Che Tano
Argentines are recognized for their meat. In fact, you can find a parrillada serving loads of churrasco, sausage, and ribs in almost any Miami neighborhood. Argentine bakeries are not as ubiquitous, although they should be. Somehow, while the rest of the Hispanic world never thought to venture past chicken and beef empanada fillings, Argentines boldly went where no Latino had gone before. Che Tano celebrates this diversity by offering about 18 kinds of empanadas — double that if you count the fact that you can choose either baked or fried. Think of all the wonderful options: corn, cheese and onions, tuna, and ham, cheese, and hardboiled egg — the list seems endless. While variety might be the spice of life, let's not forget there is still value in tradition. After all is said and done, the beef empanadas (baked and fried) at Che Tano are the stuff that dreams are made of.
In the mainland United States, we have baseball, apple pie, and mom. Substitute mofongo for apple pie and you have a fairly good working list of priorities in Puerto Rico. The Boricua specialty — a heaping mound of mashed fried green plantains studded with crisp pork cracklings — has many incarnations across the island: drenched in tomato sauce, loaded with garlic and onions, or topped with chicken or beef, lobster, or shrimp. Luckily for Miami, mainstay Puerto Rican eatery Old San Juan has just about every variation on the menu. The mofongo con pollo brings a garlicky grilled strip of chicken topped with caramelized onions next to the soft mound of mofongo; order the pulpo and you'll get tender tendrils of octopus with your fried plantains, or the shrimp for a pile of buttery crustaceans on the side. Old San Juan serves its mofongo with a traditional cup of chicken broth for sipping and dipping. Bring a friend — the portions are huge, so even though you're sampling mofongo in the States, there's no way you'll have room for apple pie afterward.
Mario's Latin Cafe
A Cuban sandwich — that majestic combination of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and pickles — is supposed to be so massive that you can't finish the whole thing. Most restaurants today offer a smaller, contemporary version, but for those of you with a hankering for an old-school sandwich, fear not. Mario's Latin Café on South Dixie Highway in Homestead still serves a heart-attack stack of deli meats and cheese on some of the freshest, softest Cuban bread in town, all for less than $6, 24 hours a day (closed Sunday). Go on — feast like a beast. Your ancestors will be proud.
Ricky Bakery II
Do not confuse croqueta with croque monsieur — the French grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich — although two traditional fillings of croquetas are indeed ham and cheese. A croqueta likewise has little to do with croquant, which is French for "crunchy," or with croquembouche, a dessert named for the translation "crisp in mouth." Yet the croquetas at Ricky Bakery are very much crisp in the mouth, owing to the breaded, cleanly fried cylindrical casings. Or maybe it is more accurate to say they have some crunch upon first bite, but then the creaminess of the filling takes over. This is true of whatever flavor you choose, be it bacalao (not too fishy), spinach (a unique croqueta filling, and one you shouldn't miss), chicken, cheese, or ham. You can grab them hot from the fryer at opening time (6 in the morning) or at various hours during the day; the cook will also fry 'em to order if you ask. Do not confuse Ricky's croquetas with any others around town. These are better.
El Bocaito
Adrianne D'Angelo
The term tapas derives from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover." This jibes with at least one history of tapas, which has it that the snack originated as pieces of bread that Andalusians placed atop their sherry glasses to prevent fruit flies from diving in. Sometimes meat, such as ham or chorizo, were used as well; the saltiness increased beverage sales. Another version claims King Alfonso X of Castille, after recuperating from illness via a diet of wine with small dishes of food, decreed that all taverns must serve small bites with drinks. A third rendition of the word's origin is that the owner of El Bocaito, which took over the former Xixón space on Coral Way, invented them last year. Granted, this last theory hasn't gained much traction among historians, but head to this cozy Spanish taverna and sample the chorizo al infierno (with red wine), pulpo vinaretta (marinated octopus), bolaitos de cangrejo (crab fritters), salmorejo Cordobés (cold soup with egg and Serrano ham); almejas a la marinera (baby clams in white wine sauce), or any of the extensive selections ($5 to $12 each), and you're liable to forget about prior versions. This is especially true if you have a few glasses of wine with your meal.
Taqueria El Carnal
