The Pit Bar-B-Q
Sometimes you have to ask yourself the important questions, like "Sauce or no sauce?" and "Ribs or chicken?" Your answer will likely depend on several factors, including ethnicity, geographic location, and your BBQ: bare-fisted barbecue quotient. Those who tip the scale at barbecue genius have been frequenting the Pit on Calle Ocho for eons. Whether you make a scheduled stop on your way to the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park or just drive there on a whim, you won't be disappointed. Aside from standard American barbecue fare, you can also sate your inner carnivore by feasting on tender, perfectly cooked churrasco. Prices are reasonable too. Less than $10 will buy you a fine meal. Driving out to the Pit is a bit of a trek even for those who live in the southwest corner of Miami, but you and your loved ones will be treated to some of the meatiest sauceless barbecue ribs anyone has seen since The Flintstones. Even Fred would be jealous.
Pega Grill
What characteristics make a salad great? A refreshing taste. A bit of a kick, usually from the acid in the dressing. Contrasting textures. Crunch. Sass. Wetness. Freshness. A solid salad is salubrious — it sates the appetite, awakens a tired soul, and braces the spirit like a breeze of fresh air on a plate. Pega Grill's Greek salad is all that — and more, if you get it with a chicken gyro add-on. The tomato wedges are ripe and red as fire engines; cucumbers, green peppers, and red onions add crispness and color; tart, soft feta cheese is crumbled on top, and the olive oil/red wine vinegar/oregano dressing binds it. Morsels of moist, well-seasoned gyro chicken pump protein and a whole lot of taste into the medley. Wedges of baguette come on the side. A small salad, which really is regular size, is $5.95; the large, which really is large, is $9.95. Chicken gyro meat is $2.95 extra.
Tratoria Rosalia's
Aran S Graham
Bruschetta originated as a way of salvaging bread that was going stale. Americans have come to think of this central Italian snack as toast topped with tomato salad, but at its very heart, the stuff is simply grilled or roasted bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. At Trattoria Rosalia (sister to Carpaccio in Bal Harbour and other Italian restaurants around South Florida), slices of the toasted Tuscan bread are capped with chopped ripe tomatoes dressed with garlic, basil, olive oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar — plus lush additions of mozzarella cheese and razor-thin prosciutto. It's all piled high and makes a great appetizer ($9.25). Let's be real: When it comes to using old bread, Rosalia's bruschetta kicks any crouton's ass.
The duet of fried tetrahedrons plated at Thali Indian & Thai is only one reason to visit this South Beach newcomer. Owner Denis Nazareth of Mumbai offers a menu filled with a plethora of cuisine from the headlining countries, including the namesake thali plates: a traditional Hindu compilation of small bowls filled with vegetables, dal, chutney, and other bites served with rice or bread ($10.99 to $14.99). But the samosas are emblematic of the exuberant freshness of fare here. Plus they are more than generous. The $4.99 pair is packed with mashed, spiced potato and flecked with onions, peas, coriander, and tidbits of boiled potato. Tamarind and mint dips add to the joy, as do the Asian music and ambiance — a real Thali high!
Soi Asian Bistro
Michael McElroy
Four things you might not know about curry: (1) The origin of the word is traced to the Tamil term kari. (2) The first commercial curry powder appeared around 1780. (3) There are more Indian restaurants in London than in Mumbai and Delhi combined. (4) Massaman curry at Soi Asian Bistro has no equal in Miami. The meltingly soft beef sops up the rich, mildly spicy, coconut-based curry sauce and absorbs the aromatics of cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. Cashews and luscious lumps of potato add texture, steamed rice comes on the side, and slices of ripe avocado fan across the top. There are plenty of other winsome dishes at this spry little 30-seater, but none will curry your favor like the Massaman ($10.75 ).
Yuga
Yuga, which debuted in Coral Gables in 2006, translates to "elegance" — a perfect word to describe the food and décor. Owned and operated by the same family behind the wonderful Lan Pan Asian Café in Kendall's Dadeland Station, it specializes in East and Southeast Asian cuisine. Specifically, Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and an occasional traipse into the Philippines. More specifically, pristine sushi/sashimi selections; potstickers and spring rolls ($5.50 each); kimchi ($3.75); spicy tom yum goong soup with shrimp and lemongrass ($4.95); crispy lamb ribs ($10.95); and smoky octopus salad ($10.95). Plus noodles, rice dishes, curries, and a compact selection of California wines, Japanese beers, and premium sakes from microbreweries. Yuga, along with its talented chef/partner Johnson Teh, is one of Miami's best-kept secrets. So how come you haven't eaten here yet?
