The Federal Food Drink & Provisions

The last time this much mystery surrounded a plate of French fries, Nancy Drew was trying to solve the Case of the Freshman Fifteen. This year, for about the price of a paperback ($10), local sleuths can try their hand at figuring out how the fries at the Federal are so darn good. Lean on the server, and he might admit they are hand-cut and soaked in a preparation before being lightly fried. Sweet-talk the bartender and she might spill that the fries are left to sit for a while before being refried for the customer. But isn't it a little suspicious that chef Cesar Zapata knew to prepare them before they were even ordered? And what about the proprietary blend of herbs and spices, nuanced enough to make Lowry's seem like lye? How to account for the fried Lake Meadow egg laid across the top, just runny enough to glaze the spuds when a knife plunges into the heart of the yolk? Or the chilled ketchup that calms the edges of the seasoning while also making for a strange temperature speedball? Sure, Zapata will fess up that the ketchup is a twist on a generations-old family recipe, but isn't it a little suspicious that his great-grandfather knew the recipe and is now dead? The menu says "Townpark Fries," but maybe it should read "murder."

Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar

Sal Corelli prides himself on being the best small-time scam artist around. He crashes weddings, bails after eating at hotel breakfast buffets, and so forth. But Sal recently pulled off what he refers to as his "biggest heist yet." It occurred at Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar, located at the southernmost tip of South Beach. Lolita is a Mexican restaurant with "burlesque-inspired dining." Its red-velvet-embossed walls, gothic candelabras, and studded black leather couches bespeak a place that wants its guests to have fun. So as soon as Sal sat down, he was brought a complimentary bowl of grapefruit-mint granitas.

"Would you like a shot of tequila on top of that?" asked the waiter. "Make it a double," replied Sal. And that's what the server did. Soon, a basket of fresh corn chips, still warm from the fryer, was left on the table along with three zesty dips and a homemade mango-habanero hot sauce. He polished off everything quickly and was promptly brought refills — without even having to ask. After finishing the second basket, Sal confided to the waiter that he wasn't feeling so well. "Maybe a soft drink would help," Sal said. "I'll try a Coke." Normally he would have stuck with tap water, but while scoping out Lolita, he had noticed that a giant wad of cotton candy was presented with every bill. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave prematurely," he lamented after downing the Coke. "I'll take the check." Sure, he got away with lots to eat for little money, but most of Lolita's non-entrée items range from just $9 to $16 — and they're much tastier than you might expect from a restaurant that's ultimately about having a good time.

Have you ever had pico de gallo? No, not the tomato, cilantro, and garlic concoction typical in most Mexican kitchens. We mean the fruit version — mango, jícama, cucumber, pineapple, watermelon, and any other fruit seasoned with loads of chili powder and fresh lime juice. Are your salivary glands getting worked up? They should be. This is the type of thing you can find nowhere else in South Florida except at the Redland Farmers' Market. It includes a myriad of open-air booths that sell fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, boots, hats, and belts. It's like walking into Mexico — only better, because you don't need your passport. You don't need to speak Spanish either. The vendors either know English or are more than willing to gesture a price or negotiation. After perusing the aisles of ripe fruits and veggies, sit down for a few tacos from the food truck that calls the market home. Handmade tortillas and corn hot off the grill await you. Órale, pues.

Salsa Fiesta Urban Mexican Grill

Salsa Fiesta likes to bill itself as healthful and eco-friendly, but honestly, when tacos are on your mind, concerns about the next doctor's visit or the plight of our natural resources aren't really important. It's time to chow down. Luckily, the tacos at Salsa Fiesta deliver. The Venezuelan import offers four types of shells that range from whole wheat to crisp corn. From there, you can choose five types of flesh, including fish and carnitas, or the veggie option. Most taco joints would stop at this juncture, but Salsa Fiesta offers ultimate taco customization with four mixes. Try the Macho Taco, which comes with black beans, or the Guerrero Taco, which features mango salad topped with creamy cilantro. The homemade salsa bar offers many finishing touches. The fact that Salsa Fiesta uses fresh and nutritious ingredients and green practices will make you feel a bit better after gorging yourself.

Aguacates

For a tasty burrito that's the size of an NFL football and is made with only the freshest ingredients, this Doral hot spot can't be beat. These Mexi-behemoths are all priced at under $8, and the choices are seemingly endless. You got your three kinds of beef — shredded, ground, and grilled. Then you got your pork and chicken. Now add your choice of cheese, beans, lettuce, peppers, sour cream, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, salsa, perfectly ripened avocado slices, and of course, the best guacamole outside of Homestead. There are some other ingredients available, but we got hungry before we could finish reading the menu and ordered a burrito. Our bad.

