Best Restaurant in the Design District

Mai Tardi

Ten reasons why Mai Tardi is the neighborhood's best bet:1. Ninety-seat outdoor piazza under 150-year-old white oak trees is peerless setting for alfresco dining. 2. Competition is pricier. Starters here run $6 to $12, pastas and entrées $15 to $24 — and even less during the "Beat the Clock" daily special.3. Beat the Clock special: Select pastas and pizzas, normally $9 to $12 apiece, are priced according to the time you order — $5 at 5 o'clock start, $6.20 at 6:20 p.m., $7 when deal stops at 7 p.m.4. Chef Ricardo Tognazzi probably won't be out of town on a book tour.5. Spinach pappardelle, farro linguine, potato gnocchi, and venison-filled ravioli all are made on the premises (actually, those are four reasons right there).6. You'll likely be seated next to locals rather than tourists, celebrities, foodies, scenesters, big shots... Shall we just say Mai Tardi is unpretentious?7. Easiest spot to pretend you're in Italy via affordable dinner of wood-burning-oven pizza, $6.50 house salad, and a glass of reasonably priced Italian wine (bottles start at $20).8. Less national media exposure means less of a wait for tables.9. Enjoy house-made tiramisu without having to know pastry chef's name and bio.10. Did we mention the orange mojitos?
Fried chicken
Courtesy of Whisk Gourmet
Fried chicken

Host: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another edition of Name That Restaurant. Please give a warm welcome to this week's celebrity guests, Kim and Khloé Kardashian! (applause). Let's get going with the first clue:

This teeny, 15-seat eatery in Coral Gables posts its daily-changing menu on a blackboard.

Khloé: The Coral Gables High School cafeteria?

Host: No, sorry, that's not it.

Kim: Starbucks?

Host: No, sorry. Let's try another clue:

Brother/sister owners keep this lunch-oriented place open weekdays from 11 in the morning until 7 p.m. and serve home-cooked American favorites such as buttermilk fried chicken, goat cheese fritters, fried green tomatoes, and grilled grouper sandwiches, along with one of the tastiest key lime pies in town.

Kim: Donny and Marie?

Host: I don't think so.

Khloé: Denny's?

Host: Moving right along — and girls, really, try to concentrate:

Sandwiches are all under $10, sides and apps less than $6, entrée salads $11 to $14, main course plates $12 to $18; beverages, served in mason jars, include homemade iced tea and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Khloé: Mansion makes a great Long Island iced tea.

Host: Nope. Kim, last chance...

Kim: Starbucks?

Host: Sorry, but the answer is Whisk Gourmet Food & Catering, so very popular with locals that it will soon move to larger digs. Thanks so much, girls. Be sure to tune in next week when our guests will be Iggy Pop and Pitbull.

