Shokudo

You can buy many things with $10.75. You could purchase one-and-a-quarter packages of Marlboro cigarettes or two bottles of Mexican Coca-Cola and a box of cool honey-flavored Altoids. You could get loads of chewing gum, a sandwich, perhaps a Cuban frita or two. But none of these treats would ever outdo the sushi-packed bento box lunch special at Shokudo, the Buena Vista restaurant famous for tasty Asian cuisine. Yes, buckaroos, you can get a steaming bowl of miso soup, half a California roll, salad, slaw, and a choice of two of the following: chicken or steak teriyaki, shrimp or vegetable tempura, gyoza, sushi, sashimi, and momo dumplings. Isn't that totally worth more than some Mexican Coke?

Pancho Taco

Call it "bar food" if you like. We call it "delicious." Sure, Pancho Taco isn't a full-fledged restaurant; it's a converted station wagon that serves bites to slightly inebriated Wood Tavern patrons in the gravel-covered, tarp-shaded backyard. But the eats are authentic Mexican street tacos. There are carnitas, chicken, and mushroom tacos to choose from. And they all come topped with onions, tomatillo sauce, and cheese if requested. They're freshly made, and damned if they don't hit the spot after a few whiskey and gingers. Each taco is priced at $2, but on Taco Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m., you can scarf down as many as you like for free. Yeah, you read that right. Free.

Swine Southern Table & Bar
billwisserphoto.com

Robert Ferrara is an odd bird. There he is, head down, more immersed in the task at hand than in chatting up the pretty girls who sip his drinks at the upstairs bar inside Swine Southern Table & Bar. That is, of course, until they ask him what's in the rose-hued cocktail they're savoring. Suddenly, Ferrara's eyes light up as he describes in loving detail the ingredients in his Mexican State of Mind. "I use fresh-pressed watermelon and some jalapeño for heat," he beams. "It balances the tequila and mezcal. Do you like the watermelon radish?" Ferrara, you see, is a bar geek — that rare breed of mixologist who exists for the cocktail itself. While some barkeeps are in it for the tips or the broads or the ego trip that slinging drinks can afford, Ferrara is a purist. For him, making the perfect libation is tantamount to climbing Everest — legendary and worthy of the sacrifice. And like a climber prepping for the summit push, Ferrara takes meticulous care in the making of his cocktails: collecting the perfect vintage glassware for each drink, procuring bourbon barrels direct from Kentucky so he can hand-age custom concoctions, making his own tinctures and infusions, and bottling his own sodas. Quiz him about that curious bottle on the second shelf to the far right and you'll get an education in the history of vermouth. Ask for a drink and he'll weave a tale about the evolution of the old-fashioned. After all of this bar trivia, you're thirsty. The wait is worth it, because Ferrara's cocktails — whether you indulge in one of his unnamed barrel-aged science projects ($13) or a Swine old-fashioned washed with bacon fat and made with Ferrara's own bitters ($15) — are complex, bold, and surprising. In the end, whether you're trying to get to the top of the world or the bottom of a barrel, obsession drives success. And geeks always win. Just ask Bill Gates. Or Rob Ferrara.

At first glance, you might think the Latin Macho burger ($8) is a slovenly sandwich. After all, once you unwrap the foil it rests in, you'll find a jumble of bun-oozing cheese, juice, and caramelized onions. As you try to figure out how to tackle this meat monster without wearing most of it, you flip up the bun and discover a veritable puddle of molten Oaxaca cheese combined with a slightly piquant red-pepper mayo and plenty of onions. This is where the burger gets interesting. You figure, What the hell, and go in for an exploratory bite. The patty, made from hand-ground chuck and chorizo, is meaty, spicy, and multidimensional. You take a larger bite and then another before realizing your burger is all but gone. So is your dignity as you try to lick the remaining juices from the collar of your shirt. But when a burger this juicy and savory comes along, there is no shame in enjoying it. As for your shirt stains? That's what washing machines are for.

Green Gables Café

There once was a vegan named Lady McFly,

Who secretly pined for shakes, burgers, and a fry.

She scoured the town

And wore such a frown

That she nearly gave up the try.

