The French Bakery Cafe
Aran S Graham
Bay Harbor might not be on your regular destination list. Perhaps you live in Kendall, Hialeah, or Homestead. But there's one reason you'll want to cross Broad Causeway to this community that stands on what once was a sandbar. It's the golden, flaky croissants served at a small French café owned by Argentine Maria Frumkin. Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, the French Bakery boasts cases filled with delicious pastries and breads. The fruit tarts and the truffles will tempt you, but go for the buttery croissants. We like them plain ($1.95), but there are also almond ($3.25) and chocolate ($2.50) varieties. To get the full effect, order your croissant with a latté and sit outside at one of the sidewalk tables.
El Brazo Fuerte Bakery
George Martinez
Picture it. Cuban women with pens in their hair running back and forth behind windows filled with pastelitos and bocadito party trays that make you salivate. As you attempt to push through the crowd of hungry patrons, you rip a ticket from a number machine on the counter, and then someone shouts, "¡Proximo!" (Next.) Your number is up, and all you can do is smile. Welcome to El Brazo Fuerte. This is the quintessential Cuban bakery. Open for more than 35 years, the place boasts customer service second only to the delicious pastries and always-fresh pan Cubano. There are Cuban pastelitos filled with your choice of guava, cream cheese, guava and cream cheese, beef, ham, tuna, or coconut. Also on deck are locally famous, crisp croquetas filled with ham, chicken, fish, or potato. El Brazo also bakes hourly a variety of fresh desserts, including eclairs, napoleons, key lime tarts, and capuchinos — conical sponge cakes dipped in sweet syrup. A single serving of all of the delectable treats offered at the bakery might put you in orbit. And don't forget the café con leche, which comes only second to your abuela's. Located in Little Havana, El Brazo Fuerte offers great service, a friendly staff, delectable food, and gorgeous cakes that will leave you wondering how other bakeries stay in business. It's open Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Sunday 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Bagel Bar East
Aran S Graham
Miamians love to bemoan the lack of decent bagels here. "New York has the best ones," they whine. "It's all about the water." Well, forget about moving back to Manhattan (or Queens or Brooklyn or Staten Island). Try Bagel Bar East, which is one of the few places in Miami that still hand-rolls, boils, and bakes its dough. These homemade, flavored beauties are so fresh and tasty that no toasting is necessary. In fact, if you hit Bagel Bar East at the right time (6:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.), the bagels will be piping-hot. This North Miami spot boasts 17 types including plain, everything, pumpernickel, poppy, onion, cinnamon-raisin, sesame, garlic, oat bran, salt, egg, rye, honey whole wheat, marble, seven-grain, bialy, and blueberry. Eat them plain or with a shmear of cream cheese (smoked salmon, chive, or veggie) or salad (tuna, chicken, egg, white fish, or chopped herring). There's also freshly cut smoked salmon as well as a litany of cold cuts and fluffy eggs as garnish. These bagels are so in-demand that the place wholesales to hotels such as the W, Ritz-Carlton South Beach, and Setai as well as deli staple Roasters & Toasters in Miami Beach. For quality this superior, the prices are pretty decent: Bagels cost $9.50 for a baker's dozen or $1 each. Also freshly made on-site are onion pockets, onion flats, rugalach, black-and-white cookies, babka, cheese danishes, and muffins.
Big Squeeze Juice Bar
We know you need your bacon, eggs, and coffee the morning after a messy bender. But with the way you've been hitting the bottle lately, you've been ingesting that lard-soaked breakfast of champions every day. We didn't want to say anything, but you've put on some weight. Heck, you even sweat out egg yolk. Flip the switch on your body with repeat visits to Big Squeeze Juice Bar for the artery-friendly breakfast special, the High Energy. For just $9.95, you get egg whites scrambled with spinach, salad, and pita, and a house smoothie (strawberry, banana, and pineapple) with a shot of wheatgrass. Know what that spells? D-E-T-O-X. Your liver thanks you. From the street, the Big Squeeze looks like just another juice bar. But head toward the back and you'll find the Big Squeeze garden, a covered deck with tables and chairs, built around a big gumbo limbo tree. Take a seat on the porch swing and await your colon cleanse.
Palace Bar & Restaurant
Karli Evans
When Sunday rolls around, how do you choose where to brunch? There are so many choices. Two words: bottomless mimosas. Three more words: sweaty drag queens. At the Palace, the 20-year-old beachside gay institution, "Brunchic" comes with all the usual makings of a lazy Sunday brunch. For $30, you get unlimited mimosas and a menu that might include rib eye steak or ocean tilapia. But the meal is also served with a couple of Amazonian drag queens performing under the sweltering sun. During 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. seatings, they interact with the crowd, hit on customers, and even stop traffic. There's Tiffany Fantasia doing a gospel song under the palm trees, and Noel Leon in a crimson body-hugging gown alarming passing tourists. After a couple of those mimosas, a tired "I Will Survive" will sound uproarious. And by your third drink, gender lines blur. It's not for nothing the motto of this outdoor Birdcage is "Every Queen Needs a Palace."
