Confucio Express Chinese Gourmet Cuisine

Operating out of a remodeled gas station on the corner of Coral Way, Confucio Express serves "Chinese gourmet cuisine" created by a bunch of Colombians. Almost a half-century ago, owner José Choi's Chinese immigrant parents landed in Barranquilla, opened a fancy food spot called Jardines de Confucio, and taught their kid how to run a restaurant. He mastered the wok, the deep fryer, and the flat-top grill while shuttling back and forth between the States and Colombia. But for the past seven years, Choi has been a full-time South Florida guy, managing a local outpost of his parents' restaurant in Fontainebleau (10658 NW Seventh St., Miami 33172; 305-228-9272) while also working with the entire Confucio Express crew — including co-owner Carlos Visbal and a superfast kitchen staff — to bang out big batches of Latin-influenced Chinese take-out for Brickell's hungry masses. The ideal order starts with a massive serving of Choi's signature dish, Confucio special fried rice ($13.50), loaded with succulent chunks of sliced barbecued pork, two fistfuls of plump shrimp, and big, juicy cubes of seared ham. Then add some scorching Szechuan soup ($4), six honey-garlic chicken wings ($9.50), crunchy crab rangoon ($7), and a whole pound of spicy Mongolian chicken ($11.80). Of course, you'll have to invite ten friends over to help you finish it all off. These are family recipes — the helpings are huge. Do not eat alone.

Hong Kong House

Sometimes you don't want to cook, but you crave something hearty, surprising, and flavorful. And you have only $8.25 in your pocket. God bless the no-frills Chinese take-out joint. Hong Kong House boasts a superfriendly and quick staff, and has a quiet cult following in North Miami that troops there for the roast-pork fried rice, which features plump squares of meat and is delightfully free of grease. Or they — who are we fooling? — we stuff our faces with the beautifully addictive "krab" rangoon, fried goodness full of fake crab, cream cheese, and scallion-like spices. Dammit, there we go again, making ourselves hungry. If you'll excuse us, we're going to see how much money we have buried in our couch.

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When it comes to flapjacks, you can't beat City Hall. The three-stack of steaming-hot plain pancakes ($11) is lusciously infused with sugar, vanilla, and enough butter to make a crêpe jealous. Real maple syrup is served. Other varieties of hotcakes include chocolate chip ($12.50), blueberry ($13), and banana pecan ($13). A great plate of pancakes deserves an equally worthy cup of coffee. And this bi-level American brasserie delivers a strong brew of Lavazza. As we say, you can't beat City Hall, but you can beat it over there and enjoy the breakfast.

If you don't know about this little sandwich shop/shake stand, you probably didn't grow up in West Hialeah. You don't come here for the scenery or seating. It's standing room only against a wall inside. But the food is tasty, and the prices are simply ridiculous: Sandwiches are all under $5, and most are under $3. That includes what many believe is the finest pan con bistec in South Florida. You can also catch a mean pan con lechón, pan con chorizo, grilled chicken breast on a soft white bun, as well as pan con ajo (garlic bread) and pan con ajo y tomate (Cuban bread toasted with garlic and tomato). S & N Vegetables is likewise known as "El Mejor Batido de Hialeah," and when you sip on a mamey, mango, or passionfruit shake, you'll understand why. Fresh-squeezed fruit juices are great too; we're partial to the "Suspiro," which is juice blended with milk. Service is so fast it sometimes seems as though the food arrives before you finish ordering. Cash only!

Clive's Cafe

At nearly 40 years old, this Wynwood institution is the longest-running eatery of its kind in the city, and the most centrally located, right next to the Electric Pickle and up the block from the Shops at Midtown. Pearline Murray and her late husband Clifford opened Clive's (named for their now-middle-aged son) in the mid-'70s, when their clientele consisted primarily of local factory workers. The neighborhood has changed considerably since then — for the worse and then for the better. So has the menu. Clive's initially served typical American diner fare, and its old-fashioned luncheonette counter is perfectly preserved. While there's still some evidence of Clive's greasy-spoon past on the menu (tuna fish sandwiches and BLTs) diners flock primarily for Clive's reliably tasty spins on classic Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken, curry goat, and oxtail. Whatever you order, be sure to get a side of steamed vegetables. Clive's peppery variation on this Caribbean dinner staple is the most flavorful you will ever taste.

Narcobollo

The legend starts like this: In a quiet house on a tranquil Cartagena street, a family began cooking up bollo de yuca — a coastal Caribbean delicacy of mashed yuca boiled in corn husks — and selling it to neighbors. The dish was so good that customers soon were coming and going all day with brown bags of the stuff. Narco cops noticed the traffic, and — it being Colombia — they couldn't believe all the fuss was over some boiled yuca. So they raided the house, sliced open every bollo, and found nothing more than Cartagena's best budget lunch. To mock the authorities, the owners rechristened the joint "Narcobollo." Doral's outpost of the Cartagena standby doesn't just have a ludicrously entertaining backstory; it's also Miami-Dade's best spot for mouthwatering Colombian delicacies. The unassuming room in a Doral strip mall serves arepas con huevo and arepas con queso for a couple of bucks each, heaping plates of sweet arroz con coco, and for just $6, a multiplate bandeja paisa feast of rice, arepas, eggs, and plantains. Don't tell the DEA!

