Best Of :: Shopping & Services
You hear it all the time: Bookstores are dying, hanging on to cultural relevancy by threads more battered than the spine of a well-worn paperback. But what you don't hear about are the avid, enthusiastic readers keeping those stores alive. Guys like Mike McCall of the Paperback-Book X-Change. This charming shop is yellowed and worn, just like a beloved tome. It's been around for more than 35 years, with McCall at the helm for the past 13 years. Friendly and knowledgeable, he's happy to talk to customers who care about the dying art of the bound and printed word. Like all great used-book shops, there's a fantastic element of chance in what you'll walk out with.
"Do you have Neuromancer by William Gibson?" you might ask.
"I don't know," McCall will admit, "but here is Mona Lisa Overdrive. Let's keep looking, the G's continue on that shelf."
You inquire, "Do you have The Great Gatsby?"
"I see that one all the time!" he will exclaim. "It comes in every day or every five days. You never can tell — come back tomorrow!"
Caring customers are the life-blood of the X-Change. All selections are half their original sticker price, and readers who bring in books for trade get an additional 50 percent off when it's time for check out. You never know, he might strike a deal with you just because he likes the cut of your jib.
You're driving on South Dixie Highway when you notice the needle on your tank approaching E. So you pull up to the BP on SW 17th Avenue to fill 'er up. As you walk in, a glass case displaying fruit tarts, fine chocolates, Spanish-style desserts, and flaky, chocolate-drizzled pastries slaps you across the face. After staring in awe at the goodness that lies before you, you realize this isn't your typical gas station. Murals of colonial-like structures adorn the walls. Instead of rows of dusty honey buns and oil cans, you'll find specialty beers such as Stone Cherry Chocolate Stout and Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah Chili beer, a selection of more than 2,000 wines, and a variety of champagne. Toward the back of the store is the most surprising feature: Spanish restaurant El Carajo International Tapas & Wines, which serves an array of tapas, including tortilla española and stuffed piquillo peppers. Forget filling up your tank — you might catch yourself visiting this BP to fill up on food and drinks.
In Miami-Dade, car dealers get a rap somewhere between that of international weapons brokers and human-organ harvesters. But there are plenty of car dealers worth trusting — provided you do your homework and know what you want. Kendall Toyota is one of them. At Kendall, the huge inventory is key. Along with its West Kendall branch near Tamiami Airport and an off-site lot, this long-standing dealership stocks an impressive selection of both used and new cars. The display lot has vehicles that come and go as soon as they can be stickered. If you can't find the right color or features you want, they'll walk you to their onsite multilevel lot, packed tightly with automobiles in all shades. They also have more than Toyotas in their fleet, and they move cars so fast they don't waste anyone's time with lemons or jacked-up prices. Often, cars less than a year old with only a few thousand miles show up. So pack the cynicism in the trunk of your beater, head to Kendall Toyota, and ride home with a newfound faith in automobile salesmen — plus a much better set of wheels.
Let's face it: Miami has more poorly maintained death traps rolling around its highways than any city this side of Havana. So it makes sense that the best mechanics in Dade are a brother and sister from Jaruco, a town just outside Cuba's capital packed full of rusting '50s clunkers. Family-owned and -run since 1984, Red Road Tire & Auto Center has friendly staffers always ready to make space in their day to slide your ride into the garage and get you checked out so you're one of the safe ones out on the Dolphin. And if that $70 synthetic oil change you dread every 5,000 miles has you cursing your decision to buy such a snazzy, newfangled jalopy, you'll be hard-pressed to find a place that does a quicker or cheaper change — all for less than 40 bucks. Nearly 30 years in Hialeah has made this garage battle-tested, so it's a damnably rare problem that they can't fix, and if you've let things get that drastic, you might consider throwing your keys into the river anyway. They service everything from Hummers to Hyundais and even trucks that work at Miami International Airport. Luckily, you don't have to go to all the way to Havana to find crack mechanics.
Next time you're twiddling your thumbs while waiting for one of those $10, automatic drive-thru car washes to finish blasting your ride with suds, consider this: For only $2 more, you could've had your car degreased, depollinated, and scraped for miscellaneous bug residue by hand at the Liberty Gas Station on Coral Way. Cars flood the cramped parking lot on evenings and weekends trying to get under a red-topped tent that simply reads, "Car Wash." It's nearly hidden behind the gas station's small market, which is easy to find. It's the one with the sign boasting fresh-baked bread (large Cuban loaves for less than $1). Inside, you'll discover made-to-order Cuban sandwiches, pan con lechón, and sugary-strong café con leche. Put your thumbs back in your pockets — this is how you kill time waiting for a clean car.
Admit it: You're addicted to the internet. You grind on the web at work, day in and day out, and as soon as you escape the office, what do you do? You get on your phone and surf on-the-go. Once you walk through the door at home, you sit at that laptop or tablet or PC and get lost for hours down some insane YouTube rabbit hole of babies chasing cats. That being said, what's the only thing that makes the internet better? Great food and a friendly atmosphere to go with your Wi-Fi. That's exactly what the Daily Creative Food Co. delivers. You can munch some crunchy sandwiches, fresh salads, or original wraps — all named for local neighborhoods and newspapers, most for $6 to $10 — while you attack that World Wide Web. Slurp it down with some soup, soda, or tea. Hell, this place even serves alcohol, because the Daily knows it gets tough out there on the net. But isn't it weird hanging out in a restaurant for hours? No, it's not. The Daily wants you to use its internet access. It advertises the free Wi-Fi on its drinks, for crying out loud! The dining room is spacious and comfortable, and there are plenty of outdoor seats if you need some sunshine with your blogging.
