Best French Restaurant 2012 | Le Provencal Restaurant | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

If you want great cuisine, look for great chefs. If you want great French cuisine, look for great French chefs. Le Provençal's chef Christian Antoniotti began his career at Hotel Restaurant Le Provençal in Cassis and then moved to four-star hotels in France and Switzerland as well as celebrated dining establishments in England. He moved to Miami in 1984 and began working at Chez Maurice, which in 1988 would become Le Provençal Restaurant. One of the chefs there, Jean-Pierre Terrou, had graduated from the Souillac Culinary School and worked at the Michelin-starred La Ferme de Mougins in Cannes, and later came up with foie gras recipes at Rougie Foie-Gras in Sarlat, France — where the world's most renowned foie gras is created. Locals, however, will probably recall him from Le Festival Restaurant in Coral Gables, which was at one time the finest French dining establishment in Miami-Dade. Terrou moved to Le Provençal in 2002, and Le Provençal moved to its current Miracle Mile location in 2009. France Guillou, the president and manager of the venue, completes the trio of veteran professionals who make dining here such a seriously rewarding experience. Most starters are under $15 and most main courses cost less than $30, but the restaurant runs a three-course $35 prix fixe dinner menu that changes monthly. For June, the first course is a choice of duck pâté with orange essence or goat cheese tartlet with herbs. The second round includes rooster in red wine sauce with mushrooms and smoked bacon, grilled lamb chops with basil and sun-dried tomatoes, and Alaskan salmon fillet stuffed with spinach, garlic, and lemon sabayon. Dessert options encompass delights such as fresh strawberries with Grand Marnier and whipped cream, and chocolate lava cake. The regional French wine list runs deep, the Provençe-inspired décor is as pretty and charming as the former first lady of France, and the comforting country fare is as impressive as the resumés of those who cook it.

Egg & Dart is dressed in shades of white — ceiling, columns, organic clay walls, and lacquered tabletops. A Brazilian cherry-wood bar and an Indonesian teak communal table add warmth. There's no obligatory wall mural of the Greek Isles here. Nor are there ouzo-fueled lunatics smashing plates on the floor or tossing napkins in the air. Egg & Dart is a contemporary urban restaurant with the same hip and sophisticated ambiance as any other; it just happens to serve incredibly tasty rustic Greek food. Proprietors Costa Grillas and Niko Theodorou are experienced hands. The former earned his stripes at Maria's, which has been serving Grecian fare for close to 30 years; the Theodorou family also owns and operates Sea Satin Market, a waterfront restaurant in Mykonos. Their collaboration yields a menu of all the foods we've come to love — shrimp saganaki, fried smelts, a textbook horiatiki salad, the obligatory mezze dips (melitzanosalata, skordalia, taramosalata, tzatziki), and a slew of items wood-grilled to smoky delectability (octopus, calamari, whole fish, double lamb chops — need we say more?). The wine list is globally savvy and eminently affordable: some 40 bottles range from $27 to $60. Cocktails are $9 and include a gin-based "Greek salad" of tomato water and muddled cucumber that's garnished with feta-stuffed kalamata olives. Fine food and drink in a fun, stylish setting. This Egg & Dart hits the bull's-eye.

Myriad problems face Greece, but the quality of the gyro is not among them. And Miami is a first-class example. Greco Boys Grill serves moist, meaty wedges of highly seasoned pork, sliced from the ever-rotating cylinder up front and then plunked onto a soft, warm, puffy pita bread with ripe tomatoes, crisp onion rings, and freshly made tzatziki sauce. There is nothing like it — except the chicken gyro, which is very much like the pork version and equally delectable. The gyros (and wonderful souvlaki too) get served with smiles by an especially friendly crew in the bright, cheery dining room (there's an outdoor patio in back too). It's $6.95 per gyro or $11.95 with salad and choice of French fries or rice, which is affordable to even those dealing in drachmas — um, we mean euros.

