Mercadito Midtown

Sung to the tune of "Margaritaville":

A shrimp enchilada

Some carne asada

The food at this Mex place is really divine

But along with my meal, uh

I need some tequila

A margarita would really taste fine.

Chorus:

Wastin' away again in Mercaditoville

Sippin' margarita tradicional

Some people claim the michelada's good too

But I know, side-by-side it would pale.

Êl Jimador Blanco

Grand Marnier, fresh lime juice

Plus agave nectar make up the drink

It'll cost you ten-fifty

Add fruit for one-fifty

Add smoke for three bucks and don't even blink.

Chorus:

Wastin' away again in Mercaditoville

Tippling Bros. cocktails are really deelish

Some people say they are the best in town

Bravo! to the mixologish.

Wastin' away again in Mercaditoville

Pop art on the walls is startin' to blur

The waitress says that I should head on home

Maybe I best listen to her.

Barceloneta Miami
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The bloody mary at Barceloneta ($12) is as unique as many of the small plates of Catalan cuisine served at this Spanish bistro. What makes it so is the blending of this cocktail's traditional ingredients — vodka, tomato juice, and sundry seasonings — with gazpacho, the famed chilled tomato-cucumber soup from Andalusia. The coupling of these refreshing liquids is as explosively spicy as Russell Brand and Katy Perry. Scratch that. The pairing of gazpacho and bloody mary is as inspired as that of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. No, wait — it's as unexpected and sprightly as Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. Uh, the pastel color and smoothie-like texture of the cocktail are as delightful as Heidi Klum and Seal. Gaah! Barceloneta is a cool neighborhood spot in South Beach where locals sit over all sorts of creative food and drink; there are six variations of gin and tonic alone. But we're unerringly faithful to the distinctive and delicious bloody mary.

The Blues Bar at the National Hotel

Art deco gem the National Hotel was built in 1939 and, coincidentally, the clock above the bar is stopped at 7:39. For all you conspiracy theorists, 7:39 p.m. is 19:39 in 24-hour time. Legend says the clock stopped there so everyone could go back in time to the golden age of romance and glamour. We say the clock stopped there so it's always martini time. A gin martini arrives with tiny slivers of ice floating on the surface, like the wings of an angel. A shaker at your side provides you with a few more sips of this perfect elixir. Your body (along with your iPhone) tells you you're late for a date, but the clock — oh, that clock — says there's plenty of time for another round.

Tap Tap

Yeah, yeah, we know. The mojito is Cuban. And in a city rich in Cuban influences, we chose Tap Tap, a Haitian restaurant, as having the best mojitos. Just calm down for a second and take a long sip of your drink, will ya? Ahhh, now we're talking. The perfect mixture of sweet and tart, the Tap Tap mojito ($8) is made the old-fashioned way — with freshly muddled mint, pure cane sugar, and squeezed limes (no sucrose-laden mix here). Then, instead of the usual white rum, they add Barbancourt Five-Star Haitian Rhum. This stuff, aged in oak Cognac barrels, gives the mojito depth, character, and one potent kick in the pants. Sorry, Cuba, but with rum so clearly superior, the Haitian mixologists at Tap Tap have beaten you at your own game.

Platano Soup
Photo by Ines Ayra
Platano Soup

Deep in the vast suburban jungle of Kendall lies chef Adrianne Calvo's bistro, named for the vineyard she fantasizes about one day owning. Miami is nowhere near Napa, and the closest winemaker doesn't even use grapes, so you would think the sangria at Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar would be like most sangria in South Florida — a mixture of cheap wine, Juicy Juice, and canned fruit cocktail. It's no wonder, then, that we were floored to taste Calvo's nectar of the gods. Her pomegranate sangria is made with fresh organic juice, cognac, wine, and rum. There's no added sugar, and there's not a bit of nasty fruit cocktail to clutter your glass. Are you the only person on earth who's not into pomegranate (or do you simply not want to stain your new veneers)? Chef Calvo also makes a white sangria with passionfruit and white wine. Both are refreshing and cooling with a surprising little kick. Twelve bucks buys a 16-ounce shareable serving.

Cibo Wine Bar

There's been a lot of fuss over Cibo Wine Bar's unusual method of stowing and salvaging bottles of wine. The temperature-controlled glass "cellar" is stocked with an international laundry list of labels. It's really more of a storage wall, otherwise known as an Enomatic wine dispenser, which allows for dual-temperature control to "modulate temp zones." This means that when Cibo serves your vino, it should be ideal, whether red or white. When an order is placed, the server enters a corresponding bin number into the computerized system so he or she can select the correct bottle the first time. Retrieval involves hoisting the employee 20 feet into the air via a specially designed hydraulic system (very, very tricky). What we like best about the list is the great range available by the glass, making it possible to create your own wine flight appropriate for menu selections. You can begin with a glass of Veneto prosecco ($9) at the bar and then move on to something white for a seafood starter, such as a 2009 Falanghina from Campania (Vinosia, $9). For heavier, more rustic Italian dishes, you can easily commit to a well-priced 2008 Super Tuscan (Brancaia Tre, $12) or treat yourself to something special, such as Antinori Tignanello, a truly superb 2008 Super Tuscan ($45). What else is there to love? Happy hour, which runs seven days a week from 4 to 7 p.m., offers a rotating selection of wines by the glass or bottle at half the cost. The space, like the food it presents, is designed to evoke a sense of unpretentious sophistication and sincerity. Every detail, piece of furniture, and bite has been finely crafted with quality materials.