Homer Simpson said it best: "Alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all life's problems." The wisdom of Homer reigns supreme at Sunset Corners Fine Wine and Spirits, where its massive selection of distilled antidepressants is fit to cause or cure any ill. From craft beer to rare spirits, your liquid elixir is here. Bernie and Rosalind Rudnick began solving problems from that particular corner back in 1954. These days, their grandsons Larry and Michael are the men who'll find a poison to suit your particular predicament. Need to impress the boss? An Aberfeldy single-malt will do. Feed a cocktail party? Try some drunken goat cheese from the charcuterie case. Step up from Bud Light? Snag a Dogfish Head 90 Minute. And if you're into education, sidle up to their frequent tastings — wines, beers, and spirits. They'll feed you, drink you, and teach you too. What more could you want from a friendly neighborhood liquor store?
This is Miami. Two-buck Chuck is unheard of, and you'll impress exactly no one with your favorite $10 Publix vino. This is a city that's all about impressions, be it first, second, or 376th. And when it comes to wine, Wine by the Bay's Stefano is happy to supply you with the stuff that will save you the undue embarrassment among friends and colleagues of showing up with a box of bargain-basement wine. With high ceilings, white-washed walls, and concrete floors, the lofty space is more Tribeca than downtown Miami, but the killer view of the American Airlines Arena across the way keeps your perspective straight. Stroll in on any given afternoon and you'll find Stefano and his rolling Italian accent behind the counter while chatting up patrons. Also the man behind Etra Fine Art, he regularly rotates pieces out of the shop, so there's no shortage of aesthetic appeal. Ask for some guidance and he'll show you his (pricey) silver and gold selections, his assortment of imported cheeses and foie gras, and his prosciutto slicer. Snag a top-dollar bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild Pauillac ($524.95) for your baller marriage proposal, or a more reasonable bottle of Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc ($21.95) for next week's Friendsgiving. Or just pop the cork on a bottle of Balan prosecco ($16.95) in-house and sit a spell while Stefano regales you with tales of his travels.
Cigars are as burrowed into Little Havana's culture as the mangrove roots that dig into Florida Bay. There's no better spot to get deep into the aromatic depths of tobacco worship than Mi Cuba Cigar Lounge. Just a stone's throw from Marlins Park, this Little Havana hideaway is where the locals go for an eclectic choice of cigars at great prices. Anytime, day or night, you can play a game of dominoes or watch baseball on TV while enjoying a delicious stogy. The shop — which also offers beer, wine, and humidor maintenance to keep those 'gars fresh — is the only place in town that offers "cigar restoration" for damaged but cherished vintages. It also proffers some of the most unique blends, including a 1994 Cuba Aliados 3 Gentleman ($300 for three cigars), a 1990 Puros Indios Chief ($85 per stick), and a 1998 Aliados Miami Vintage for $30 per cigar. Or just stop by to breathe it all in — the culture, the smell, the flavor of Little Havana.
Named after Thomas Stone and John Hart, a pair of patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence, this Kendall hangout for firearm enthusiasts is filled with guys and gals who strive to embody the same kind of "resiliency, hard work, honesty, and leadership that these two great individuals demonstrated throughout their lives." Oh, and if it's the second or fourth Thursday night of the month, they'll also be blasting bowling pins with rented handguns ($20 for members, $25 for nonmembers). For amateurs, the fine, friendly folks at Stone Hart's offer "free monthly basic safety courses" as well as affordable $100-to-$149 "safety training, concealed weapon, and precision shooting, women-only, and family courses, among others." For the pros, though, just pack an extra-large shooter's bag, throw on your favorite conceal-carry Bermuda shirt, and go unload on one of Stone Hart's 16 shooting lanes, all for only $13 to $18 an hour. Other notable perks: free Wi-Fi, cable TV, and gourmet coffee.
It carries rare Nike SBs and retro Jordans. It carries a dozen high- and low-top Adidas kicks. It carries a display of Nike Dunks with more colors than a Timothy Leary acid trip. It carries early-release Jordans alongside sneakers from Diamond Supply, Vans, and Obey. It carries flat-brimmed NBA hats. It carries shiny Mitchell & Ness baseball jackets with vintage MLB logos. Foot Soldiers, in other words, carries the aspirations of an evolving downtown Miami. It's a city where people live, not one they abandon at 6 o'clock. It's a city that has art, fashion, good food, and pride. Best of all, Foot Soldiers sells $30 "F--k You From Miami" T-shirts — so you can show yours too.
Sometimes in life, you just need one place where you can buy everything: jeans, dresses, shoes, accessories, swimwear, lingerie. And yes, there are plenty of malls around town that might meet that description, but half the fun of dressing up is bragging about where you got the goods. Saying you scored it all at this boutique in Coral Gables sounds a lot cooler than saying you went shopping at Dadeland Mall. ISA Boutique has you covered both ways. It's got everything you need to stock your wardrobe, and it's a small, locally owned boutique that you can tell your friends you "discovered." Also, the sticker shock isn't overwhelming — items range in price from $40 to $300. The fashion isn't necessarily avant-garde, but ISA carries the basics every Miami woman should have in her closet, with labels like Bec & Bridge, Blank NYC, Ava Sky, and Red Carter. And if you can't make it to the store, ISA delivers to Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, South Miami, and Pinecrest for only $5 — you know, in case of a fashion emergency.