Best Waterfront Dining 2012 | Rusty Pelican | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo courtesy of Rusty Pelican

After taking your seat at the Rusty Pelican, your mate will comment, "Wow, what a beautiful view." Your response? "The most beautiful view is the one I share with you." From this Virginia Key jewel, the Miami skyline beckons with a twinkle across Biscayne Bay. Let's face it: We all love a dazzling vista; even more so when water is involved. When we're sitting at a table filled with great food and drink, this fact is especially true. At Rusty Pelican, the outdoor tables are next to a dramatically lighted fire pit, and indoor seating is in a room brightened by a recent multimillion-dollar renovation. Chef Michael Gilligan's contemporary American menu highlights raw bar selections, sushi, crabcakes, tuna tacos, ceviche, tiraditos, a series of creative small plates (eel and foie gras; pork-belly-and-apple skewers), and main plates such as whole red snapper with crisply fried noodles, and poached duck breast with chanterelles and parsnip quenelles (appetizers and small plates range from $8 to $16, entrées $26 to $35). If you think it can't get any better than that, how about weekday happy hour (4 to 7 p.m.) with $3 beers; $5 well drinks and featured wines; $7 martinis, mojitos, and margaritas; $5 to $9 bar bites; and, of course, that priceless view.

While sitting on the veranda of J & G Grill, it is easy to get lost in a peaceful state of reverie as the sun sprinkles jeweled reflections upon the mesmerizing ocean. Umbrellas shade the rays, a balmy breeze blows in from the Atlantic, and an attentive waiter refills water glasses and delivers fresh rounds of cocktails as quietly as mist. Any notion of being in a fantasy is only reinforced when the food arrives. After all, if you dreamed up a chef to create the menu for this lovely setting at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, he'd be exactly like Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Granted, J & G Grill is a casual take on his legendary Jean-Georges restaurant, but that makes dining outdoors that much more leisurely and affordable (most dinner entrées are $30 and under; a three-course prix fixe lunch is $28). The American, French, and Asian cuisine showcases luscious offerings such as sautéed pink Florida shrimp with key lime yogurt and red radish, black truffle pizza with fontina cheese, a selection of local fish, and prime meats simply grilled. There are also kumquat mojitos, other cutting-edge cocktails, and an exceptional wine list. Chef de cuisine Richard Gras translates Vongerichten's vision with élan, and the waitstaff is both cordial and professional. J & G not only offers an idyllic environment with a sensational water vista, but also pampers diners with serenity. And just for the record: The food tastes equally good when eaten indoors.


A gastropub is simply a bar serving food and drinks that surpass the sappy snacks usually proffered at such an establishment. Haven does just that. Technically, it is a self-billed "gastro-lounge," which means instead of a stuffy pub atmosphere, the room includes a thousand or so hue-changing ice-cube lights, a Siberian white-onyx bar that likewise changes color, and wraparound walls that immerse diners in HD-projected images of white-capped mountains, the Mediterranean, the South Beach skyline, and other scintillating scenes. On the beverage end, creative cocktails emanate a mist produced by liquid nitrogen (which is also used to blast and freeze ice cream by the order). Chef Todd Erickson's global mix of small plates clears that mist like sunlight bursting through clouds. Whether it be sashimi, ceviche, coconut-crusted rock shrimp with wasabi-peach marmalade ($15), or a "lamburger" slider with lavender, coriander, and honey ($11), the cuisine is electrically charged in flavor. It's a gastropub for the 21st Century and definitely for late-nighters: Haven is open nightly until 5 a.m.


"Reporter Nick Smooth here at the Sheen Center for Disturbed People, interviewing Ned Kolopsi as to why he was so enthralled with Crazy About You before landing at this facility. As most viewers know, the restaurant is a spinoff of Dolores, but You Can Call Me Lolita (with additional venues in Spain). Crazy name for a restaurant, huh? Anyway, tell us, Ned. What's the story?"