We were going to get all New York Times-y and talk about how a younger, suddenly cash-strapped crowd is discovering the early-bird special, and discounted eats before the traditional dinner rush is no longer just for the blue-haired, Bingo-playing set. We were going to add that more restaurant owners are catering to this demographic by adopting and expanding their early-bird menus. Then we were going to conclude by saying that even though the economy is in recovery, once diners pay half-price for the same plate of food, they'll most likely stay hooked on the experience. Yep, we were gonna say all of that stuff — but then we decided to simply write the following eight words: Capri's filet mignon costs $14.95 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
El Pimiento
Photo by Jacob Katel
There is more to Miami Lakes, which is squeezed between Hialeah and Miramar, than residential neighborhoods, golf, and a shrine to sports legend Don Shula. Residents have been hiding a shopping-center tapas gem for almost four years. Complete with a Spanish flag, cork-covered tables, and two terra cotta walls decorated with wine bottles for the picking, the quaint locale whisks patrons off to Spain even though it's located just a few feet from a convenience store. Three employees run the 12-table restaurant most nights; they recommend just the right wine to accompany more than 60 tapas including croquetas de bacalao ($5.95), tortilla española ($5.95), and garbanzo frito ($7.95), in that exact order. For those looking for a fuller meal, the suburban hush-hush also serves larger dishes such as paella valenciana ($26.95). Owner, part-time chef, and Spaniard Mylo Gonzalez remembers every face and makes sure visitors return to his little piece of Andalusia. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.
Before you even smell the chicken roasting or the souvlaki on the rotisserie, you'll see Tara Reid's face. There she is, mugging it up in a red velour tracksuit. And there she is again, next to Mickey Rourke. They're just two of the celebrities gracing Sultan's picture wall. This does not bode well — just another couple of emaciated stars' favorite hangout. But then you taste Sultan's falafel wrap ($7.75). The reaction can best be summed up in a series of slow-motion shots: Customer grabs fat spliff of a pita, bites crisp falafel inside, slathers tzatziki sauce all over face, head explodes. Cut to customer saying, "Tara Reid was right." Years of midnight falafel runs in college probably warped a lot of people's idea of what a good falafel is. That was dry, chewy, sustenance food. But blazed late at night (this place is open till 5 a.m.) or sober during the day, you will still get a head trip from Sultan's falafel. Tear into it with gusto. It's worth the mess.
Buena Vista Bistro
All right, so this place isn't a Latin American musical mecca in the heart of Havana. Hell, it's not even in Little Havana. Nor is it a social club. And no, you won't find Juan de Marcos González shaking maracas while downing a pastrami on rye here either. In fact, if you can find a knish, a Dr. Brown's soda, or a black-and-white cookie being consumed anywhere inside of this cheery, French-influenced delicatessen, we'll rewrite the Torah and say that you, not Moses, parted the Red Sea. That's because you won't find any New York-style staples in the Buena Vista Deli — from its yellow-umbrellaed porch to its clean, white interior that includes blackboard cabinets scribbled with colorful chalk. But what you will discover is fresh, fragrant slices of goat cheese and mushroom quiche ($4.95), rich duck pâté spread on a French baguette ($6.50), grilled chicken panini overflowing with pesto and sautéed portobello mushrooms ($7.50), and a Niçoise salad packed with ample amounts of hard-boiled eggs, tuna, anchovies, and green beans ($7 for a large). Can't decide? BVD has great combo options such as any sandwich/panini with any salad or soup du jour for only $10.50 or any quiche and salad for $7.50. Or if you feel like indulging your sweet tooth, tame it with a delicate but piled-high cream puff ($3.50), a chocolate eclair ($3.50), or any of the baked-daily goods displayed by the cash register in a pastel array reminiscent of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Plus everything available for purchase at this place, other than the bread, is homemade, which is enough to make any Cuban utter, "Oy vey!"
It's a two-way tie between Norman Van Aken's Coral Gables return (with son Justin) via Norman's 180, and in downtown Miami's Marriott Marquis Met Two tower, Daniel Boulud's DB Bistro Moderne (DB Bistro copped this category last year all by itself and let's hope will not be cited again next year). How often is it that two chefs of this caliber open shop in the same town during the same year? If the name of that town is Miami, never. Just more signs of our rapid ascent as a gastronomic destination and our increasing good fortune.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®