Paquito's Mexican Restaurant
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.

Taco Shop Mexican Grill

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.

Pepper's Authentic Mexican

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.

Mi Rinconcito Mexicano

— 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?

Area 31

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.

North One 10

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.

Asia De Cuba

The first impression is that of whiteness. During the daytime, it's a near-blinding whiteness, sunlight ricocheting off white marble floors. Don't worry: The clientele here is the type that wears sunglasses. Once you glean more of the décor, it may dawn on you that this dramatically inventive room can best be described as Liberace in Wonderland. The restaurant's signature, 24-seat communal table is surrounded by high-backed chairs and golden bells set within crystal chandeliers; furniture is oversize and whimsical; and the outdoor terrace affords bayside vistas and trippy poolside cabanas. Asia de Cuba, whose first branch opened in New York City in 1997, is a trip, and these attributes are what make it the coolest setting for quaffing cocktails. What makes it even better is that the cocktails are as wildly inventive as the interior design. Try a margarita made with jalapeño/cilantro-infused Milagro tequila, Cointreau, lime, and pineapple juice. Or the Caribbean Cooler, culled from Hangar One kaffir lime vodka, muddled pineapple, and coconut water. Or an eminently refreshing elixir of Bombay Sapphire gin, muddled cucumber, fresh lemon juice, and soda. Cost per drink is around $15, and Asia de Cuba keeps shaking and pouring until 11 p.m. weeknights and until midnight weekends.

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Pays

Gaia Ristorante

Gaia Ristorante

So a bailed-out corporate CEO has invited you to dinner. First question: Do you have him pay for the meal before you leave home? Followed by: Where to go? We would take the son-of-a-gun to Gaia Ristorante, and on behalf of swindled taxpayers everywhere, we'd first order Hudson Valley foie gras with lobster, porcini mushrooms, and aged balsamic ($28). From there, a smooth segue into linguine with fresh Mediterranean clams ($21). Fish course: Black cod fillet, porcini mushrooms, carmelized onion, and artichoke heart ($36). Meat course: Milk-fed veal chop ($42). Broccolini ($8) and truffled mashed potatoes ($8) will serve nicely as side dishes. For dessert: sweet San Marzano tomato jam with fennel salad and biscotti ($12). A bottle or two of one of Gaia's reserve Italian wines should suffice (we wouldn't even look at the list, but just tell the sommelier we wanted the best). Then, once the hefty bill is taken care of, with an appropriately hefty tip, we would beat this guy up good. But if someone else with deep pockets invites you to dinner — like, say, a decent human being — we recommend you plot a similar scenario as aforementioned, only instead of capping things off with fisticuffs, do so with deep, heartfelt appreciation.

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

Oceanaire is a national, 16-branch haven for seafood lovers that has been anchored locally in Mary Brickell Village since January 2007. It seems as though every fish in the sea is offered here: corvina, sardines, sea trout, fluke, arctic char, Hawaiian ono, halibut cheeks, Dover sole... and oysters with names like Tatamagouche (from Nova Scotia), shucked at the city's lengthiest oyster bar. Seafood is flown in daily and prepared via cooking method of your choice (generally $25 to $40 per entrée). They do steaks too, along with side dishes such as creamed corn, fried green tomatoes, and hash brown potatoes, plus classic American desserts that range from apple brown Betty to baked Alaska. The wine list is expansive, the service is professional, and the 1930s ocean liner décor is soothing and sophisticated. There may be other Oceanaires, but that won't stop you from having a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Hop aboard for dinner weeknights until 10 p.m., weekends till 11.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®