"The story is that for $15.99, I can get a mojo-roasted half-chicken with spinach, artichokes, and any of the dozen soups or starters on the menu. I usually go with the Serrano ham croquettes, the creamiest around." "Well, we should remind our viewers about where we are holding this interview — we'll have to double-check the $15.99 price. That sounds a little too low. But back to you, Ned.""The same items are only $13.99 during lunch. High-rollers can go with the $19.99 dinners, like pork osso buco or sea-salted wild salmon — there are four to six choices in each price category. The highest price is $23.99, which brings veal churrasco, applewood-grilled short ribs, or miso-glazed orange roughy. Did I mention you get your choice of any starter? Plus a glass of house wine is just $4. And the dessert menu arrives in the form of a little Ferris wheel; as you spin it, small cards flip up with sweet options; a textbook cappuccino flan is just $2.50. Plus, the place used to be home to the elegant Spanish restaurant La Broche, so rather than appearing like a budget establishment, it looks like a million bucks — with a drop-dead gorgeous vista of Biscayne Bay. Outdoor tables too.""A little Ferris wheel? Desserts for $2.50 in a million-dollar waterfront setting? You like to embellish, don't you Mr. Kolopsi? Is that why you're here at this center?""No, I'm here because it's the only way they could get me out of the restaurant. I tell you, I'm crazy about Crazy About You."

— Tell me, Master Norman Van Fusion, what is the secret to gathering cuisines from different cultures and melding them as one?

— Well, little grasshopper, one of the secrets is to employ indigenous foods. That's why Tuyo uses growers, producers, and food artisans of Florida and the American Southeast.

— You mean Key West yellowtail, grilled pompano with Cedar Key clams, Lake Meadow chicken mofongo, Brazilian conch chowder, ceviche with papaya, and yuca-stuffed Gulf shrimp?

— I see you've been studying, curious caterpillar. You have discovered some of the ingredients of my New World cuisine. Knowledge is the key; I have been working in the culinary arts for decades and producing Zen-like combinations of flavors since even before my days at Norman's in Coral Gables.

— You are known far and wide for this, Master; I have even seen you on PBS. But how does one know for sure if rhum-and-pepper-painted golden tilefish on mango-habanero mojo will succumb to oneness with boniato-caramelized plantain mash en poblano?

— You cannot take a shower in a parakeet cage, my earnest worm.

— I do not understand.

— As I tell my disciples at Norman's in Orlando: Years of experience are invaluable when it comes to things like this. Once you understand the essence of food and cooking, the path to fusing ingredients will come.

— And what of your vision?

— Tuyo is fusion. Tuyo is vision. It says that right on my menu. And the vision thing extends to the vista of the Freedom Tower and city skyline one can clearly see from Tuyo's perch atop the Miami Culinary Institute. Quite frankly, it's the sort of vision that can knock your chakra into place.

— This vision of yours, Master, you will spread it to all who seek it?

— I shall spread it to all who can afford to pay $16 for an appetizer and $24 to $44 per entrée. But, my naive cricket, that's a lesson for another day.

From hookah to baklava, Daily Bread Pinecrest is pretty much your one-stop shop for anything Eastern Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. But it is your only stop for falafel. For $6.25, you get a crisply fried chickpea patty, pickled carrots, cabbage mixed with spices, raw onions mixed with sumac and other spices, and tahini sauce, all wrapped in eight inches of fresh pita bread and made right in front of you. It's a recipe handed down from owner Toufic Mazzawi's mother. Business seems to be good — they opened another location in Dadeland Mall this past February. Besides the falafel, one of their most popular items is the kibbeh platter ($9.99).

— I'm telling you, it's the best hummus in the world. You could travel to Israel and wouldn't find better.

— Pardon me, Saul, I think I have something stuck in my ear. I thought I heard you say the hummus at Pita Hut is better than any in Israel.

