La Provence
In France, somehow, there are fresh-baked baguette sandwiches — made with care — at almost every major train station. That such a delicacy is sold alongside pooping pigeons and napping backpackers seems like it should be illegal. At La Provence, you get the authentic European treat without having to, say, step over a hobo or pay a euro to use la toilette. Located a couple of blocks from the Miracle Mile shopping district, this bright and tidy café-style shop sets itself apart by attention to detail. There are not a million options, simply six or seven really great ones. Choose from prosciutto with Brie, chicken with avocado, or mozzarella with ripe tomatoes and basil. They are available at half- or full-size, on paninis or whole-wheat bread, ranging from about $5 to $10. Hours are Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Come for the bread, not the pigeons.
El Arepazo 2
Don't let the old cafeteria look of this eatery dissuade you from walking in for an arepa. After all, you just made the trip to this nondescript strip mall in the heart of Doral. The Venezuelan hangout, where émigrés congregate to play dominoes or discuss big news back home, makes tasty arepas with a slightly golden crust and a steaming-hot, soft interior. The best part is that you can fill your arepa with just about anything you crave. Choose from fresh Venezuelan cheeses — try the guayanés — and meats such as carne mechada (shredded beef) and chorizo. It's the closest you'll get to eating at a Caracas-style arepa bar in Miami.
It's all over you, that great stink of South Beach called pretentiousness. Your only hope is to step into the down-home oasis that is the 11th Street Diner. The tackiness of Ocean Drive hasn't seeped into this retreat where comfort food with retro flair has been served since 1992. The Airstream-style aluminum façade suggests authenticity, and the diner delivers. Frequent coffee fillups, shiny red booths, all the quintessential diner-ness is in place. What makes the 11th Street Diner exceptional, however, is a menu that retains the unfussiness of the best diners but doesn't resort to artery-destroying, greasy-spoon tactics. The "farmer's scrambled" ($9.25) is cheesy, veggie-filled, and satisfying, and even the bacon and sausage staples don't send you into a food coma. Dig into the "3 pair" ($9.95), which includes two eggs, two pieces of bacon or sausage, and two pancakes or French toast. It's the Noah's Ark of breakfast food.
Cafe Bambini
"Cool! You mean we can eat pizza and ice-cream-type stuff and drink chocolate milk and then slide and tumble and climb and watch a puppet show and dress up like a ballerina or a cowboy? Yay! But what are you gonna do while we play, Mom? Dad? Hey, you're just gonna leave us inside here? You aren't gonna watch us? You mean, there's a baby-sitter here? Yay! We'll go play with her. We like her better than you anyway." Does that sound better than an average day in your life? The kids are being fed for only $4.95 per plate, plus they are being looked after and are so distracted with games and toys that they don't even want to be near you for a couple of hours. All the while, you sip Segafredo coffee; munch on fresh empanadas ($2.68 each), sandwiches, and salads; and enjoy some adult conversation without the sounds of Elmo and Big Bird in the background. Bless the folks behind Café Bambini; they made a place that works for hungry kids as well as adults.
The Alibi
Natalia Molina
Does a Philly cheesesteak sandwich — thinly sliced rib eye, grilled onions, and Cheez Whiz on an Amoroso roll imported from Philadelphia — taste better at 3 in the morning than at any other time? No. It tastes better at 3 in the morning because you are eating it at the Alibi, a food concession within funky SoBe hangout bar Lost Weekend. It tastes better because co-owner Bill Sisca is from Philadelphia and partner John Ross is a CIA-trained chef. Two more reasons: It costs just $8.95, and you are eating it with a side of the freshly made crinkle-cut fries ($4.95) with an available side ($1 extra) such as chipotle or truffle oil or more of that Cheez Whiz (can you really ever have too much?). Plus you are getting a taste of your mate's shrimp poboy sandwich. It tastes better at 3 in the morning because you are keeping the night alive by ordering drinks from the bar while you goof around at the pool table and you are already thinking of capping off your late-night Dagwood-inspired binge with one of John's girlfriend Kristie's now-famous strawberry shortcake cupcakes — another house specialty — and of course you'll buy a second cupcake because (A) they're so good and (B) it's one for $3 but two for $5,and you'll wonder if it wouldn't make sense if you took a bacon-chicken Philly or an all-beef hot dog to go (only five bucks!), because at that point, it'll be around 5 in the morning (closing time at the Alibi), and breakfast will be, let's face it, just around the corner.