Gibraltar Restaurant
We've asked Joseph Cataliotti of Jersey Joe's Used Auto Emporium to help sell the attributes of the elegant Gibraltar restaurant. Take it away, Joe!Hey, yous all out there. This is Jersey Joe telling you to drive to the ritzy Grove Isle Hotel & Spa and fill your tank at the swank Gibraltar restaurant. I ain't never been to the real Gibraltar — "Travel thousands of miles to visit a fucking rock? No, thanks!" I says to my wife when she mentioned it years ago. Anyways, the food here is cooked up by a talented kid, Jeff O'Neill. He was the Donald's personal family chef, for chrissakes! He's also worked at fancy joints with foreign names, like Restaurant Daniel and Le Bernardin. But I'm sayin' you'll never taste food like here at Gibraltar — I mean, truthfully, I don't usually eat things like flash-marinated local snapper with minted mango and pink radish, or sweetwater trout with lemon-pine quinoa. I don't even like sayin' it. But the pan-roasted guinea hen with guanciale and raisin sauce, and the farro with olive oil, and the prime strip with buttermilk mashed potatoes — fuhgeddaboutit. Of course, ya gotta rob Peter to pay the bill, but that ain't no problem. Heh-heh, just kidding. Besides that big, fat steak, all main courses are $30 or under. Hell, ya hafta take the little lady out to a nice joint once in a while, don't you? The bay view from the outdoor tables here is unbelievable — romantic as hell, nothing like it anywhere in town, period. I mean, if you can't score after takin' her out to a freakin' oasis like this, maybe it's time you sat on the bench with your bat for a while, if you know what I mean. So come on over to Gibraltar and tell 'em Joe sent you. And check out Jersey Joe's Used Auto Emporium. Remember: It may rhyme with crematorium, but nobody here gets burned!
Sakaya Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Sakaya Kitchen
Healthful fast food used to be an oxymoron. Nowadays, you would have to be a moron not to have noticed the influx of fresher, more nutritious fare being dished behind counters at a new wave of casual, inexpensive eateries. Sakaya Kitchen, for instance, offers a concise menu of Asian/Southeast Asian goodies such as egg rolls, pork buns, orange/honey-glazed ribs, ginger/scallion noodles, and Korean street foods such as kim chees, Angus beef bulgogi wraps, and spicy chicken wings. Natural meat, poultry, and seafoods are used, as are organic dairy and produce, some culled from local farms. All menu items are made from scratch: meats cured, vegetables pickled, ssamjangs — well, you get the point. Of course, we can't live on ssam alone, so there are about a half-dozen bottles of premium sake, as well as Japanese beers. Sakaya is healthful for body (food), healthful for mind (sake), and healthful for budget: Almost everything is under ten bucks.
Mandolin Aegean Bistro
Match the letter with its proper corresponding number and win a better grasp of the great Greek bistro that opened in Miami's Buena Vista neighborhood this past year:A. What diners are brought before dinner.B. Steamed mussels, fried calamari, flamed cheese saganaki, kefte meatballs, tzatziki, tarama.C. A difference between Mandolin and other Greek joints.D. The dining room.E. Key West Sunset Ale.F. Hand-cut French fries, grilled octopus, classic Greek salad.G. Forty seats, lanterns dangling from leafy trees, the tweets of little birds filling the balmy night air.H. Thinly shredded romaine leaves, feta crumbs, scallions, and fresh dill tossed in light vinaigrette.I. $15 to $19.1. Two of the owners are from Turkey (the other is Greek), so the menu includes Turkish delights such as fava bean purée, tomato-walnut dip, and sucuk (known as Turkish chorizo).2. About 17 seats snuggled together in what might have been used as a walk-in closet in the original 1940s house.3. Maroulosalata.4. One of the beers offered along with well-priced wine.5. Cost of entrées, including a pristinely grilled whole yellowtail with lemon and olive oil.6. Warm, sesame-dotted loaves of pide bread in a paper bag.7. Some of the dozen-plus mezes ($7 to $12).8. Mandolin's outdoor patio, open for lunch and dinner every day.9. Three of our favorites.
Naoe
Photo courtesy of Naoe
Top 10 differences between Naoe and your favorite Japanese restaurant — or, for that matter, any restaurant: 1. Chef/owner Kevin Cory worked in Japan at a traditional kaiseki restaurant, put in a startlingly impressive stint locally at Siam River, and has relatives that own sake and shoyu breweries in Oono and Ishikawa. 2. Live scallops, mirugai, aoyagi, anago, unagi, hamachi, oysters, baigai, tokobushi, and asari.3. Frozen Kaga No Yukizake sake.4. Menu consists of four-item chef's choice (omakase) bento box plus a bowl of soup on the side. Afterward, the chef prepares nigiri sushi if you're still hungry.5. Silver-skinned aji glazed with shoyu and plated with pickled wasabi leaves and flowers. 6. Just 17 seats and a five-seat sushi bar — less a restaurant than a dinner party.7. Salmon wrapped in pickled white seaweed with roasted freshwater eel and fried shrimp tamago — like everything else, personally conceptualized and prepared to order by Chef Cory.8. Open Wednesday through Sunday, with three seatings (8 p.m., 9, and midnight); reservations necessary and only through OpenTable.com. 9. Rice molded with shiitake mushrooms and hints of eel, with wisps of pickled daikon on top.10. Price for dinner (bento box and soup): $26.