Burr's Berry Farm

The other stuff this produce stand sells is also awesome. Its milkshakes look pretty otherworldly. But we don't trek to the Redland that often. And when we do, our brain fixates on only one thing: the ridiculous glory of the strawberry sundaes of Burr's Berry Farm. Priced at $5.35, they are roughly the size of your head, but to share one is sacrilege. Smooth vanilla ice cream comes covered in freshly picked strawberries in a concentrated syrup. How to describe the flavor and potency of this syrup? If Mike Tyson were a strawberry, this is what his punches would feel like. You'll get several brain freezes. There will be a moment when you envision the disapproving frown of your cardiologist. But in the end, you will scrape your plastic bowl clean. And then you'll think about this sundae for weeks, until the next time you swerve into the dirt parking lot of Burr's Berry Farm. (Hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily from December to early May.)

Amore Gelato

Anybody can scoop good gelato from a tub, but it takes a master to produce the stuff. Ritchie Espejo has more than 20 years of experience making fine ice cream, and for a good deal of that time he has been supplying Perricone's Marketplace & Café. At Amore Gelato, his storefront operation next door to the legendary restaurant, he tests new flavors and makes daily batches of proven hits. Though many of his varieties are listed on the menus of other shops, the gelato's boldness of flavor and texture is all Ritchie's own. Not long ago, he created a passionfruit and rose-hip version for a wedding. Area chefs regularly ask him to come up with something special; they even go so far as to build dishes around his olive oil gelato. Waffle cones start at $4.50, a dollar more than cups, but it's worth it to do your part for the environment and to have a hand free for gelato-inspired gesticulation. Of the daily flavors, it's tough to beat the dulce de leche, but a combination of the salted caramel and fior de latte has a nice interplay of savory and sweet and will make you feel more like a gourmand than anyone licking something in public ought to have the right to.

LA Sweets

If you want a way to satisfy your sweet tooth, look no further. LA Sweets' owners, Letty Alvarez and Eddie Dominguez, have just the thing to send you over the edge. This isn't your average cupcake shop. The pair bakes every type of cupcake imaginable. There are 114 flavors, so you'll find what you're craving — at a price of just $1.25 each. And they can custom-make everything from regular mini-cupcakes to cupcake towers. Two of the more popular ones are the Southern red velvet — which is finished off with delicious cream-cheese buttercream frosting — and the guava, also topped with cream-cheese buttercream frosting. And if there's something you'd like to see on the menu, they're open to suggestions.

Cafe Bonjour

First you start with that bread, all fresh and soft. Doesn't matter if it's Italian or ciabatta. Then you get that deli meat — big, generous piles. Yeah, that's the stuff. Now, just a bit of cheese. Uh-huh. OK, now it's time for the vegetables. Everything you could imagine. Pile 'em on. You know, I like those ruby-red tomatoes. Fantastic. Go ahead and put the sauces on too. A little creamy mayo, mustard. Sure, squirt some oil and vinegar on there. Now grill it. Make it all hot and panini-like for me. Yeah, Café Bonjour, that's a sandwich. Here's your $8.95 and a tip. No, I don't think I'll need chips on the side. This sandwich is all I desire. Where are the napkins?

Casa Larios

At the table next to yours, the men are talking about the perfect salsa dance partner. Your friend knows Cuban slang, so he translates: "She's cool without being cold; firm with just a little bit of —" and he searches for the word before coming up with "jiggle." The men dance alone to their cars without getting dessert; if they had, they might have found what they were looking for in the flan. Casa Larios makes five types of it: flan de leche, flan de queso, flan de mamey, flan de coco, and flan de calabaza ($4.25 each, and the last two are made only at the South Miami location). All are drizzled with a house-made caramel sauce that pools on the flan's flat top and about its round base, just enough for a kick of sweetness. She's not saucy, the flan, because she doesn't need to be. The queso version has a savory earthiness that contrasts well with the caramel, and the mamey variety shifts on the tongue along with the complexities of the fruit. But the standard-bearing flan de leche deserves special mention for its mellow, yolky color and pliancy against the edge of a spoon without the shiny wobble that dooms many renditions. The flan at Casa Larios isn't much for dancing, but it's about as good a time as possible while sitting.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®