If tacos — somewhat shaped like mouths — could talk, there would be an argument of such epic proportions that every Mexican restaurant would be forced to give out free earplugs. The (marinated) beef would be between the Tex-Mex version of fast-food chains and the simple, authentic, ungarnished magic offered at a place such as El Carnal. The first, drowning in a sea of sour cream and iceberg lettuce, would be screaming for help, unsure of its identity as it resembles only a shell (a hard, fried one at that) of what it was in Mexico. The second would brag about its slow-marinated carne asada; pineapple-grilled pork al pastor; and seasoned cuts of tongue served in corn tortillas with an assortment of simple sauces from which to choose ($2). It would have all the reason to be smug, self-righteous, and pretentious in its defense of all that is authentic, but — served at a hole-in-the-wall street-food joint with space for only a handful of customers — it would choose instead to be simply welcoming.
She stared dejectedly at the empty basket in front of her. "It's gone. It's really gone." No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't fathom how she had fit that entire burrito — almost the size of an infant — inside her petite frame. "I just couldn't stop eating. I tried, but I just couldn't stop." We know, honey. All day long, stupefied customers sit in similar states of awe. The prices at Cantina are cheap (burritos range from $5 to about $8), but the ingredients are almost farm-fresh, the large pizza-size tortillas are made in front of you, and there's a plethora of burrito stuffers. Ingredients include spinach leaves, jalapeños, three kinds of beans, melted cheese sauce or fresh cheese, tomatoes, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, banana peppers, red onions, and on and on. Cantina even offers brown rice and wheat tortillas for those so inclined. Douse your burrito with a half-dozen sauces from the delightful salsa bar. Most important, try the salsa verde, which might be the top tomatillo sauce in town.
Don Toston & Dona Arepa
Like Valentine's Day mystery chocolates or great novels, it's what's on the inside that counts when it comes to arepas. Sure, a good one calls for a perfectly charred and crunchy corn shell. But any half-decent cook who has wandered through Caracas or Bogotá can get that right. No, it's the fillings that really make the arepa. And Doña Arepa, as her name suggests, knows how to stuff 'em. A storefront in a bustling strip mall just west of the Palmetto Expressway on Flagler Street, Don Toston y Doña Arepa is a cute little eatery with rubber banana leaves for napkin holders and tropically painted walls. The arepas, which cost less than $5 (except a $5.95 shrimp version), come with the usual cheese, chicken, and shredded beef, but there's also reina pepiada (chicken salad with avocado), perico (eggs, tomatoes, and onions), and the sinful huevo frito con jamón (yup, fried egg and ham). But beyond compare might be the simple lechón — the succulent pork juices soak perfectly into the arepa dough.
Dim Ssam A Gogo
Alex Broadwell
In the land of the food truck court, Dim Ssäm à GoGo is king. It also rules over the court of public opinion, as measured by the most scientific means possible: Lines are longer than those at any other truck. This speaks to the good taste of the masses. Peasants, royalty, serfs, and surfers alike queue up for Kurobuta pork belly bao buns with chili sauce; spicy tater tots; Korean fried chicken; kimchi egg rolls; and gingered Brussels sprouts. All items cost $8 or less."Munch and move on!" is the motto, and we dutifully do so. Richard Hales is the driving force behind Dim Ssäm. He also owns the restaurant Sakaya Kitchen and a second, monster Sakaya Kitchen food truck. We, the hungry masses, are grateful.
Ms. Cheezious Food Truck
Dear Ms. Cheezious:

We're a little embarrassed. It's been a really long time since we were crushing bad enough to write an anonymous love letter. But we just needed to tell you: You are freakin' sexy! And, like back in the day, when we were just a young teen trying to conceal ill-timed wood in math class, we can hardly (see what we did there?) conceal our true feelings. Sure, you roll around town, day after day, clad in your polka-dot bikini and heels, a tatted-up, blond bombshell on wheels. And that's hot. But that's not even it. It's the way you play with our emotions that really turns us on. Flaunting your crabby cheese melt on sourdough, with its freshly made crab salad and oozing sharp cheddar, for only $8. Teasing us with cheesy delights such as that grilled harvest with spiced apples and Havarti on multigrain ($7) or the grilled blue and bacon ($7). On top of all that, you let us have our way with you too. You give us our choice of bread and cheeses including cheddar, Swiss, Gruyère, Brie, or provolone, plus add-ons like prosciutto, tomato, and tavern ham. Oh, you saucy minx, you! You've been a very, very naughty girl.

With cheese wood, BOM

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®