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 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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®