Talavera Cocina Mexicana
Talavera is newer, prettier, and more refined than the sort of Mexican dives we like to think of as authentic. But partners Eduardo "Lalo" Durazo, Martin Moreno, and chef Oscar Del Rivero (the Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar & Latam Grill team) come from Mexico City, and many of the recipes used here derive directly from family and country — though they are a bit more polished in presentation. Like the guacamole: a mash of ripe avocados with cilantro, lime juice, and Serrano chilies, topped with queso fresco crumbles and fried pork rinds (and served with homemade flour tortillas). As we say, a little gussied up, but good. So is the signature huarache grill: sandal-shaped corn masa cakes capped with black beans, goat cheese, salsa verde, and choice of grilled steak, chicken, or fish marinated with guajillo chili rub. There are enchiladas, chiles rellenos, tacos, tortas, ceviches, moles, and more, all defined by fresh, bright flavors; just about everything is under $20. Weekday lunch specials bring a choice of more than a dozen selections for $12. Margaritas are an affordable $8. Other beverages to consider are Mexican beers, lime-spruced michaladas, eclectic wines (most bottles $18 to $34), and a scintillating lemonade sparkling with cilantro. Service sparkles as well. Talavera is an authentically wonderful Mexican restaurant from head to huarache.
Chilorio's Very Mexican
If you're human, you like burritos. It's impossible not to — you're genetically programmed to like guacamole, sour cream, refried beans, and shredded, melted cheese wrapped in an easy-to-hold (and devour) tortilla. Unfortunately, you're a human who lives in Miami, and bikini season (or hot-pink-Speedo-thong season, we don't judge) is here. So what are you supposed to do when your inner Jabba the Hutt gives the side-eye to your internal, nagging, yoga-devoted Jen Aniston? No, imagining a death match involving lightsabers, flatirons, cantankerous Ewoks, and Angelina Jolie voodoo dolls won't solve the problem. But Chilorio's — a fresh, homegrown Mexican chain — has the goods to Jedi mind-trick. Case in point: whole-wheat tortillas; no-fat mashed pinto beans; light proteins such as fish, shrimp, and the highly recommended Chilorio chicken (shredded, slow-cooked, and seasoned with a smoky, flavorful secret recipe); plus sides that include non-fried tortilla chips and a salsa table loaded with cilantro, hot sauce, and a variety of freshly chopped vegetable-heavy dips. Depending on your protein, a burrito costs anywhere from $6.78 to $8.88 (plus tax, duh). Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
El Santo Coyote
Every once in a while, we like to round up a few friends and head to Homestead for a little Mexican Sunday. We pack into a booth at El Santo Coyote and indulge in tacos and cervezas for the afternoon. For a buck-80, you can sink your teeth into a taco with one of six meats. El Santo has carnitas, chicken, and steak tacos for the average taco eater. But for the more adventuresome, the place serves tongue and barbacoa, cow's head slow-cooked over an open fire. Yummy! Each taco is sinfully delicious and comes with heaping toppings of lettuce, jalapeños, carrots, onions, and radishes. If you are really hungry, try the platter of three tacos with rice and beans for $7.95. El Santo Coyote is easily accessible off U.S. 1 and has on-site parking. Hours are 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and noon to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Barton G. the Restaurant
Max Shapovalov
Don't let the live giraffes, cryogenic nitro-martinis, and dumbfounding desserts such as the "chocolate fun-do fountain" gurgling with four pounds of Belgian dark distract you from seeing the serious genius of Mr. Barton G. He was already known as Miami's most outlandishly creative caterer by the time he opened his namesake South Beach restaurant in 2002. The sophisticated eatery with the whimsical presentation was way ahead of its time back then and continues to keep the new concepts coming. This past year, Weiss showed a peerless ability to provide classy, elegant dining when he opened Prelude in the Adrienne Arsht Center and Villa at the former Versace mansion. Yet what cements Barton's reputation as being a cut above the rest is his bucking of the common practice of charging exorbitant prices on New Year's Eve; Prelude served the same pre-theater $39 prix fixe dinner menu as always, refusing to exploit the restaurant patio's view of the Bayside fireworks. By the way: This is one of the best dinner deals around even when it's not New Year's Eve. Vision, value, and damn good food. What more could you want from a restaurateur?
Past winners of our annual lifetime achievement type of award (where seniority counts!): Van Aken, Militello, Susser, Oudin, Ruiz, Bernstein, Schwartz, Rodriguez, and Hutson. It is time to etch Eismann and LoSasso into our Rushmore of pioneering Miami chefs. Jonathan Eismann introduced pan-Asian cooking and spearheaded fine dining on Lincoln Road when he opened Pacific Time in 1993; back then, there was nothing fine about the pedestrian mall. Next, Eismann leapt into the Design District with more globally inspired PT2 — and leapt some more with PizzaVolante, Q American Barbeque, and Fin seafood joint, all in the same neighborhood. The man ain't slowing down. Nor is Dewey LoSasso, who first impressed at the Foundlings Club during the early '80s. He was opening executive chef of Tuscan Steak and really hit his stride when he and wife Dale opened North One 10 in 2004. He, as well as Eismann, recognized early the importance of a place-of-your-own to pursue a personal culinary vision — his was the use of quality local ingredients, which he turned into fresh, creative, delectable American fare. After the locally loved but economically unsuccessful establishment closed, LoSasso took a consolation prize and secured one of the most sought-after chef gigs: helming the landmark Forge as it reopened in its gloriously renovated return. The renewed attention these comeback chefs have received is enough to make one believe that dedication, talent, and integrity really do prevail.
Caffe Abbracci
Photo by Ana Adams
Nino Pernetti's life story includes growing up in postwar Venice, Italy; training at a prestigious hotel school; cooking across four continents; and taking trips to Kabul, Caracas, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur — well, a lot of places. But you needn't know that, or the fact that he serves on more boards than Dwyane Wade — Make-A-Wish Foundation, Jackson Memorial Foundation, Florida Concert Association, and so forth — to appreciate the skillful orchestration he exhibits at his landmark Coral Gables restaurant, Caffè Abbracci. No doubt the consistently mouthwatering renditions of quintessential Italian cuisine — and the best tiramisu either side of Kalamazoo — have played a big part in Abbracci's success. But dining isn't all about what's on the plate. While overseeing his top-flight professional service staff, Pernetti makes customers feel at home with his effervescent charm and hospitality. Old-timers are treated like family, and new-timers are treated like old-timers — before inevitably becoming such. That's how Caffè Abbracci has kept its tables filled for more than 20 years.
STK South Beach
Courtesy of STK
Located just off the Gansevoort lobby, STK Miami practically glistens with big-city allure. Like the original in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, this lofty, two-story steak house boasts an industrial-chic warehouse look, but with a dash of decidedly South Beach style. Celebrated design team ICRAVE uses a muted palette of textures such as wood, marble, mirrors, glass, suede, stone, and white brick, each illuminated by a varied, multihued lighting system. The effect is soft and sensual yet dramatic — and a welcome change from the tired white whimsical look that has so long defined hotel restaurant design in these parts. The main floor serves as both dining room for STK and home to Coco De Ville, a 2,000-square-foot lounge streaked with white ottomans. The second floor houses a bar, a private dining area, and restaurant seating that overlooks the action below — as does a staircase/catwalk that customers use to ascend and descend. You won't find a prettier crowd to peer down upon. Of course, all of ICRAVE's attention to detail will have been for naught if you don't lift your eyes from the fat, juicy steak sitting in front of you on the table. Which isn't so easy to do.
Il Mulino New York
George Martinez
Hey there, Mr. I-Used-to-Have-a-Bottomless-Expense-Account. Back then, you would breeze into Il Mulino like a big shot, thumb through the wine list, and choose one of the vintage reserves. Lucky for you, there are bottles starting a bit below $50. Plus you'll still have your classic Manhattan cocktail — for chrissakes, a man's gotta live. And if you're polite, there's a good chance you'll be served a free glass of green apple-infused grappa after your meal. Listen: Sacrifices have to be made, your mindset must be adjusted. (Hint: Take advantage of all the complimentary antipasti, garlic bread, and focaccia piled in front of you before dinner.) But you don't have to give up the larger-than-life flavors found in Mulino's jumbo prawns from Sardinia, in the Dijon-crusted rack of lamb, in the homemade cannelloni stuffed with veal, lamb, and beef. You needn't part with your beloved chicken parmigiana, whose pounded European breast is smothered in Old World marinara sauce, or — God forbid — the signature veal osso buco with porcini mushrooms served over flawless saffron risotto. If anything, dining at Il Mulino and gazing at the stunning ocean vista will keep you from dwelling on pressing problems — like who are those people in the black van parked across from your house anyway? Sure, a tenderloin steak the size of a cattleman's fist or a whole imported branzino fish might cost more than $50, but there are plenty of choices in the $28 to $38 range. Keep your chin up, Mr. Down-But-Not-Out, and be thankful Il Mulino is a luxury you can still afford. You just have to start living with the idea of not doing so every night.

Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant

Spiga

Spiga Ristorante Italiano
Italian restaurants come and go. And come and go. And come and go. Some boast prime location; some tout wood-burning ovens, early-bird specials, happy hours, and karaoke nights. Spiga doesn't go in for a whole lot of razzmatazz. Located in the boutique Hotel Impala, the cozy, romantic restaurant is aglow in low light and awash in rich wood; the porch is one of the most charming spots for alfresco dining the city has to offer. The cuisine is handsome and humble too — fresh ingredients forged into our favorite Northern Italian classics. Grilled calamari with olive oil and lemon, red snapper alla Livornese, a signature seafood soup brimming with shellfish, and veal scaloppine with prosciutto and sage are just a few of the simple and simply delicious dishes. But Spiga especially shines when it comes to homemade pastas. Gnocchi is ethereally light, ravioli is sumptuously soft, and quadretti with portobello mushrooms, truffle oil, and shaved Parmesan exemplifies Italian cooking at its flavor-exploding best. All pastas are under $20, most starters less than $10, and there's a wide selection of well-priced wines. Desserts — including the finest ricotta cheesecake you'll encounter south of Mulberry Street — are $8. Perhaps most important, first-timers here are treated like regulars. Maybe that's why Spiga has been going strong, in fickle South Beach, for 15 years.
Pizza Volante
Natalia Molina
Jonathan Eismann evidently took the famous exhortation "Go West, young man!" to mean the west side of Miami's Design District (plus he waited until he wasn't all that young). Eismann charged into the fledgling neighborhood with his flagship Pacific Time and has recently added the new duo of Q and Fin. But perhaps his most heralded pioneering effort came when PizzaVolante led the parade of gourmet pizza joints that ended up settling in this town. The look is industrial cool, with marble-topped tables and orange Kartell chairs upon polished concrete floors. The thin-crusted pizzas, fired up fresh-to-order in the wood-burning oven, are topped with a bright, slightly sweet tomato sauce and can be crowned with any number of regional mozzarella cheeses — from Campagna bufala to a local cow's milk ovaline — or with vegetables grown in our own Redland and roasted in the wood oven. Pies start at a mere $9 for the Margherita and top out at $16. Plus the wine list features 18 selections for $18 — per bottle, not glass. That is how the west is won.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®