Best Wine Selection in a Restaurant

The Forge

The Forge
billwisserphoto.com
The Forge for decades has had one of the most impressive wine cellars in town. However, with the relaunch of the "new" Forge a few months ago, enophiles on a budget have a reason to celebrate. Along with its revamped menu and décor, the Forge has introduced an enomatic wine system that allows patrons to sample more than 80 wines for a fraction of the cost of buying the whole bottle. The eight stainless-steel-and-glass wine stations are divided up by varietal and taste (think Red Powerful). Patrons simply insert a black Forge card into the machine and choose which size pour they want (from one to five ounces). From there, this upscale vending machine dispenses the wine directly into the glass. Ever wanted to taste a superexpensive wine like Opus One? Well, now you can for $13 for a one-ounce sip. Serious tipplers need not worry, though. There are more than 600 bottles on the main wine list, and owner Shareef Malnik's renowned cellar is still intact. Despite the economy, customers still pay more than $5,000 for bottles such as the 1975 Château Haut-Brion, Premier Grand Cru Classé. Ask for a consult with executive sommelier Gino Santangelo, who has been with the Forge for 35 years. Not only can he suggest the perfect wine pairing with the bone-in 18-ounce filet mignon, but also he leads private tours of the wine cellar. Regardless of whether you are a wine novice or a snob, spending time at the Forge's grape-friendly bar will leave you tipsy and well educated.
Miami Juice
Aran S Graham
Today a cell phone can no longer be just a phone. It has to be a camera, a stereo system, a minicomputer, and an all-purpose replacement for human contact all in one. Smoothies have suffered a similar demand for multifunction. You can get ones that promise weight loss, muscle gain, better concentration, cures for minor ailments, even boosts to the libido, all while also being packed full of sweeteners and preservatives to make them taste like candy. It's gotten so out of hand that you can walk out of a national chain that promotes itself as healthy with 30 ounces of peanut butter-flavored sludge that adds up to 1,170 calories (that's, like, about two KFC Double Downs). Time to get back to basics, and that's exactly what Miami Juice does best. The charming juice bar, restaurant, and health food store is located in a strip mall on Sunny Isles Beach. The smoothies are made from basic combinations of mostly organic fruits and ice, nothing more, nothing less, and they taste great. Well, yes, you can get a protein smoothie too (which also tastes delicious), but as life keeps getting more complicated, we prefer to keep things simple.
Bread n Pan Cafeteria
Google Street View
They say that when Egyptian shepherds discovered coffee, their goats began to dance. Had it been espresso, there also would have been some serious headbanging, followed by a tango and then a cabbage patch and a crash-and-burn. At Bread n' Pan — a teensy, one-woman joint on a hidden industrial strip of little Haiti — they make the stuff strong. You'd miss this out-of-the way shop were it not for the canary-yellow overhang that simply reads, "Cafeteria." The lone Latina barista makes Starbucks look like an assembly line of factory workers. She takes her time, steaming milk in front of a one-shot espresso machine, and will customize your sweet, creamy (not foamy!) beverage with your preferred sugar-to-espresso ratio. There is no place to sit, so expect to stand. The upside: There is never a crowd, and an eight-ounce café con leche goes for just $1. It would be hard to find a cheaper one — well, west of Egypt anyway.
Grimpa Steakhouse
Talk about a great value. For only $12.99, lunchtime diners get their fill of addictive cheese bread and can partake in Grimpa's whopping 28-item salad bar, comprising 20 types of salad and eight hot dishes. (The cost for this same meal at dinner rises to $26.50 per person, so tell Mr. or Ms. Tummy to get with the afternoon plan.) Grimpa isn't one of those places that serves canned three-bean stuff or throws together a bowl stuffed with 99 percent iceberg lettuce. This is a choose-it-yourself, all-you-can-eat salad lovers' orgy, with handmade options that change daily. Even vegetarians can get their fill because choices sometimes include waldorf, tabouli, caesar, and lentil salads, along with starches such as white rice, black beans, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables. Of course, it's always tempting to wrangle one of the gauchos for a little taste of some cow flesh, but we say ignore what your mama always taught you and fill up on salad instead.
Pasion del Cielo
If you ever find yourself half-naked in a Coral Gables condo at 10 p.m., grinding your teeth and picking your scabs, you have a problem. You need caffeine and you need it badly. But there's a bigger problem. Your usual supplier, Starbucks, has already closed for the night. Ditto for Barnes & Noble. Even your supersecret, emergency espresso supply has been consumed. Now, where in hell are you gonna get some high-grade java in this neighborhood at this time of night? Hit Pasión del Cielo. Open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the week, Pasión has beans from almost every Latin American producer: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. And like you, this place is dangerously crazy for coffee. Every single dose is custom-ground, using dedicated grinders for each country's coffee in order to, in the words of the store's corporate pamphlet, "prevent flavor contamination and to electronically dose the exact amount and coarseness level." Plus Pasión's menu offers fixes of almost every kind, including $1.55 espresso shots, $1.75 coladas, and $2.60 large coffees. There's even a ton of soft-core stuff such as peach-strawberry sparkles, chai tea lattés, and mocha-chip frappés. The craziest part, though: Anytime between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., this coffeehouse delivers hot black stuff directly to the doors of teeth-grinding, scab-picking, condo-dwelling java junkies all over Coral Gables.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®