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.
Bombay Darbar
Photo courtesy of Bombay Darbar
Fans of burn-your-face-off Indian cuisine might not head to Bombay Darbar first, but the average connoisseur of Indian food in Florida knows there are good eats at this relatively new eatery, which took over the site where Anokha, another Indian restaurant, was located. Those who appreciate freedom of choice will be thankful the menu includes everything from savory lamb biryani (a rice dish, $16.95) to scorching vindaloos ($14.95 to $17.95), moist and vibrant tandoori meats, popular butter chicken ($16.95), and more vegetarian dishes than you can shake a papadam at. Spice profiles range from tame to smack-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally! Then there's nothing like an order of Darbar's gulab jamun — doughnuts drenched in sweet rose syrup — which is worth every cavity. We also love the restaurant's petite size, the bejeweled wall décor, and the coveted outdoor tables. All around, Bombay Darbar is a sweet and spicy addition to Miami's ethnic food scene.

Best Expensive Italian Restaurant

Cioppino

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Jonathan++Postal
A+slice+of+Tuscany+served+in+a+simply+stunning+setting
Listen, we Miami gals aren't interested in your dumb let's-hit-a-pizza-stand-and-eat-dinner-on-the-curb idea. We didn't spend a few thou on these Cavalli dresses and snakeskin Louboutins to be dining like the help. Take us to Cioppino if you really want to impress us. How 'bout we start with the burrata ($20) and then maybe a calamari steak ($36)? Or maybe the organic chicken entrée ($40) will be easier for you to digest. Craving some pasta? Us too. The foiade, pappardelle, and gnocchi are only $24, but let's go for the risotto with shrimp and saffron ($28). You do know quality saffron can cost about $80 an ounce, right? But that's not enough food for us, honey, so let's keep ordering. Hmm. How about the signature dish ($38) or the osso buco? It's only $45. Wine? Of course! And we'll have to celebrate our union with some champagne. Shall we have them pop a cork of Dom rosé, or do we go for the Krug? All of these decisions are making us dizzy, darling. Perhaps you should get that AmEx Centurion card out, 'cause this meal is gonna cost you, and we have to go powder my nose. Don't balk at the bill, Daddy. We'll make it up to you after dessert.
Ristorante Fratelli Milano
George Martinez
Your knowledge of Italian-American culture is way extensive thanks to Jersey Shore, The Godfather, and The Sopranos, but do you really know good food of this persuasion? Prepare to bow down and scream, "We're not worthy!" as soon as you taste the food at downtown's Fratelli Milano. This small bistro is simply decorated with classic dark wood styling and banquettes. Milano serves fresh, homemade pastas such as fiocchi di pera e taleggio ($16) — pear-and-taleggio-cheese-stuffed pasta that is creamy with a hint of soft sweetness and panna cotta good enough to make you fist-pump. If you're watching carb intake, opt for the soup of the day ($6) or signature salad ($8), which is the only salad on the menu. But you won't be complaining once you've tasted the balsamic dressing. You can also opt to add prosciutto because, like its American cousin bacon, pig meat makes everything better. The most expensive dish on the menu, filetto con speck — pan-roasted filet mignon wrapped in speck and pooled in wine sauce — comes in at just $20. After your pilgrimage to this minor Miami mecca of Italian cuisine, you will be one step closer to becoming as authentically Italian as Snooki herself.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®