Best Restaurant in Coral Gables 2009 | Palme d'Or | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo courtesy of the Biltmore

Philippe Ruiz is Miami's quietest superstar chef; you won't see him ranting on TV like those fake Food Network personalities. Palme d'Or is our least heralded great restaurant; it doesn't garner the media attention of Michael's, Michy's, and the rest of the newer wave establishments. Yet chef Ruiz, already accorded the prestigious Chevalier de l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole (Guy Fieri is still awaiting his), is a semifinalist in the 2009 James Beard Awards for Best Chef in the South; Palme d'Or is up for Best Service and Best Wine Service. Who are we to argue with the esteemed Beard committee? And why would we even want to, after having savored Ruiz's seared frogs' legs with celeriac custard; chilled vine-ripened tomato soup with goat cheese and cucumber jelly; and braised short ribs with farro risotto and carrot confit? The setting, like the French cuisine, balances classic and sophisticated with light and contemporary. Ruiz and Palme d'Or might go unnoticed by some, but those who appreciate fine French fare know just where to go for the best — except Sundays and Mondays, when the place is closed.

Sometimes, South Beach is portrayed as one giant pick-up joint, which would make the new Lincoln Road steak house a Meat Market within a meat market. But as lively as this bar is (and "lively" is perhaps an understatement), people mostly meet here for the meat — like, for instance, an 18-ounce center cut of wood-grilled New York steak ($47) with a crisply caramelized crust and juicy red interior. Or maybe they come for a half-order of wood-grilled New York steak ($26). Or perhaps they crave a 16-ounce Harris Ranch bone-in filet mignon with ancho-and-coffee spice rub ($49) — and maybe a big shot will look for the six-ounce A5 Kobe tenderloin ($95). It is safe to say not many folks flock here for the four steak butters, ten steak sauces (atomic horseradish truffle sauce, anyone?), 21 side dishes, and hundreds of wines that are sturdy enough to stand up to these stout steaks — but they are surely pleased to find them on the menu. Then there are the fish fans, who can relish fresh crudo selections and sassy seafood entrées such as Florida grouper and conch in smoky bacon-chipotle broth. And though we insist this meatery is no meetery, it does serve food until midnight, and it is a very sensual (and terrific) steak house — which makes it an ideal addition to the sexy South Beach dining scene.

It can take a good restaurant years to mature into a great one. Poblano had the food down pat upon opening in 2006. Since then, it has gone from pat to phat, service has settled into systemic rhythms, and the residents of the area habitually visit for homespun Mexican food with inventive twists. To wit: A velvety Gruyère soup shot with aged tequila; freshly made soft tacos brimming with shredded pork, spicy green chili sauce, queso fresco, avocado, and pork rind crumbles; poblano chili stuffed with blue crab meat and pooled in cilantro sauce; duck in mole sauce; caramelized mango tart with lemon cream and rosemary syrup. ¿Cervezas mexicanas? Sí. Plus Poblano's guacamole kicks ass, and the cooks actually know how to make cactus taste good. Prices are steep for Mex but would otherwise be considered moderate. The joint is closed Mondays but jumps for lunch and dinner all other weekdays until 9 p.m., and to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings. These latter nights showcase a mariachi band, but aside from that, we really love this place.

Aran S Graham

You could live in North Miami for years and never notice it: From the outside, the building — tucked in the corner of a nondescript shopping center — looks more like an orthodontist's office than the setting for a lively Mexican eatery. But wait till you get inside. On any given Friday, patrons of the loud, colorful, delightfully gaudy joint consume tacos the way tailgaters slam down barbecue. Two stuffed soft or crisp morsels come with beef, chicken, pork, steak, or shrimp on either a flour or corn tortilla. Choose from garnishes including pico de gallo, guacamole, chipotle sauce, and sour cream. A plate ranging from $9.95 to $12.95 — depending on your choice of carne — comes with rice and beans. They're tastiest when washed down with a hefty pitcher of margaritas. After dinner, check out the bar, where many a drunken fiesta has erupted. You might wake up with a headache the next day, but it still beats getting your braces tightened.

In La Ciudad Que Progresa, you can get weary of eating vaca frita, lechón asado, and other ubiquitous Cuban delicacies. You'd be hard-pressed to believe that you could find something other than good Cuban cuisine in the city that Raul Martinez built. But from the Palmetto Expressway, head east on 49th Street, Hialeah's main thoroughfare, and make a right into the shopping plaza with the Winn-Dixie and the T.J. Maxx, just before West Fourth Avenue. Park your car next to the gray and red building that resembles a fast-food joint and go inside. Here ranchero music has replaced the merengue and salsa soundtrack. The beat is perfect for ordering shrimp, beef, or chicken fajitas, served on a sizzling metal plate accompanied by Mexican rice and refried beans. And they will set you back only $8.91. Try the shaved radishes, lettuce salad, plump jalapeño peppers, and refried beans alongside your tortilla chips. And all of it won't cost you more than seven bucks. Roberto's Taco Shop is open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to midnight.