Our theory is this: The best bagels are made the old-fashioned way, meaning yeast-risen, boiled, and baked on wooden planks in an oven with rotating shelves. That's not how it's done at the new-fangled bagel chains, which skip the boiling altogether in favor of a light mist while baking. That process leads to soft, light crusts instead of crisp, bronzed ones. Henry Herzbrun is an old-time bagelmeister. At Bagel Express, which he and wife Maria have owned for more than 20 years, the difference can be gleaned from the first bite. All the basic flavors are here: sesame, poppy, garlic, onion, salt, egg, pumpernickel, everything, and plain — as well as cinnamon-raisin, whole wheat, and eight-grain. Regular or low-fat cream cheese comes in flavors too (chive, vegetable, Nova Scotia salmon, and honey-walnut). Fresh, hand-sliced nova lox is on hand, as are Boar's Head deli sandwiches on bagels, buttery rugelach, and Dr. Brown's sodas. A single bagel is $1.35; a baker's dozen is $11.95. They come with holes in them, but our theory does not.

When Mexican food gets fussy, we frown and ponder with dismay that it is considered "nouveau" cuisine. We like our Mexican cheap, easy, and cheesy, without any fusion or confusion. This is exactly what Alma Mexicana serves — casual, homestyle fare that's fast and tastes damn good. Occupying a former tattoo parlor, Alma appeals more to a clientele interested in indulging wicked cravings than to those who frequent healthful fast-casual chains. It's small but cozy; you can dine-in, or if you prefer to lick the escaped fillings of a burrito off your fingers, have it delivered and eat every last morsel in privacy. Stop in anytime for a Mex fix. There are breakfast burritos ($6) with beans, eggs, cheese, and a choice of tocino (bacon), papas (potatoes), chorizo (sausage), or bistec (steak). Then there's the notorious "smothered burrito," doused in a house-made green chili sauce and covered in melted cheese ($9.25). It's almost impossible to choose one among crusty tortas ($7.50), simple quesadillas ($6), and "super" nachos that are so overloaded with cheese and thin slices of carne that they appear to be sliding off the plate ($10.25). Or you can make your own taco combo starting with corn tortillas topped with onions and fresh sprigs of cilantro ($2.50 per taco). Try the seasoned shredded chicken, the veggie, or both pork renditions — pastór (marinated chunks) and traditional carnitas. Grab a Mexican Coke or horchata to complete the experience.

Miami boasts a solid percentage of Nicaraguans. That means in addition to the great Cuban and Argentine joints around town, there are places such as Fritanga Montelimar. At this Kendall cafeteria, you can eat yourself silly without the bother of pretentious restaurant frills. You stand in line and wait your turn to let the ladies behind the counter ask, "¿Que quieres, niña?" They serve your food on Styrofoam plates, and you eat it with plastic utensils. It's like elementary school all over again — with better grub, of course. The tasty and affordable home-cooked comida here dazzles. For $10, you'll enjoy a delicious meal and feel like you have five new Nicaraguan abuelitas. Grilled pork, sweet 'n' sour lengua, plátanos, and indio viejo (corn and pork stew) will get your mouth watering. And if they don't, you should probably get that checked out. It's the kind of place where you're allowed to get messy, and if need be, scoop up the sauces with bread (and your hands). Homemade chimichurri and gallo pinto (rice and red beans) will make you think, Why did I not find this place sooner? It's OK. That's why we're here.

