Best Under-the-Radar Restaurant 2009 | Fifi's Place | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Nothing thrills dedicated foodies more than being able to "discover" a nifty restaurant they can boastfully tell friends about. Fifi's Place fits the bill. Owners Nelson and Mayneth "Fifi" Sanchez run a small, humble neighborhood spot, but the fish they cook up is some of the freshest in town. How fresh? Yunieski Gonzalez, a former Cuban free-diving champ, heads out to the ocean and spears hog snappers and groupers that are served hours later (and no, we are not making this up, although maybe Fifi is). Diners are also likely to find catches such as Alaskan black cod, bluefin tuna, and Nova Scotia scallops. The hog snapper? Turned into sashimi with yuzu and soy sauce. The cooking accents tilt from Latin to Asian, and dinner specials come with salad and either rice and black beans or mashed potatoes. Fifi's is festive every day from noon until midnight; lunch specials range from $7.99 to $10.99, dinner from $5.99 and up — most entrées in the $20 to $30 range. And don't fret: We won't tell anyone we told you about Fifi's, so you can brag about having discovered it.

Ceviche is not a complicated dish to prepare. At its simplest, it is a combination of fresh fish in lime juice and salt; cilantro and onions are almost always added. That's the basic rendition served at Francesco, whose seafood of choice is corvina ($16), shrimp ($17), or a combo of those two with scallops, octopus, and calamari ($16). But you can likewise request your ceviche prepared with mild aji amarillo sauce or Francesco's fantastically fiery rocoto — or try all three sauces with mixed seafood for $24 (the Peruvian Cristal or Cuzqueña beers pair with the fish and peppers like Cabernet with porterhouse). The fish is chunky and pristinely pleasurable because Francesco is a sterling Peruvian seafood restaurant that uses very fresh fish. Sibling owners Franco and Aldo Danovaro shuttle between the Gables venue (opened in 2001) and their original Lima locale to make certain all seafoods are properly chilled and that the reception is warm and personal. What we are saying, in effect, is that the stellar ceviche here is merely a dazzling opening act to an authentic Peruvian culinary experience.

Ten reasons you should take out-of-towners to DiLido Beach for lunch:

1. It's less expensive than taking them to dinner at the Ritz.

2. Tourists are easily impressed by stars, so you can mention that chef Jeff McInnis is the good-looking guy who got eliminated from TV's Top Chef before the sangria sorbet in his ceviche even melted.

3. You can have the smug satisfaction of sitting on the veranda, mojito in hand, staring complacently at the cerulean Atlantic stretched before you and nonchalantly saying, "I take it you don't get to lunch like this much in Buffalo."

4. There's a fried green tomato "club sandwich" with eggplant, feta mousse, arugula, mayo, French fries, and harissa ketchup ($12/$21).

5. And there's cumin-and-za'atar-crusted tuna with lemon emulsion, grapefruit compote, and asparagus salad ($15/$28).

6. McInnis is a much better chef than #2 implies.

7. Did we mention hookah smoking Thursday through Saturday, after 5 p.m., in one of six cabanas facing the ocean?

8. How about watermelon-and-peach sangria — without gazpacho?

9. You'll get to say things like "yuzu-drenched scallop ceviche with shaved artichokes and a scoop of melon ice [$11] is to Miami what spicy chicken wings are to your hometown."

10. And last: the priceless memories of a leisurely lunch with loved ones.

Jaguar Latin-American Kitchen

No bottled water is sold here. Instead, in-house filtered water is poured free of charge. Environmentally sound, sure, but more important is how it reflects the consumer-friendly approach taken by managing partner Eduardo "Lalo" Durazo regarding all aspects of his restaurant. Ceviches, for instance, are served in spoons that conveniently fit right into the mouth — no optional plates or silverware needed. That's pretty friendly. So are the flavor combos, such as a "ceviche nuevo" of shrimp or calamari with ginger, lime, and aji amarillo. Or there's the "Peruano" version, with white fish marinated in lime juice with red onion, fresh corn, and rocoto pepper — such vivid tastes that other ceviches around town might seem a bit, well, watered down by comparison. Jaguar also accommodates just about anybody via an extensive menu offering everything from seared yellowfin tuna to lomo saltado to "Latam Grill" steaks. The last includes a lip-smacking picanha cut that goes for $16 and comes with choice of sides such as salad, shoestring potatoes, or fried onion rings. Most other main courses are also $20 or less; spoons of ceviche are $2, "Amazon" spoons around $15. Jaguar is open for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), dinner (till about 11 p.m.), and weekend brunch (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.).

Best Restaurant in the MiMo District

Red Light

Telegram from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council:

We need Americans to spend more money. (stop) I propose restaurateurs encouraged to drop prices will stimulate food/bev sector. (stop) Red Light in Miami for national model; chef/owner Kris Wessel's food simple seasonal straightforward and — symbolically beautiful part — New American. (stop) Diner-like ambiance inside Little River flows by outdoor tables BBQ shrimp with dip bread/organic burger/roasted quail/homemade ice cream. (stop) Every carefully home-cooked comestible under $20, many under $15. (stop) (BTW, you have Obama's BlackBerry number?) (stop) Larry, to tell truth, my own finances not so hot. (stop) Sitting in a booth now enjoying skillet of organic egg Morbier cheese tomato-toast apple-bacon for $11 at Red Light. (stop)

Photo courtesy of Genuine Hospitality Group

Everything that needs to be said about Michael's has no doubt already been said. There's the pioneering Design District location. Then comes star chef Michael Schwartz's brilliant and honest American cuisine. Next is star pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith's dazzlingly delectable desserts. How about the smart selection of wines marked up with the customer in mind — and friendly food prices too (small plates $8 to $15, medium $11 to $20, large $21 to $32; for this cuisine, a steal)? You've heard it all, including talk that Michael's is as good as any dining establishment in this or any other South Florida neighborhood. Still, it bears repeating.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®