CJ's Crab Shack
Got a hankering for topnotch seafood and service with a smile while sunning yourself on SoBe's golden shores or perusing shops along Ocean Drive? There's only one place to go. With an extensive menu of sumptuous ocean fare and fair prices that get even better during happy hour, CJ's Crab Shack has something for everyone. Owners Chris and Jori opened the place two years ago on the Fourth of July, and their establishment has maintained that celebratory atmosphere. Good times, good food, and booze abound. Specialty drinks such as "Chris's famous rum punch" and "Jori's soon-to-be-famous margarita" run $9 regularly and just $6 from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, with domestics and imports, regularly priced at $5 and $6, dropping to $4. Menu highlights include drunken shrimp ($11.95) — one of Chris's personal faves — steamed in beer and seasoned Cajun-style. The crab dip — with cheese, spinach, and artichoke — overflows with the crustacean for only $11.95 or $6 during happy hour. Or check out the "bucket o' crab": five whole blue crabs in Old Bay for $24.95.
AltaMare
Claudio Giordano's Alta Mar restaurant in South Beach had been an unqualified success since 2002, so it came as a surprise when this past year, he moved the eatery next door, brought in new chef Simon Stojanovic, and even changed the name of the place by adding an e to the end. The current space boasts an open kitchen, chef's table, intimate bar, and private dining rooms. Stojanovic, who learned a thing or two about cooking while working as Michael Schwartz's sous chef, boasts a menu of creatively plated, locally snared seafood (along with sustainable meats and pastas made in-house). Starters include grilled octopus with chorizo, grilled lemon, green tomato, and saffron aioli served over warm farro ($15) — that's a daring juggle of flavors, but Stojanovic keeps them in the air. Entrées are no less captivating: Pan-seared halibut with Swank Farms watercress, Borek Farms heirloom tomatoes, Florida avocados, and arugula vinaigrette not only taste fantastic but also demonstrate an allegiance to local growers. While ingredients are close to home, the culinary style pays homage to the Mediterranean — as in a pan-seared striped sea bass over risotto with sage, pistachios, and Meyer lemon ($29). What was a very good seafood restaurant is now a great one.
El Floridita Seafood Restaurant
El Floridita takes you back to a time when life was simple: Men were men, women were women, fish were fish, and fish houses were made of wood and featured fish tanks, raw bars, saloon-style alcohol, and trophy fish on the wall. El Floridita makes fish sandwiches the old-fashion way too — as in tasty, not fancy. First the folks in the kitchen take fresh menudo, which is not the Mexican soup but the Filipino name for the labahita fish. The mild, white-fleshed saltwater species is plunked into a fryer and then inside a wedge of Cuban bread, topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion; tartar sauce comes on the side. It is an ideal example of less being more. Are you old enough to remember when such a sandwich cost $2.50 (or just $1.95 sans the lettuce and tomato)? Ah, those were the days — and still are at El Floridita.
Snappers Fish & Chicken
It is difficult to come across a real conch fritter in Miami — one loaded with the most delectable shellfish in the Caribbean. Rest assured, Snappers has you covered. The mom-and-pop-ish fast-seafood eatery makes Bahamian-style fritter balls loaded with conch and chili pepper pieces that will — to borrow a phrase from another nearby island — make you feel irie all day. For an airy texture, the batter is fried like a Spanish churro or a county-fair elephant ear. The oil is almost as fresh as the fish. And that is saying something. There are jalapeños for heat, as well as sweet green peppers for crunch, but never enough to overwhelm each fritter's generous haul of big, chewy, yet tender conch chunks. Each order brings eight balls for $5.84, a price that can't be beat. It's perfect as a standalone meal or an appetizer. Snappers is open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fish Shack & Market
We're talking with Bimini Baja Bob, self-proclaimed "fish taco expert extraordinaire." He is apparently a little upset with us for claiming the finest fish taco can be found at Fish Shack & Market. "They use juicy chunks of fresh-from-the-water mahi-mahi that's been spiced and grilled to perfection," he says loudly, his face getting red. "Then they plump the fish into three softly griddled corn tortillas and add thinly sliced cabbage, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeño." We ask Bob what's not nice about that, to which the slightly hard-of-hearing expert responds he doesn't quibble with the price. "Ten ninety-five is more than fair," he says and adds he adores the red and green (tomatillo) salsas on the side as well. Then he sobs and his body begins to twitch uncontrollably. "But everyone knows that for a great fish taco, you have to use gefilte fish!" he blurts out just as a couple of men in white suits come to escort him away.