Miami has no shortage of excellent hotel restaurants, from Zuma to Hakkasan to DB Bistro Moderne. But Tudor House is different from the rest. For one, it is located in what used to be the lobby of the Tudor Hotel (now Dream South Beach Hotel) — a charming little deco dining room, but not exactly the Fontainebleau. It is cozier and more personal than the larger hotel restaurants and thus friendlier to locals. Service is sharp, cocktails are smooth, and the cuisine — conceptualized by New York star chef Geoffrey Zakarian and orchestrated with aplomb by chef/partner Jamie DeRosa — is on par with that of the bigger players. Pretzel rolls that start the meal are reason enough for a visit, but what defines this fare is the impeccably delicate preparation of flawlessly sourced ingredients. Pea soup exemplifies the style: a warm bright-green purée perked with lime marshmallows, crunchy English peas, and aromatic coriander seeds. Ethereal entrées are plated with no less precision — from black grouper cheeks in a colorful playpen of baby vegetables to branzino fillets flashed with fava beans and Cerignola olives. A most welcome distinction between Tudor and the skyscraper hotel restaurants might well be the price: Main courses start at $21, and few rise above $30.

Photo courtesy of Blue Collar

Want to protest unreasonable restaurant prices (you know, $14 apps, $34 entrées, $9 desserts)? Occupy Blue Collar. That is, sit your tired, working-class behind in one of the 25 indoor seats (or take a seat outdoors if you like). Express your unwavering support of value-driven, friendly neighborhood restaurants by indulging in a plate of eggs and beans with smoky bacon and Berkshire sausage, Big Easy-style shrimp and grits with Nueske's bacon, a bowl of tagliolini with pancetta and clams, or crisp-skinned snapper with rock-shrimp/vegetable fried rice. All dishes are under $20 (except "white collar" weekend specials), and there are 20 — count 'em, 20 — vegetable sides listed on the chalkboard for $4 apiece. A can of salt-of-the-earth Pabst Blue Ribbon or Coors Light goes for $3, and craft brews are $5. An unlimited thermos of Panther coffee can be gulped for $3 and matches well with homemade berry cobbler ($7). If taking a political stand always tasted this good, the one percent would be working for us.

Times have been tough in Miami. Gas prices keep going up, the cost of living is through the roof, and our wages haven't gotten any higher. But we still have to eat — and if we can, eat well. That's why Plate is here. It's the perfect spot to grab a breakfast wrap or hearty lunch for a very decent price. Plate is adamant about keeping things high on the health scale, so you know the food won't add to your waistline. How does turkey picadillo with brown rice sound? Good, right? It costs $5.95. That just went from good to amazing in two seconds. Whole-wheat pan con lechón for just a little more than six bucks is a must. Grab one of the signature smoothies, such as the Coral Way (with OJ, strawberries, banana, and fat-free yogurt), to wash down your nutritious, inexpensive meal. Let's put it this way: At Plate, you'd have to try hard to make a lunch for two cost more than $20.

— I'm so glad we could get together at this cozy little 24-seater for our tête-à-tête.

— You can thank my shrink; he told me to quit having intimate dinners for two unless there was another person around.

— It's such a charming room, dimly lit with a chandelier and flickering candles, decorated family photos on the walls. It makes me think I'm dining at home. And the service is so personal; they really seem to care about each diner. Shall we start with a drink?

— I thought you'd never ask.

— Paul Goerg Blanc De Blancs champagne is served by the glass. Let's each have one and share a crispy duck confit salad with grilled apricots ($15) while we decide what to eat.

— If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it probably needs more time in the microwave.

— Ha-ha, very funny. But I was hoping we could cut down on the jokes tonight and have a serious, personal discussion. First let's decide the menu. The flavors are intense here. A lot of the ingredients used by chefs Horacio Rivadero and Christian Alvarez are locally sourced and organic.

— I like organic farmers. They till it like it is.

— The vanilla butternut squash soup ($11), by the way, is to die for. Plus I've had the pan-roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes and morel mushrooms ($22). It's divine.

— I'm just wondering: Do chickens think rubber humans are funny?

— Can't you be serious for a second? I mean, that's really what I wanted to discuss with you tonight. I can't go on like this. We come to this most romantic of places and all you can do is make inane wisecracks. We're through. Do you understand? I mean, we'll have our meal first, of course — I'm not giving that up for you — but then that's it. And believe me, I will never go out with a comedy writer again. Never!

— So two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®