Catharsis Restaurant and Lounge

The four restaurateurs who own this gem really know what they're doing. Step inside and you feel as if you've been transported to a happening eatery in SoHo or Milan. The air seems to caress your skin, and the low-key background music soothes your tired gray matter. Then you are greeted by one of the charismatic owners or the stunning hostess, who seems to have materialized from the cover of Vogue. When you open the menu, you are astonished that this cozy spot in Calle Ocho's hopping (yes, we're calling it now) cultural district offers gourmet delicacies such as pear and Gorgonzola ravioli ($16.95) and a creamy polenta ($10.95) with homemade Bolognese sauce, fresh mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms, and white truffle oil. Choose from the succulent three-hour beef short ribs ($24.95), the seafood mixed grill with scallops the size of a 5-year-old's fists ($27.95), or the three-hour lamb osso buco, served with one of the most satisfying mushroom risottos you will find anywhere in the city ($25.95). Before you order any of these, though, consider appetizers such as the wood slab with cheese, cold meats, and olives ($15.95) and what might be the most tantalizing ceviche ($10.95) this side of the Keys. And while you are waiting, indulge in one of Catharsis's signature cocktails — such as a delusion martini ($10) or a refreshing mango mojito made with fresh mango juice ($10) — or maybe a bottle of vino from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, France, California, or Oregon ($29 to $90). Take advantage of Calle Ocho's free parking after 6 p.m., enjoy the European vibe, and make a night of it by walking to the nearby Tower Theater to catch a foreign flick. Dining at Catharsis is like going away on a minivacation without the TSA strip search.

Del Sur Gourmet Market

This quaint neighborhood spot offers what it calls "honest food." Everything is made in house with a focus on using local ingredients and keeping the food as natural and simple as possible. In its quest to create unassuming and unpretentious dishes, Del Sur offers some of the most flavorful, enjoyable, and gourmet food in South Miami-Dade. There is a full line of both hot and cold appetizers; a mozzarella bar; artisan burgers; pressed sandwiches; hot and cold salads; fresh pastas; an array of grilled items such as steak, sausage, chicken, and fish; freshly baked breads and cakes; and a plethora of pastries and desserts. The hardest part about visiting Del Sur is deciding which of its varied delicacies to order. Try the boquerones ($9.95), made with fresh herbs and roasted garlic and served with slices of homemade baguette. Or the lomito sandwich ($12.95), in which grilled filet mignon, two fried eggs, Parma cotto ham, and Havarti cheese join luscious tomatoes, a fresh spring mix, lemon mayo, and roasted bell peppers between two slices of homemade bread. It all performs a perfect tango on your taste buds. Del Sur also caters to vegetarians with delectable dishes such as artichoke and lemon ravioli with fresh primavera sauce ($11.95) and an out-of-this-world homemade cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta and then topped with pink sauce and mozzarella gratin ($11.95). Desserts include two of the finest anywhere: dulce de leche cheesecake ($3.89) and opera cake ($3.95), which features coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache layered between pieces of almond biscuit. You might want to wash down dessert with a cappuccino or latte, but be sure to take advantage of the craft beers such as Monk in the Trunk and Blue Point Toasted Lager or a boutique wine such as the Luca Malbec. As if the food and drink weren't tempting enough, the folks at Del Sur are charming, friendly, and willing to chat about recipes, distinctive libations, and local produce.

Flip Burger Bar
Aran S Graham

This tiny, unassuming neighborhood eatery just off Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami has no right to be as good as it is. The menu promises the "best burgers in North Miami," and they are magnificent. Try the fireman burger, topped with chipotle sauce, jalapeños, and pepper jack cheese, or the Cuban burger, made with a combination of ground beef, ground pork, and chorizo and served with diced sautéed onions and potato sticks. But the creamy macaroni 'n' cheese ($6.50) is the menu's true celebrity. Also worth the trip are Flip's Buffalo wings, which are spiked with the eatery's proprietary hot sauce (ask for it with your burger, or any dish for that matter) and a selection of imported, domestic, and craft beers. Not sure which one to try with your homemade burger? Owner/chef/waiter/bartender Emilio Vega, who took over from previous management less than a year ago, is a font of beer knowledge whose recommendations are right on point.

Van Dyke Cafe

The sun is rising in the east

And you are drunk upon the beach.

Your belly aches from too much rum

and wild, crazy, all-night fun.

Where have you been, what did you do?

And wait, is that a real tattoo?

You need to stop and eat and think

to lounge, relax, and have a drink.

On Lincoln Road you will find

the tower that the ivy climbs.

The eggs are cheap, 11 bucks for two,

with bread and meat, a cup of coffee, one of juice,

and lots of people watching too.

So grab a seat and say your thanks

to break your fast and not your bank.

Il Gabbiano
Courtesy of Il Gabbiano

If a person from a Third-World country saw a platter of fried zucchini, a platter of bruschetta topped with ripe red tomatoes, and a rock-size chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, he or she would likely exclaim, "My good Lord, a banquet!" Guests dining at Il Gabbiano are more likely to say, "Gee, that was a nice complimentary snack; let's order dinner now." That's reality for Luigi Tullio and brothers Gino and Fernando Masci, who came to Miami with a sense of abundance and hospitality learned growing up in Abruzzi, Italy (with a 26-year stopover as owners of Greenwich Village's renowned Il Mulino). Dinner plates here overflow with authentic Italian flavors — and the pastas are made in-house, sautéed to order, and boast simple but compelling tastes — exemplified by the orecchiette with broccoli di rape and bucatini alla matriciana (all pastas are $27.75; it isn't as though we didn't tell you this is the best expensive Italian). Risottos are $36.75, but you get what you pay for — textbook preparations of creamy, al dente rice with meticulously prepared garnishes. All of your favorite veal scaloppine dishes are here ($27.75 to $45.75), as are thick steaks ($34.75 to $48.75) and obligatory shrimp scampi ($39.75). It's all an embarrassment of riches, to be sure, but for those who can afford it, Il Gabbiano is a treasure.

Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant

Spartico

Spartico

The smell of garlic, tomatoes, and smoldering cheese accosts the senses inside Spartico at the Mayfair Hotel, located in Coconut Grove. Chef/restaurateur Jonathan Eismann consulted on the original launch, and chef Philippe Boutinet manages the kitchen, where "Roman pizza" is made in an "Ambrogi wood-burning oven from Milan" (do they not manufacture ovens in Rome?). In addition to turning out crisp, classic pies, the restaurant has a homestyle Italian menu of items ranging from overflowing antipasto platters ($15.95) to fritto misto ($10.95). Parmesan choices are organic chicken breast or eggplant — each doused in seasoned breading and then baked with a simple marinara sauce, fresh local mozzarella, and Grana Parmigiano cheese. You can get a modest plate of spaghetti pomodoro ($10.95) or an almost healthful "SoBe Vegetarian" pizza topped with roasted roma tomatoes, mozzarella, veggies, mixed olives, and mache lettuce ($13.95). Do not make the critical mistake of skipping the house garlic bread ($5.95), which might seem redundant before pizza and pasta. But trust us — it's perfect when pulled from that wood-burning oven. Bonus: Happy hour is 4 to 7 p.m. all week. For calming Italian cravings without breaking the bank, Spartico is a trattoria safe house.

Xixón Spanish Restaurant
Photo by Michael McElroy

There's nothing quite like a strapping young Spanish man with a chiseled body cooking delectable Spanish cuisine, moving about the kitchen like he designed it himself, wearing an apron — and nothing else. Ah, what we'd give to spend a week in Barcelona doing field research on this sort of thing. You know, for journalism. Well, you will find something close at Xixón. The people are good-looking, the place is cozy, and la comida is as good as it gets. Whether you're into almejas en salsa verde (steamed clams in green sauce, $11), empanadas de atún (tuna, $3.75), or Andaluz gazpacho ($5), Xixón brings northern Spanish fare right to our back yard. The market on the first floor of this two-story space offers all the wine, jamón serrano, and Manchego (and fine Spanish olive oils, spices, etc.) of your dreams. Go ahead and pick up a pound and a half of everything. The kids need sandwich fixings for the week anyway. And you need a bottle of delectably leggy Spanish wine. This place is big yet always packed, even during the week. Take it from us: Xixón is the real deal. We might even make T-shirts that say, "RealXixon." The fútbol fans would like that.

Area Code 55 Brazilian Steakhouse

If you are unfamiliar with the Brazilian restaurant style known as rodizio, you haven't lived the greatest joy of a carnivore. And if you haven't visited Area Code 55, you should hurry over there. Pay $19.99 for lunch or $29.99 for dinner and you will be treated to an all-you can-eat meal served by men circling the room with beautiful cuts of meat on skewers. There are chicken legs wrapped in bacon, top sirloin (picanha), top sirloin with garlic, flank steak, baby top sirloin, pork ribs, pork loin, pork sausage, and even roasted pineapple. It's all perfectly cooked — with crisp exteriors and juicy interiors. But that is not our favorite part. The all-you-can-eat salad bar includes soup, a half-dozen salads, all kinds of cold cuts, fresh bread, and many other delectables. This spread alone — without the beautiful meat — costs only $12.99 for lunch and $18.99 for dinner. Lunch prices apply Monday through Saturday before 4 p.m., so we encourage you to arrive early. You won't regret it. In fact, you'll leave saying, "Obrigado!"

Chef Creole

Wilkinson "Ken" Sejour's "seasoned kitchen" has grown into a mini-empire, with five restaurants across Miami's Haitian belt, from Little Haiti to North Miami to Miami Gardens. But it's not like most chains. Each Chef Creole outpost has a distinctive character. While most include some form of outdoor seating, the 54th Street flagship offers it in the greatest abundance — all under a tiki hut with a view of Little Haiti's busiest corner. It's also where you can stock up on bottles of made-to-order cremas — molasses-thick, eggnog-sweet Haitian rum cream — made by Sejour himself. But no matter which location you visit, you'll get the best griot (fried pork chunks) north of Port-de-Paix and some of the freshest fried seafood anywhere in the county. Sejour, whose parents are from Haiti, was born in the Bahamas and raised in Miami. His background is reflected on the menu in the form of perfectly crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside conch fritters and flavorful fried conch. And no Chef Creole meal is complete without some of Sejour's pikliz. The spicy pickled vegetable salad, made with vinegar, sour orange juice, and Scotch bonnet peppers, is so good you'll want to take home some extra — which you can, in a 16-ounce jar, for $5.

Makoto

Iron Chef Makoto

Trained with Morimoto

Award from James Beard-oto

Clean stream of tradition flows

Edomae sushi fresh like ocean:

Hotate, aoyagi, shime saba,

Kobe, cooks tableside on

hot river stone

Udon ramen

Black edamame

Kurobuta belly, Kurosawa rib eye

Branzino, wasabi, chimichurri

Chimichurri?

Tuna air bread, caesar foam

Frosted fried rice, foie gras

Main plates $14 to $24

Wagyu/Kobe steaks $20 to $90

Makoto Okuwa

Far from Nagoya, Japan

Bal Harbour oasis

Close to our heart.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®