PM Fish & Steak House

"Inspired by the nostalgia of the finest Argentine cuisine," goes the tag line for one of downtown Miami's newest hot spots, PM Fish & Steak House. No trumpets heralded the arrival of this modern steak-and-seafood house, but word of mouth and social networking led to enormous popularity from day one. The PM stands for Puerto Madero, the name of a port district of Buenos Aires, and for PM Restaurants, a group with a modest portfolio of venues from Mexico to Miami. The food might be inspired by nostalgia, but the décor is a decidedly contemporary mix of brick, dark hardwood floors, and urban industrial accents. Yet what makes PM special isn't just the pretty room and boisterous Brickell crowd; it's the consistently well-prepared cuisine — Argentine and otherwise. Starters ($4 to $12) include seared chorizo sausage; grilled provoleta cheese; crisp turnovers stuffed with spiced meat, fresh tuna, or black cod; and a shrimp/octopus stew with potatoes and olives that is so divine it will make you literally cry for Argentina. The prime steaks come in American cuts — tenderloin, New York strip, rib eye — but are assertively seasoned and grilled with the requisite gaucho spirit. There are no hash browns or French fries, but rather the PM specialty of souffléed potatoes — those classic French-style, crisp, air-filled spud pillows that are rare in these parts. We haven't mentioned the array of raw bar items (including oysters on the half-shell and a live, giant chocolata clam!), the carpaccio (including "veal carpaccio alla Parmesan"), the tartare (tuna, salmon, striped bass), the sashimi and whole grilled fish du jour (entrées run $15 to $38), or the extensive wine list and cocktails. There's a lot going on at PM, and all of it is going really well.

Sawaddee Thai-Sushi

In Thailand, diners eat with either chopsticks or a spoon. No knife is placed on the table, and the fork is to be used only to push food onto the spoon. That's a revelation to most first-time travelers from the West, much like the fried basil duck, shrimp pad thai, green papaya salad, and red curry pork are to those who visit Sawaddee Thai-Sushi. Native Thai owners Mariam and Montri Putlek have been putting out an extensive menu of specialties for almost six years from the little 16-seater off Normandy Drive in Miami Beach. The fare is fresh, authentic, and a little spicy — but you can request your desired degree of piquancy. Prices are as friendly as the staff: $3.95 to $6.95 for soups and $10.95 to $15.95 for noodle, rice, and protein dishes. You save even more money via the BYOB policy with no corkage fee. Plus you're allowed to eat with a fork.

Hy Vong

Come one, come all, but don't come starving. The service at this Vietnamese gourmet hole in the wall on Calle Ocho is famous for its friendliness, not its speed. This ain't McDonald's. Hy Vong is owned and operated by a Vietnamese mother-daughter team and has been cooking to order since it opened in 1980. But regulars and first-timers unanimously agree the unique squash-and-pumpkin soup ($3.50) and beef tongue (if you dare) sautéed with ginger ($6) make the wait more than worthwhile. Yes, all you pho fans, Hy Vong has it too, though not as much of it as some other Vietnamese joints. As for entrées, duck breast with black currant dressing, kingfish in yellow curry sauce, and thit kho pork in coconut milk are among the numerous can't-go-wrong options. Once you're addicted to Hy Vong's fresh and authentic cuisine, you can take advantage of the restaurant's industrious method of continuously feeding your habit: its prepared meal service. They'll make you prepackaged microwavable dinners for a week whenever you're having a lazy spell. Just give them a day's notice. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 6 to 11 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Guru Fine Indian Cuisine

Once you're tucked into this comfy little den in South Beach, you'll forget about the riffraff and party buzz outside on the dingy sidewalks of Washington Avenue. The lights are low, the candles are lit, and it's time to order some nan. If you've worked up an appetite paddling on the surf a few blocks away, Guru's cool mango lassi with sweet cardamom and salted cumin is a refreshing way to revive yourself — and your eyes will appreciate a break from the blinding sun. Snag one of the few cushioned wicker chairs for maximum relaxation. Selections, served from 5:30 to 11 p.m., include chicken makhani (Guru's specialty boneless chicken in a creamy tomato sauce, $15.90) and Kashmiri rogan josh (lamb curry with ginger, fennel, and chiles, $17.90). Curried jalapeño crabcakes, chaat wafers, tandoori fish, shrimp korma, lamb vindaloo, and saag paneer are just a few of the choices that round out the menu. Vegetarian? Guru has plenty for you. Vegan? You're covered; just be sure to ask about dairy, etc., in the entrées you're ordering — some dishes include cheese but don't say so on the menu.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®