it's not just any birthday joint. And even if there are no such parties the night you visit, you'll still be privy to delectable French food and wine at affordable prices (most entrées are $25 to $29) and in an effervescent environment. Whether during lunch or dinner, Farge, who formerly helmed Le Bouchon du Grove, remains Miami's most entertaining dining-room trouvère.

— Hello, everyone, and welcome to Miami's Chophouse. We're perched in the newly installed press box high above the classic dining room, waiting for the business crowd to file in for the lunchtime action. I'll tell ya, Jer, it's always a thrill to come to this downtown restaurant, which was formerly named Manny's Steaks.

— Sure is, John, and what I like is that it combines the classic attributes of the old arenas — the white-clothed tables, leathery booths, and all those dark woods — and yet it also has the curves and windows and general light touch that young folks seem to like these days. Plus you can't beat those outdoor seats. I remember back in 1959, we...

— Thanks, Jer. I spoke with the chef during pre-dinner prep, and he's relying on the same winning formula that made the original Manny's a fan favorite in Minneapolis: big red meats, big red wines, big side dishes, and friendly, professional service. Wait, they're starting to roll the meat trolleys into the room now. Wow, what a sight!

I remember once walking into this Minneapolis bar...

— The folks watching at home can expect to see plenty of our hefty participants cutting through USDA-certified, dry-aged 20-ounce New York strips and 24-ounce bone-in rib eyes while simultaneously cutting diminished deals with their broken brokers.

— Looks like it's going to be another packed house, which always adds to the excitement.

— And so do the waiters. You and I have been around this industry a long time, but I can't recall a feistier crew than this one. They remind the fans that dining is supposed to be about having a good time.

Except the crowd here, at lunch, is composed of businesspeople, and well, John, you know they're not having much fun these days.

— I'm not sure about that, Jer. That group of suits sharing the 25-ounce goblet of whiskey bread pudding doused with Maker's Mark sure looks satisfied to me.

Well, I suppose if they can afford entrées running from $30 to $40, they haven't been too adversely affected by things. Credit limits or not, power lunches will always exist — it comes down to businesspeople being businesspeople.

— We'll be back after this word from Citibank.

Casa Toscana

This cozy Upper East Side Italian restaurant stocks an enviable selection of mid-price Italian and New World wines, all chosen with care by chef/owner Sandra Stefani. Browse the handsomely displayed wine wall with labels and prices clearly delineated, or consult the chef herself, who will kindly pair the appropriate quaff with her soulful Italian cooking. Depending on what you order, you could be drinking a $28 Argentine Malbec or a $36 white from Tuscany. Either way, it will match the rustic fare and atmosphere without impoverishing you, a refreshing change from the city's usual wine lists. And even better, there's not a stuffy "list" here. Just a wall.

First you have to walk past the history: those front steps. But by the time you are seated at one of the elegantly draped tables on the über-romantic courtyard terrace, replete with cobblestones and gurgling grotto pool, memories dissipate into the breezy, beautiful present. Even the most aphrodisiac of settings will wilt in the light of mediocre food, but not to worry: Chef Dale Ray's upscale Mediterranean cuisine leads passions through the stomach and to the heart via simply prepared, and simply delicious, eight-ounce portions of fresh seafood and prime cuts of meat — along with more complex combos such as a starter of lobster fricassee with gnocchi, foie gras, black truffle, and chanterelles. The average price for three generous portions is $65 to $75 (dinner only). As for that history? It's history. Be here now.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®