Bread n Pan Cafeteria
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They say that when Egyptian shepherds discovered coffee, their goats began to dance. Had it been espresso, there also would have been some serious headbanging, followed by a tango and then a cabbage patch and a crash-and-burn. At Bread n' Pan — a teensy, one-woman joint on a hidden industrial strip of little Haiti — they make the stuff strong. You'd miss this out-of-the way shop were it not for the canary-yellow overhang that simply reads, "Cafeteria." The lone Latina barista makes Starbucks look like an assembly line of factory workers. She takes her time, steaming milk in front of a one-shot espresso machine, and will customize your sweet, creamy (not foamy!) beverage with your preferred sugar-to-espresso ratio. There is no place to sit, so expect to stand. The upside: There is never a crowd, and an eight-ounce café con leche goes for just $1. It would be hard to find a cheaper one — well, west of Egypt anyway.
Grimpa Steakhouse
Talk about a great value. For only $12.99, lunchtime diners get their fill of addictive cheese bread and can partake in Grimpa's whopping 28-item salad bar, comprising 20 types of salad and eight hot dishes. (The cost for this same meal at dinner rises to $26.50 per person, so tell Mr. or Ms. Tummy to get with the afternoon plan.) Grimpa isn't one of those places that serves canned three-bean stuff or throws together a bowl stuffed with 99 percent iceberg lettuce. This is a choose-it-yourself, all-you-can-eat salad lovers' orgy, with handmade options that change daily. Even vegetarians can get their fill because choices sometimes include waldorf, tabouli, caesar, and lentil salads, along with starches such as white rice, black beans, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables. Of course, it's always tempting to wrangle one of the gauchos for a little taste of some cow flesh, but we say ignore what your mama always taught you and fill up on salad instead.
Pasion del Cielo
If you ever find yourself half-naked in a Coral Gables condo at 10 p.m., grinding your teeth and picking your scabs, you have a problem. You need caffeine and you need it badly. But there's a bigger problem. Your usual supplier, Starbucks, has already closed for the night. Ditto for Barnes & Noble. Even your supersecret, emergency espresso supply has been consumed. Now, where in hell are you gonna get some high-grade java in this neighborhood at this time of night? Hit Pasión del Cielo. Open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the week, Pasión has beans from almost every Latin American producer: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. And like you, this place is dangerously crazy for coffee. Every single dose is custom-ground, using dedicated grinders for each country's coffee in order to, in the words of the store's corporate pamphlet, "prevent flavor contamination and to electronically dose the exact amount and coarseness level." Plus Pasión's menu offers fixes of almost every kind, including $1.55 espresso shots, $1.75 coladas, and $2.60 large coffees. There's even a ton of soft-core stuff such as peach-strawberry sparkles, chai tea lattés, and mocha-chip frappés. The craziest part, though: Anytime between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., this coffeehouse delivers hot black stuff directly to the doors of teeth-grinding, scab-picking, condo-dwelling java junkies all over Coral Gables.
Pinolandia
George Martinez
This fritanga is not gonna win any interior design awards. It looks like your abuelita's kitchen. But you're not coming here for a fancy sit-down dinner. This is 24-hour Nicaraguan take-out at its most epic. You get it and go. The first indication Pinolandia is way better than the rest: a never-ending, always-growing line of 30-plus Nicaraguan locals and wandering foodies that winds and twists out the door, spilling into the tiny, street-facing parking lot. The second indication: your $8 Styrofoam container packed with three pounds of carne asada, sweet plantains, deep-fried cheese, salad, and gallo pinto. The third indication: a huge selection of second options, including carne desmenusada, stewed beef tongue, whole fried fish, gooey grilled ribs, and rolled tacos stuffed with shredded meat. And remember to hit the little bodega at the back. It has everything from powdered bleach to Nicaragua's national soda, Milca, to bootleg DVDs of boxing legend Alexis Argüello's greatest fights. The essential buys, though, are a 32-ouncer of milky cacao and a hot, fresh batch of deliciously fat Nicaraguan tortillas. So go, loco.
El Rancho Grande
The simple-minded contend that all fajitas are created equal. Take some tortillas, throw on some hot strips of beef or chicken, a green pepper or two, maybe some guacamole, and — boom — ya got a fajita. What's the difference, right? Anyone silly enough to make that argument hasn't visited any of El Rancho Grande's three Miami locations lately. The difference, poor ignorant soul, is in the ingredients. The tortillas are hot, fresh, and bear no resemblance to the crusty white excuse you'll find at Taco Bell. The garlic-tinged beef is tender and juicy; the strips of pork are succulent and rolled in spices. The peppers and onions crackle and marinate in aromatic juices. Top it all with homemade guacamole, roll it up, and just try to claim that a fajita is a fajita. This, in fact, is a fajita.
