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 Restaurant for a Power Lunch

Gaetano

Hotel St. Michel
Chef/owner/Italophile Gaetano Ascione might have intended for his new eponymous restaurant, a replacement for the long-adored St. Michel (a mere memory by January 2010), to be appealing to everyone. But the lawyers, bankers, judges, and suit-and-tie-wearers about town seem to buzz around here at lunchtime like bees. Their honey: Gaetano's authentic eats, such as his paccheri al pomodoro, large tube pasta with burrata, tomatoes, and basil sauce ($12), along with various paninis, salads, pasta e fagioli ($6), and veal Milanese. This space, occupying the bottom floor of Hotel St. Michel, is a beautiful place to dine, with its yellow walls, light wood floors, mirror mosaics, and large windows that let the sunlight flow throughout. Did we neglect to mention the full bar? Having a few cocktails is harmless when money is no object and time is billable by the hour. Besides, what better way to see what the competition is up to than sitting outside for an afternoon, enjoying a few smokes and a Scotch after your meal?
Casale Pizzeria/Mozzarella Bar
They arrive on a rough serving plate, five misshapen white lumps gleaming in the soft light of Casale's warm dining room, ready to challenge everything you think you know about fresh mozzarella. "No, we are not best chopped up with tomatoes in some salad," says the bufala campana, imported fresh from Italy."You want to melt us on a pizza?" huffs the burrata pugliese, borne of fresh ingredients in Casale's kitchen. "You think I was made from scratch to get melted on a goddamn pizza?"Listen to the cheese. This is the good stuff, and you don't want to do much more than slice it up and eat it fresh. The bufala is a marvel of silky flavor. The burrata is creamy enough to spread on toast. Each of the other options — treccione, stracciatella e sfoglia, and fior di latte — brings a wholly unique texture and flavor to the table.Try all five in a $24 sampler platter, or mix and match from the fresh bar. Just don't mess with formaggio this fresh.
Jackson Soul Food
Photo by Aran Graham
A real soul food restaurant should be a historical pillar, a sort of time capsule framing a community's epoch with its endurance and hard-worn antiquity. It should also offer generous helpings of tasty comfort food. Jackson Soul Food is all of that and more. Against the backdrop of 40 years of highs and lows — through riots, political strife, and social upheaval, all the way through the city's newfound hope in its recent renovation — the place has stood as a beacon of resiliency for an embattled community, serving amazing down-home food for the soul. When most people think of soul food, mainstay dishes immediately come to mind: collard greens, oxtail, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, and the like. But Jackson's signature meals can be found on the breakfast menu. The pancakes come in big, fluffy stacks served with a generous side of beef sausage. The bacon, eggs, hash browns, and gravy will leave you weak in the knees, while the salmon cakes can be a meal. And no breakfast here is complete without homemade biscuits. Then wash it all down with a refreshing sweetened iced tea. Breakfast with all the fixings starts at $5.50. And though the restaurant hours are a little unorthodox (6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily), a quick jaunt just for breakfast (or an early lunch) is well worth the effort.
The Cheese Course
This new entry in the Shops at Midtown features the largest selection of artisanal cheeses in Miami. There are some 150 of them from France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the British Isles, the United States, and other dairy regions around the world. Sources include cow, sheep, goat, and water buffalo milk. There are cheeses with names of indigenous provinces, cheeses with names you can't pronounce, cheeses with names that sound like drugs: Humboldt Fog, Red Dragon, Purple Haze. So many can get confusing, but the Cheese Course sorts it all out as simply as possible. First, cheeses are categorized into six types: fresh, bloomy rind, washed rind, blue, semihard, and hard. Each one is displayed with a short description, and employees are quick to offer assistance. If words won't do, there is a tasting station lined with samplings and accouterments such as chutney, fruit slices, tapenades, and so forth. Don't see a sample of the cheese you're curious about? Ask for one and they'll slice you a piece. Savvy customers will turn their trip here into an educational experience. Sit indoors or out and choose from all manner of platters (one cheese with accompaniment is $7.95; two for $10.95; three for $14.45; and a six-category sampler for two is $22.95). Accompaniments are fresh, white or wheat baguettes are crisp, and wines are eminently matchable. The rest of the menu is worth investigating too, especially the applewood-smoked bacon sandwich with avocado and rosemary aioli.
Talula
It isn't as sexy as the slew of new multimillion-dollar establishments nestled in sun-blocking, skyscraping hotels nearby. But since opening their restaurant in spring 2003, Frank Randazzo and wife Andrea Curto-Randazzo have consistently courted locals and tourists alike with creative, well-crafted, contemporary American cuisine. There are also homespun touches thanks to influences from their Old World Italian families. Scrumptious small-plate starters, just $6 to $8, include a skillet of house-smoked tasso ham with quail egg, Manchego cheese, and hot peppers. Cork-braised octopus with Costa Rican hearts of palm salad is a house classic, as are the terrific traditional dishes, such as Frank's char-grilled spinalis rib steak with tempura-battered onion rings ($42); Andrea's risotto del giorno (whatever the featured ingredient might be); and homemade cavatelli pasta with just-as-homemade Merlot-braised beef short rib, sautéed carrots, and crumbled chèvre goat cheese ($14 for half-order, $26 for full). Yet the Randazzos also know how to dazzle via modern platings such as lemon/thyme-baked black grouper with black peppercorn gnocchi and house-cured pancetta-tomato jus ($27). The ambiance is as welcoming as the cuisine: Subdued lighting from Moroccan sconces glows upon warm woods, Chicago brick walling, and a copper-clad open kitchen. Brunch in the outdoor garden is a treat too. Tourists and trendoids might be lured by the latest new kid on the block, but locals and food pros know that when it comes to a great South Beach dining experience, Talula is the surest bet going.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®