Jamón, pollo o pescado — chicken, ham, or fish: Your waiter wants you to know these are the three choices of croquetas ($1.15) at Islas Canarias restaurant. The decision sounds simple, but it's also surprisingly difficult. Order the chicken, and nibble on a plump fried croquette filled with flecks of poultry and sprinkled with minced herbs. Order the ham, and crunch on a brown exterior stuffed with smoky specks of pink ham. Order the fish, and savor delectable, briny bits cooked to perfection. Each bite begins crisply, the result of a golden bread-crumb coating. Each morsel ends creamily, the product of an ivory béchamel-like core — tender, smooth, and rich. Jamón, pollo o pescado: At Islas Canarias, really, simply order them all.

Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine
Las Vegas website

When you order a dish of plátanos maduros, you want just the right mix of burnt and sweet. At Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine, the sweet plantains are always at that perfect equilibrium of ripe and substantial. The menu is consistent. Tostones are served fresh every single time — crisp on the edges but soft in the center — with garlic mojo sauce. Boiled yuca is topped with an equally pungent blend of onions and mojo worth every cent of that $3.75. And the entrées are just as savory as the sides. In addition to essentials such as vaca frita and churrasco steak with chimichurri sauce, one of the most original dishes is fillet of grouper encrusted with a breading of crisp plantain bits. At $14.95, camarones enchilados — seven jumbo shrimp sautéed in a creole sauce of olive oil, garlic, wine, green and red bell peppers, and onion — are the best bang for the buck. The red creole sauce also goes well with the accompanying rice and black beans and those sweet plantains. On top of such fair prices, the Spanish-speaking waiters provide exceptional and friendly service.

Zila Cafeteria
Zila Cafeteria facebook

Haitians have a saying: "Sel pa vante tèt li di li sale," or "Salt doesn't boast that it is salted." In other words, good food doesn't need advertising. The proverb was practically made for Zila Cafeteria, a tiny but tasty joint that is harder to get hold of than Heat point guard Norris Cole on a fast break. You've probably never heard of the Little Haiti eatery. And if you have, chances are you've called for delivery, only to get an out-of-service message. The truth is, we have no idea who owns Zila Cafeteria or if the place delivers. But that's beside the point. Park your car on NW Second Avenue near 59th Street and follow the smell of roast chicken and the sound of Haitian compas to the door. Then sit at the checkered tables, order an absurdly cheap beer or two, and stuff your face with simple but delicious food. This hole in the wall offers Haitian staples such as griot (fried pork chunks) and mais moulu (cornmeal) as well as daily specials like succulent chicken with beans and rice for just $4.99. With beer as cheap as $1 for a Bud Light or $2 for a Prestige, you'll never want to leave. When you finally do, you'll agree: Sel pa vante tèt li di li sale.

Panya Thai
Photo by Javier Ramirez

Panya Thai: Duck so spicy,

Egg rolls, fish cakes, not too pricey.

Steamed whole snapper ($28.95), pork panang curry.

Dancing shrimp ($8.95), eyes get blurry.

North Miami Beach, strip-mall sights.

What an array of Siam's bites.

Tofu, noodles, salad, soup, rice.

Oh goodness! That poh tak's got spice!

At Panya Thai, tongues get woozy,

A perfect place to bring your floozy!

Rincon Escondido Café

Welcome to Rincón Escondido, the teeny, tavern-like Spanish restaurant in Edgewater. To start, would you like some Spanish wine? And then how about a platter of jamón serrano, chorizo de Cantimpalos, lomo de cerdo, or chorizo de Palacios ($15)? No? Perhaps some bread will strike your fancy. The montaditos, with salty anchovies and caramelized onions ($7), or the sliced baguette with liver or salmon pâté ($6), are a fine choice. Not that either? Why not go for the Spanish potato omelet ($10) or pulpo a la gallega — octopus doused in smoky paprika? Stop crying! What do you mean you can't decide? Please, please. No more tears. At Rincón Escondido, you are supposed to tapear. That's Spanish for "stop whining and just order the whole menu already."

Momi Ramen

If Momi Ramen were a house of worship, its altar would be the slab of pork belly atop the noodle house's communal wooden table. In this Brickell kitchen, massive kettles of tonkotsu broth — a silky, opaque liquid made with pork bones and gleaming globs of fat — bubble away and simmer for hours. They fill the restaurant with the pungent aroma of garlic and swine. There are noodles too. They are made daily by owner Jeffrey Chen and served smothered in broth. Bowls are in the $14 to $16 range at this late-night noodle house. Before Momi Ramen, Miami had few choices when it came to the Japanese noodle-and-broth soup. Now, this little shop proffers bowls that rival other ramen altars across the land.

Frenchie's Diner
billwisserphoto.com

If there were a showdown of casual French cuisine, and restaurants around town were assessed according to their French onion soup ($7), Frenchie's Diner in Coral Gables would win for its perfect broth and bubbling, blistered layers of cheese. If the contest were to measure spots by their croque-monsieur ($10), Frenchie's would take the prize yet again — this time for its peerless ham sandwich smothered in béchamel and finished with golden, melted Gruyère. Similar outcomes would result from Frenchie's crème brûlée, steak frites, and duck confit ($26) — and perhaps also with its chocolate mousse, moules frites, and escargots. It might be easier to crown Frenchie's the most superb source for French cooking in town. But to rob these pretend judges of their glorious research, well, that just seems awfully cruel.

King Palace Chinese BBQ

Finding good Chinese food in Miami-Dade is about as easy as finding a good driver. But in the area's small Chinatown in North Miami Beach, authentic chow can be had. When you enter King Palace Chinese BBQ, you'll know you've stumbled onto something special. You'll immediately see hanging roasted duck and barbecue roasted pork ($8.95 per pound) — a specialty that every Yelp reviewer and food blogger seems to rave about (and we agree). But the authenticity really seeps in with items such as boneless duck feet ($10.95), frog with garlic ($18.95), and duck tongues with spicy sauce ($14.95). But not to worry. For less adventuresome eaters, there are noodle bowls, stir-fries, fried rice, and other items that won't look back at you. But where's the fun in that?

Meat and bread. The simple combination is ubiquitous and delicious. After a step (all you get is one because the place is so small) inside Mary Ann Bakery, you're confronted by the sights and smells of the delight of dim sum: buns. For more than two decades, Karen and Emily Lim have been turning out sweet, eggy handheld treats filled with anything from barbecued pork to curried beef to bacon, onion, and cheese. None costs more than $1.50. Before you know it, that plan to "get just three" will turn into a dozen. The Lims' buns aren't limited to North Miami. If you're there early enough, you'll find employees from Asian markets all over town, even as far away as Lucky Oriental Mart in Sweetwater, grabbing their store's supply. The place is open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

New Chinatown

Like so many things in Miami that are 25 or so years old (ancient!), New Chinatown recently underwent a face-lift. In 2007, the place was given a fresh coat of paint and an overhauled menu. To order the standard, run-of-the-mill Chinese take-out from here should be a felony. Go for the live Maine lobster "sun"-style ($45), with dried chilies, garlic, and onion. It's worth it. There's lamb in a spicy wine sauce ($19) and even ma po tofu ($12), a nuclear-hot Szechuan specialty with tofu and ground pork stew in a lava-hot sauce. The place is easy to find: It's the red barn-looking building with the Chinese characters on it.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®