El Exquisito
Photo by Adrianne D'Angelo
According to some expert, somewhere, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. According to us, it's the cheapest. Because this is Miami, you might or might not have a Cuban abuela, but in this town you can always enjoy a full Cuban breakfast for a few bucks. At Exquisito you'll get it for $3.75 before 10:30 a.m. And that includes pan tostada, café, dos huevos, y jamón o croquetas. Or splurge and pay a buck more for an extra side dish. Or plunk down $6.75 for eggs, steak, fries, tostadas, and café con leche. It's just like eating with abuela except without all the questions and the guilt that come from not visiting often enough.
Lotus Garden
Looking for good Thai food in Coral Gables on Friday night? Expect a wait. The Gables has a glut of Thai restaurants, and they get crowded, especially on weekends. But Lotus Garden, on the northwest end of Miracle Mile, is the exception. There's hardly ever a wait, even during the busiest dining hours. And if you're looking for some new-fangled fusion Thai dish, try another spot. But if you want classic Thai cuisine, you won't find better this side of Bangkok. The owners abide by Thai sensibilities, both in presentation and preparation. They eschew the ostentation and concentrate on quality ingredients and family tradition. What you're eating was either prepared by owner Cathy Nguyen or her mother — no exceptions. That means you won't find a fresher pad thai or chicken curry (red, green, panang, or massaman) — notice the crispness of the bamboo shoots in the curry, never a soggy bite and crunchy till the end. Same goes for the duck and fish dishes. Unlike other Thai restaurants that are beholden to Sysco or other suppliers, Lotus Garden buys its ingredients locally. They skin, debone, and steam the duck themselves. The décor is quaint and elegant, like the Mile used to be. It's not a place to be seen. In fact, it's where you go when you want to avoid much of what Miami has become. Just make sure you're hungry — the portions are large enough to give you a Buddha belly.
Jin Jin
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a good Chinese take-out restaurant near home. This is probably why West Kendall residents thank the goddess Fortuna that Jin-Jin is in their hood. The place isn't gourmet or trendy. It simply offers the best Chinese take-out in South Miami-Dade. In fact, there is no means of dining in — Jin-Jin consists entirely of a take-out counter and a magical kitchen. To-die-for pork dumplings ($4.75), crisp vegetable spring rolls ($1.75 to $2.50), and incredibly tasty fried rice ($3.45 to $12.55) set Jin-Jin apart from the competition. Plus the people who run the place are such generous spirits that you'll often find a bonus goody in your take-out box — expect anything from an egg roll to an order of crab Rangoon — and that trumps a Happy Meal toy anytime.
Susie Lai
Alexandra Rincon
Jerry Seinfeld once said, "Where there's Chinese food, there's leftovers." That's not necessarily true with all such restaurants around town, but it's exactly what you get with Susie Lai when you're hankering for some Chinese take-out. This place serves enough Szechuan to keep you fat and giggly for at least half a week. Tucked in the corner of a tiny strip mall in North Miami Beach, the quaint restaurant has been a well-kept secret among the loyal patrons who have frequented it for years. Many Chinese restaurants offer overpriced, cold, minute portions of shriveled pork and chicken that look and eat like cardboard. Susie Lai's food is not only affordable but also piping-hot, delicious, and plentiful. Take-out combo dinners, which include an egg roll and a box of pork-fried rice or natural brown rice, start at $7.95. Try the sweet-and-sour pork or chicken combo ($8.75) or the hardy honey-garlic chicken combo ($9.25). The pepper steak has a mildly spicy kick, and the fried rice is never too oily or undercooked. And unlike other places, Susie Lai has prompt service and a friendly staff. Call to order, and your food will be steaming and waiting for you when you walk through the door. Good food. Large portions. Real cheap. That's the staple of any good Chinese restaurant, and Susie Lai has gobs of it. Hours are Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday 3 to 9:30 p.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®