Sea Siam
Natalia Molina
It's usually a good rule of thumb that you shouldn't ingest any food included in a restaurant's name. If you did, can you imagine how many canton-bamboo-lotus-crane-stars you would have consumed? Think about the heartburn! Yet Sea Siam's case is different. The fare is pretty oceanorific. Take the pla lad prig: a fresh, whole fried snapper with delicate, crisp skin and moist white meat drenched in a spectacularly tangy, sweet, and spicy chili sauce for $22 (also comes filleted for $19). Then there's the fabulous crispy duck, ped nam dang, which comes with cashews, sweet peas, black mushrooms, baby corn, pineapple, and a rich sauce that can be spiked to any degree of heat ($18.50). Or check out these sea-crumptious sushi rolls: the shrimp tempura and cream cheese delight, called the "red rose roll" ($13); and the "kissing roll" ($10), a California roll topped with smoked salmon and eel sauce. Still not convinced? The tom kar gai (chicken coconut soup, $6) is tasty enough to make a fowl wish it had flippers.
Petit Rouge
Aran S Graham
Neal Cooper doesn't look, act, or speak like a Frenchman. Fair enough: He isn't French. His prior restaurant, Il Migliatore, and his eponymous eatery from 1993 were both excellent; neither, however, was French. Mr. Cooper did dabble in Escoffier and the French classics at the Culinary Institute of America, but more important, he knows how to operate a restaurant that regardless of ethnicity, delivers what people want: Delicious food and wine at a good value served efficiently in a pleasing environment. At Petit Rouge, this translates into a charmingly rustic 24-seat bistro and petite eight-seat patio; into some 70 wines starting at $28 a bottle and by-the-glass choices from $8 to $14; into crunchy baguettes, textbook French onion soup, salmon tartare, ris de veau in lemon-caper sauce, rashers of calf's liver with bronzed onions on top, truite grenobloise, and frisée salad with lardons of bacon and an impeccably poached egg. Entrées run $20 to $24, making the homemade tarte tatin or impossibly smooth pot de crème that much harder to resist. Chef Cooper may not be fluent in French, but Petit Rouge speaks the language like no other place in town.
USA Seafood and Car Wash
Step out of Miami and into Port-au-Prince at USA Seafood and Car Wash, a character-driven Little Haiti joint notable for its giant parking lot. This place is popular for its take-out, so don't let the Styrofoam containers and plasticware put you off. Try the griot. The fried pork chunks are plentiful, have a nice fat-to-meat ratio, and are spiced for a kick. We recommend the side of white rice, bean sauce, and crisp, greaseless fried plantains; it all adds up to a mountain of food that serves two or three at an absurdly economical price of about $6. Other fine options include the tender-boned chicken in sauce, with goat, oxtail, or legume. Make sure to ask for some pikliz, a traditional spicy vinegar coleslaw; grab a cavity-sweet banana soda; and take your to-go order off to the far wall by the car wash. Sit at the concrete table, relax, and enjoy the sights and sounds of one of Miami's most vibrant neighborhoods.
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You have to look pretty darn hard to find chow from the place where Columbus thought he had arrived. Sure, there are plenty of the walk-up cafeterias selling café cubano. And you can find yuca fries. But you could drive for miles and never find any chai lassi, raita, or garlic nan. Luckily, there's a small Indian restaurant called Imlee in a nowheresville strip mall in Pinecrest with some pretty damn good korma, vindaloo, and koftka curry. We usually start with paneer porka: wonderfully soft cheese that's been battered, fried, and then steeped in spicy, tomatoey goodness. Depending on our mood, we vacillate between the creamy mixed vegetable korma and the tasty lamb koftka curry. And we always get a side of raita and an order or two of pillowy nan. A frosty Kingfisher brew is required to wash it all down, and if there's room, we try the falooda ice cream. Made from rose syrup, it's what luxury would taste like if you could put it on a spoon.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®