We don't claim burritos, tacos, and the like can be categorized as healthful food; that's why we call the category Healthful Fast Food. And, yes, compared to cheap, deep-fried birds and the stuff you get at those robber baron burger chains, a soft flour tortilla wrapped around strips of just-off-the-grill chicken breast is downright salubrious — plus really tasty with rice, beans, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and pico de gallo. In place of chicken, you can get steak, ground beef, adobo-marinated pork, or beer-battered tilapia. And for those not faking the health thing, there's a veggie burrito that leaves out meat entirely. Quesadillas, tacos, and enchiladas are also offered up and, like the burritos, made fresh with a similar choice of meat (or meatless) fillings. There are healthy deals as well: choice of burrito, quesadilla, or two tacos — plus chips, salsa, and soda — for $6.99 to $7.99, and two-for-one tacos every Monday from 4 to 10 p.m. Pepper's stays open until six in the morning, which should surely make late-nighters feel better.

— Well, son, once upon a time there were all sorts of places where one could eat. Then came the great crash of '08, followed by the great restaurant crash of '09. After that, only McDonald's and a slew of Mexican joints were left standing.

— You mean there were once other types of restaurants?

— Every darn type you could imagine, from steak houses to sushi...

— Sushi?

— Raw fish wrapped in seaweed with rice.

— I see. But what happened to all the Mexican joints you speak of?

— What happened was the great Mexican restaurant crash of 2010. Mi Rinconcito was the only one able to meet the demand for authentic south-of-the-border cuisine at a price folks could afford — meaning just about everything is under ten bucks.

— Didn't anyone else try?

— Why sure, but nobody could make real Mexican foods like posole, menudo, or tripe and tongue in salsa verde. The soup is super too, as are the soft tortilla tacos — roasted pork, steamed lamb — I'm getting hungry as I speak.

— It's a bit out of the way, no?

— Listen up, son: Nothing worthwhile is easy to get to. Remember that. Besides, Calle Ocho isn't very far, and Rinconcito makes things convenient by staying open every day from 10 in the morning until 9:30 at night.

— Yes, sir. But, Dad, I have one more question.

— What is it now?

— You made up that part about eating raw fish, right?

A five-way tie, testament to Miami's rapidly expanding universe of stellar dining options.

There are flowing silk gowns, dangling earrings, subtly applied makeup on chiseled cheekbones... and that's just the men who traipse through the Delano Hotel's lobby late at night. Plat Bleu affords a front-row seat to the parade and also offers a damn good meal of French brasserie fare created by consulting chef Claude Troisgros and executive chef Maria Manso. Although it's open for lunch and dinner, Plat Bleu is our favorite post-midnight haunt because we like the idea of consuming a duck confit medianoche at medianoche, or skirt steak with Brazilian sea salt or onion soup gratinée with a lobster club until 2 a.m. There's also the up-tempo music, up-to-the-minute cocktails, up-to-the-second fashions, and 1940s French salon décor. Anything resembling a main course runs $23 to $39, which is more than a similar bistro in Paris might charge. Plat Bleu's scintillating scene, however, provides a value that doesn't show up on the bill.

Bad: Polka and potluck Tuesdays. Good: Beer and barbecue Fridays at North One 10.

Bad: St. Patrick's Day dinner featuring all the green corned beef you can eat. Good: Passover Seder with kasha-stuffed turkey and three-potato kugel (purple, white, and sweet).

Bad: Star Trek dinner with "Captain Kirk corn dogs." Good: Godfather dinner with "swims with the fishes swordfish."

Bad: Karaoke night with shoddy singers and deep-fried mozzarella sticks. Good: Poetry night with reputable wordsmiths and "Ferlinghetti spaghetti."

Bad: An evening with Bobby Jindal and crudités. Good: An evening with Edna Buchanan and "Never Let Them See You Cry" onion soup.

North One 10's chef/proprietor Dewey LoSasso has few peers when it comes to forging delicious and innovative New American cuisine, and no competition whatsoever in conjuring delicious and innovative theme nights such as the "good" ones mentioned above (his Passover menu was named one of the top ten in America by USA Today). Wine dinners are held regularly as well, inevitably hosted by a top-flight independent vintner. Special events generally run $45 to $65, which includes North One 10's terrific food, fine wine, stellar service, and the evening's main attraction. That's not bad.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®