— That's what I said, Al, and I have been to that country many times. I had some hummus at Pita Hut yesterday and, holy Manischewitz, the smoothness you wouldn't believe. A baby's tuchis should only be so soft!

— You shouldn't be drinking Manischewitz this early.

— What are you saying, 'Drink Manischewitz'? Who's drinking? I tell you, the blend of chickpeas with whispers of lemon, garlic, and olive oil — such a flavor you don't get every day. And a pool of tahini rests on the hummus as lightly as a lily pad on a pond.

— Lily pad on a pond? Suddenly he's Robert Frost! Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Saul Finkelstein, the poet laureate of hummus!

— Sit down and don't get so worked up. No wonder you have heart problems! I'm only saying that for $6.99, you won't get a better deal. Plus you get pita bread, of course. And Pita Hut is not just a falafel joint these days, but also a full-fledged restaurant with an extensive menu of Israeli specialties. It even serves kosher sushi!

— Better than any sushi in Israel, no doubt.

— I try to tell you about great hummus and I get sarcasm. Better you should use your energy to make it to Pita Hut. Or if you prefer, you can fly to the Promised Land and get your hummus there. But if we each live to be 110, never again will I mention hummus to you.

— That's more than fine by me. By the way Saul, have you ever tried Pita Hut's falafel? I hear it's pretty good.

— Oy vey.

Courtesy of Harry's Pizzeria

The fries at Harry's Pizzeria are practically Robespierre-esque in the way they revolutionize the idea of being French. For those tired of the greasy excess of the potato aristocracy, the polenta fries at Harry's offer a tuber-tastic alternative. Eating them feels not like a retreat from taste, but an attack on the world's taste buds. At Michael Schwartz's new pizzeria in the Design District, they take a block of polenta and slice it cleanly, as one would the neck of a noble in a guillotine. After deep frying, the fries are stacked into stubby towers much like those of the Bastille. Actually, Harry's version resembles French toast sticks more than French fries. The dusting of kosher salt on top takes the place of powdered sugar and is mild enough to enhance the earthy flavors of the polenta without overpowering it. Instead of maple syrup, Harry's serves a house-made spicy ketchup, eschewing liberté, égalité, and fraternité in favor of onion, garlic, and cilantro. For a mere $5 per serving, let them eat polenta!

Vicky Bakery website

Every time you bite into a croqueta from Vicky Bakery, you know it's made with the type of love that's lasted 40 years in El Exilio. In the early '70s, Antonio and Gelasia Cao arrived in Miami with their two children. While Gelasia made leather goods, her husband worked three jobs in a local bakery and a couple of cantinas to make ends meet. By 1972, the couple had saved enough money to open a pastry shop in Hialeah. Today, the Caos, their children, and their grandchildren own nine other locations in Miami-Dade and Broward, ensuring every Vicky Bakery stays true to making pastries and croquetas from scratch. Batches of the oblong morsels are fried to crisp perfection throughout the day seven days a week. They are even more scrumptious stuffed inside a fresh, warm Cuban roll. You can choose from ham, chicken, or cheese filling. Party platters vary in price and quantity, but a single croqueta goes for 55 cents.

Isadora Gaviria Photography

There are so many types of empanadas in this city. Argentine, Colombian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Venezuelan are just a few. They're all hot and tasty. But take cover, kids, because we're crowning the Venezuelans empanada kings for 2012. La Latina is a tiny, well-decorated hole in the wall across the train tracks from the Shops at Midtown. Walk in, take in the fluorescent-pink elephants and colorful wallpaper, and then order empanadas to your heart's desire. Our recommendation is the pabellón: black beans, cheese, shredded beef, and sweet plantains, all conveniently packaged in golden, flaky goodness. It's made fresh too. Bonus: Anti-gluten people can enjoy it as well. The dough is gluten-free, and the meat is antibiotic- and hormone-free. Cost? Less than four bucks. Go ahead, indulge in six of 'em — we won't tell a soul.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®