One day she entered Green Gables Café,

"Soy-free black-bean burgers? ($15) Oh, goodness! Hooray!"

No gluten, no meat,

Such a tasty treat.

The wee happy shop made her day.

La Estancia Argentina

We could debate until we're blue in the face about who regionally makes the number one empanada. Caribbean countries tend to deep-fry them, while Venezuela and Colombia make them with a thicker flour dough. But if we had to choose based on perfect doughiness and delicious filling, the Argentines win this battle hands down. Always baked, never fried, Argentine empanadas usually have a more robust flavor and texture. For a prime example of the perfect empanada, head to La Estancia Argentina in Aventura. A variety of turnovers are only $1.80 each, from classics such as jamón y queso, carne, and pollo to more unusual flavors like atun, caprese, humita. Or make a party out of it and buy a dozen for $21.38. La Estancia also offers premium empanadas with hand-cut meats and four cheeses for $2.50 apiece or $27.32 a dozen.

Scully's Tavern
Photo courtesy of Scully's Tavern

Say what you will about Guy Fieri, but when he visited Scully's Tavern for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the dude was onto something. The bar food is excellent, including popular darlings such as escargots and the potato-chip-encrusted dolphin sandwich ($12.25). But the French fries here are stars in their own right. Never soggy or floppy and always delicious, they boast a golden-brown color inviting you to crunch away. There's no need to toss them in spices or dunk them in aioli or some other sauce. You'll just require the perfectly salted fry, your mouth, and the interpretive happy dance that's sure to follow.

Pincho
CandaceWest.com

Jewish and Hispanic people have so much in common: crazy mothers, wild rants with wilder gesticulating, and lots of good eats. So it makes perfect sense that Pincho Factory owner Nedal Ahmad saw fit to top kosher Hebrew National franks with everything found on the drunkard's favorite: Colombian hot dogs. There's the pineapple sauce, the pink sauce, and the crushed potato chips. And how about a sprinkling of crushed bacon? Does it make sense with the kosher dog? Who cares! Get yourself to Pincho Factory and tell your friend, significant other, or hot-dog hostage to claim a seat while you elbow your way to the front of the line to demand your daily dog dose.

Joe's Takeaway

There's something you probably don't know about Joe's Take Away, the casual, to-go sibling of South Beach seafood staple Joe's Stone Crab. Unlike its pricier counterpart, Joe's Take Away has many, many inexpensive eats. There are mahi-mahi sandwiches ($11.95), fried oysters, and crab rolls. There's conch salad, fried calamari, and shrimp cocktail ($13.95). Yet none of these is a better deal — or a better bite — than the spot's golden, crisp fried chicken. At Joe's Take Away, the half fried chicken has moist flesh that drips with tasty juices and oozes unadulterated yard-bird flavor. Speckled with black pepper, its crust isn't too thick. Its exterior, rather, bursts into bits of brittle breading with just one bite. Best of all, though, the fried chicken is an unexpected delight. At this prominent fish joint, on a menu laden with sea creatures, Joe's fried chicken isn't just good. It's also only $5.95. Got a hankering when the Take Away is closed in August and September? Head to the restaurant and order the chicken basket. It's the same bird — with the addition of coleslaw and chips — for four extra bucks.

Keg South of Kendall

They're big, sticky, and fall-off-the-bone. They're hot and fresh, but not overly spicy. They're blackened and crunchy, and they're rubbed down with barbecue sauce. The perfect chicken wings can be hard to find, but those on the grill at Keg South of Kendall come pretty damn close. This family-friendly dive is an offshoot of the real-deal, locals-only Keg South on South Dixie Highway in Pinecrest, but the beloved "wings on the grill" can be found only at this western location. You can get a mouthwatering ten pieces for $9.99 or a gut-busting 20 for $15.99. Like 'em spicy? You'll have to ask for a bit of hot sauce on the side. But don't test the ghost chili pepper sauce unless you're really a hotshot — that stuff is more than muy picante. And the kitchen is open until midnight every day except Sunday, when it closes at 11 p.m., so you can eat these birds' appendages almost anytime. Score.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®