Café Que Rico
Cafe Que Rico facebook

It's 2 o'clock on a listless, sleepy afternoon. Your brain is shutting down as if it were closing time. But you need to get things done. And, as it happens, you're in the getting-things-done business, so you need a kick. Not just any one, but a good old-fashioned Miami-style café con leche kick. The kind that sends you soaring like a sparrow. So you hit the streets. Sure, you can go to Calle Ocho, but she's grown stale and hard. She tastes like she's been left out all night — like death. "Don't you wanna drink café con leche with me?" she asks. "Not even a little bit," you answer. So you search elsewhere. And then you find it in the last place you were looking, nestled in a strip mall in North Miami Beach of all places. The joint is called Café Que Rico, and it's just what you need to get your sugar, milk, and caffeine fix. She's hot, sweet, and frothy — the kind of froth that begs you to slurp sugary goodness before you've even had a chance to judge the coffee's temperature. That's a special, delicious kind of danger. And that's why it's perfect. The small costs $1.50, and if you're feeling extra-sluggish, you can buy the large for $2. After all, you know what they say: The larger the craving, the thicker the froth.

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Hidden off the street and out of sight, unless you happen to be strolling through the downtown Miami International Jewelry Center mall, Little Lotus sits amid stalls selling flowers, watches, and so forth. Still lost? The place is in the part of the mall directly across the street from Macy's. The gem: a surprisingly large menu of sushi and small Asian plates from owner Sari Maharani, from Jakarta. Rolls range from $3.95 to $15, which is a great deal. Fancier rolls include creative items such as the "Big Mac" — a crunchy spicy tuna with snow "krab" ($13.95). Other specialties include yaki tori, yaki udon, grilled eel, trigger fish jerky, salad with four types of seaweed, nasi rames (as a nod to the owner's Indonesian roots), and diced taro in coconut milk syrup for dessert. Lunch specials are just $7.95 and include dishes such as spicy braised beef with coconut, and fried Singapore rice noodles. "Japanese Amazing Lunch" ($8.50 to $13.50) includes sushi, sashimi, or a teriyaki bento box. This 40-seater (with some of the tables lined up in the mall hallway) serves delicious, well-priced Asian fare. Plus if you're in the Brickell or downtown area, Little Lotus will deliver — meaning they'll have to find you.

The Federal Food Drink & Provisions

Professor Irving Miller of the American Institute of Enterprising Ideas recently released his groundbreaking thesis titled "5 Key Elements of the Successful Neighborhood Restaurant." When we caught up with the feisty 73-year-old professor at his favorite eatery, the Federal, we asked why he likes this place so much. His response: "It has all five elements necessary, starting with hospitality. Two of the owners are up front greeting customers and making them feel at home; the other is in the kitchen cooking food that makes them feel at home. Very important. Number two is the ambiance — here it's rustic, relaxed, and comfortable. Three: Are you writing this down?"

Yes."Good. Three is the selection of drinks, and the Federal flaunts half a dozen pints of craft draught beers and some hundred bottles of wine solely from family estate producers. And, finally, the food: Jar-o-duck with candied sweet potato and charred marshmallow fluff, Buffalo-style pig wings, and so forth — honest, tasty, accessible, and highly creative." That's only four."Really? Friendly staff, informal environment, great food, drink... Oh, yes, service. Very good service. And free parking in the strip mall lot out front. Crucial for a neighborhood restaurant. Plus the pricing is affordable: smaller plates $6 to $16, larger ones $16 to $36." That's seven."Well, that just goes to show how much the Federal has going for it."
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
Photo courtesy of Genuine Hospitality Group

It is said that you should strike while the iron is hot, and no Miami chef has sizzled with success like Michael Schwartz. Miami's farm-to-table pioneer and James Beard Award winner has expanded his brand in recent years by way of a cookbook, a pizzeria (Harry's), an MGF&D in the Cayman Islands, and a project in progress with the Raleigh Hotel. Yet through it all, his original Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District hasn't missed a beat. The indoor and outdoor ambiance remains cool in an unpretentious way, service is professional, and the fresh, well-sourced, seasonally sensitive cuisine continues to impress with honest-to-goodness flavors. Pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith is tops in town, which is why she was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef this year. Her desserts too are peerless and uniquely innovative — who else pairs a milk chocolate candy bar with buttered popcorn gelato? She also has a cookbook out this year, and we're pretty certain no other spot in this neighborhood — let alone the state of Florida — can boast two Beard-credentialed chefs with their own cookbooks. There's a great global wine list, the craft beers are many ($4 and up), and even the RoosRoast Organic Free Speech Coffee, Steven Smith Teamaker's Tea, and homemade sodas are superior. What else could possibly be great about Michael's? The prices, which are quite moderate for the city's most acclaimed dining establishment: Small plates are mostly under $10, medium plates are under $20, and excepting a Harris Ranch New York strip steak, large plates range from $18 to $26. And there's one more wonder: Sunday brunch from 11 to 2:30.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®