Doug Rodriguez isn't the daddy of ceviche; the practice of macerating seafood in citrus juice precedes him by quite a few years. One can say, however, that the renditions he has created locally first at Yuca, then OLA, and now at D. Rodriguez Cuba are the mother of all ceviches: snapper marinated with sour orange and topped with a dice of conch, tomato, red pepper, crisp onions, and garlic ($15); salmon with lemon, chives, jalapeño, and dill over yogurt and cucumber granita ($15); shrimp, lobster, clams, octopus, and crab with celery, cilantro, tarragon, grapefruit, and lime juice ($18). These kooky, creative, and ultimately delectable concoctions are to lime juice/onion/cilantro ceviche what Lady Gaga is to Joan Baez. Macerate on that for a while.
Golden Rule Seafood Market
Once upon a time, a Miami girl with Louisiana ties wanted to make gumbo for her friends. She searched and searched for fresh crawfish to no avail, so she had no choice but to settle for the frozen variety, which she found somewhere in Homestead. If only our girl had known about Golden Rule Seafood Market. Established in 1943 and family-owned since 1969, this place in Palmetto Bay has a large variety at reasonable prices, including live crawfish when available. The seafood here comes from all over. You'll find local stuff, including stone crab, Key West shrimp, and Florida lobster, but you'll also discover scrumptious goods from South America, Mexico, Florida's west coast, and other locales. Shelves are stocked with every imaginable seasoning and sauce. And periodically, you can attend a cooking demo to learn how to prepare your dinner. Call ahead to find out what's available.
Bonsai
The $38 "lobster bomb" (lobster tail tempura, crab salad, avocado, lettuce, red tobigo, spicy mayo, and eel sauce with a side of sautéed lobster, scallops, and sautéed mushrooms) is simply to die for at this western outpost. There are also specialty rolls such as the "Bonsai G," with deep-fried salmon, crab, shrimp, and masago. You won't find rolls with Rice Krispies or gummy bears inside — Bonsai's chefs tend to stick to traditional ingredients — but you will discover fresh selections with generous protein-to-rice ratios at a cost that won't break the bank. Unless, of course, your date becomes a lobster bomb buff.
This is our tribute to a toppled threesome: Tuscan Steak, longest-running of the trio (premiered in 1998), became a victim of the economy; it has since donned a sombrero as El Scorpion Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar, whose specialties of tacos and tequila are more in line with today's restrained budgets. Still, we'll always be grateful for Tuscan's delectable namesake steak and its white truffle garlic oil — way before the truffle oil deluge that followed. North One 10 fell victim to cruel, thoughtless city construction that put holes in the street and holes in the fledgling restaurant's bottom line. The streets were eventually repaired, but North One 10 never fully recovered from the financial damage. We'll always remember Dewey LoSasso's intensely flavorful, wildly innovative, and thoughtfully sourced New American cuisine; his wacky theme nights; and the stellar service and wine selections orchestrated by wife Dale. Au Pied de Cochon — what can we say except we hardly got to know ye? Turned out this multimillion-dollar newcomer was a victim of not knowing its demographic — South Beach isn't Paris, it isn't Mexico City, and it isn't Atlanta. But that doesn't mean we won't miss the succulent pig trotters and classic French pastries. Sadly, this trio with brio is no more. OK — next group, step right up.
Area 31
They're just too good not to mention.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®