Magnum Lounge
Few people would suspect that a piano bar blaring live show tunes is the site of the tastiest, crispiest fried chicken in Miami. Such is the case at Magnum Restaurant and Lounge, a local institution known for its kitschy atmosphere and savory dishes. Of course, anyone who dined at Jeffrey's on Lincoln Road in the '90s knows that owner Jeffrey Landsman is a foodie. Although he is long gone from SoBe, another casualty of the chainification of Lincoln Road, his latest spot is also teeming with excellent, simple, well-executed fare. Magnum's home-style menu evokes a different era, with classics such as French onion soup, chicken potpie and, yes, fried chicken. The recipe comes from Landsman's mother, who would prepare the fried chicken for Sunday family outings in Baltimore. It is marinated overnight and then coated in flour, salt, garlic, and secret spices. It is fried at 350 degrees for exactly 17 minutes. The resulting bird boasts a thick, well-seasoned crust and tender, steaming-hot meat. Rounding out all of that crunchy goodness is a heap of velvety mashed potatoes with Southern gravy and seasonal vegetables. Although the dish is not cheap at $21.25, the portion is large enough to feed two, but then you'd be missing out on the other house specialties. Undoubtedly, fried-chicken fanatics will be satisfied here.
Pamela's Restaurante Chileno
Pamela Canales sold empanadas from her home for a dozen years before she opened this namesake delicatessen in 1992. It's actually more of a Chilean market/bakery/café/full-service restaurant than a deli, but call it what you will. We call it our home whenever the craving for an excellent empanada arises. Of the five varieties offered, our favorites are the ones filled, respectively, with a "pino" of chopped beef, lots of onions, black olives, hard-boiled eggs, and raisins, and a strange-sounding but delicious duo of minced razor clams and Parmesan cheese. Dabbing some piquant salsa known as pebre on top makes them that much tastier. Other choices are chicken, cheese, and mixed seafood, each encased and baked in pale, sturdy empanada shells that are twice the size of the daintier, more familiar Argentine types — which makes the $2 to $3.25 price an especially good deal. Order some empanadas to go from the bakery section, or grab an affordable bottle of Chilean wine from one of the market shelves up front, take a seat in the quaint dining room in back, and enjoy an epicurean empanada experience — for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
RA Sushi
RA Sushi is as sleek and stylish as any South Beach establishment. It serves sake, sushi, and Pacific Rim specialties and delivers a scene that's more stimulating than any other in the hood. The sake list includes a dozen serious imports and saketinis anchored with Ketel One. The 30 types of nigiri sushi ($4 to $5 for two pieces) are seriously good as well, but everything else about RA aims to provide a rah-rah-rah good time. Specialty sushi rolls ($8 to $12), for instance, are probably the wackiest around. Care for a "yellow monkey" with mango, cashews, roasted peppers, artichoke, cream cheese, rice, nori, and kiwi-wasabi sauce? OK, maybe not, but it's there if you change your mind. So are crisply executed starters ($4 to $10) such as pork gyoza, lobster spring rolls, and grilled short ribs with tangy yakiniku sauce. Teriyaki, katsu, and noodle dinners ($12 to $16) are consistently fresh and zesty, and if you haven't yet noticed, prices are preciously reasonable — unlike at those sleek and stylish SoBe joints.
Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin
George Martinez
OK, so it's not the most creative name for a vegetarian restaurant, and we have no idea who Hakin is. That said, for meatless Miamians, this place is Mecca. The Rastafarian vegan fare served behind a dull façade in a North Miami Beach strip mall is packed with spices and flavors sure to renew taste buds dulled by frozen soy. The Caribbean patties — packed with spinach or fake-meat combinations — fly off the shelf, and with good reason: They're rich and satisfying, a perfect midafternoon, get-me-to-dinner snack. Entrées change daily: barbecue "ribs" on lemongrass mock-bones, hearty leafy vegetables stewed in delectable sauces, delicious faux Philly cheese steaks, and if you get there in the morning, their popular banana pancakes with tofu scramble. The place shutters at 7 p.m. most days and is closed Saturday in observance of Shabbat — and the service is undeniably slow — but for vegetarian Miamians used to nibbling at the edges of a city known for meat-heavy Cuban joints and Brazilian steak houses, the strange hours and long waits are worth it.
Pura Vida
Photo courtesy of Lauren Gnazzo for Gnazzo Group
Let's say, for hypothetical purposes, you're on a date with Madonna. She's great at the whole first kiss thing, but the Material Girl is way too picky about her dinner. She won't eat food that's been processed or genetically modified. And don't even think about ordering something that once lived inside a factory farm. So where do you take her? Fortunately, there's a laid-back — and shockingly unpretentious — natural food restaurant on Washington Avenue. Pura Vida has the vibe of a Costa Rican surf shop (you can even rent a surfboard after your meal). The bright and colorful joint has a selection of specialty smoothies and fresh-squeezed drinks that make Jamba Juice feel more impersonal than a trip to the DMV. Enjoy brown rice and chicken with lentil soup and salad for $9.95. Or try an açaí berry bowl made with a purée of frozen berries, bananas, and apple juice topped with granola for $7.95. The place is also great for take-out, which allows more time for important stuff like, oh, say, kissing.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®