Kush
Valerie Lopez

Johnny Utah. It's the name of Keanu Reeves' character in the '90s cult surfer-gone-bank-robber classic Point Break. It's also the name of the new cult classic on which you're about to feast. Like the perfect wave, the perfect burger is an elusive thing. Though there are many out there, few are truly memorable. Kush's Johnny Utah ($13) is one to remember. The small Wynwood restaurant starts with beef from Florida's Cowart Ranch that's ground in-house daily. The patty is carefully cooked to order and then placed on a bun before being topped with cheddar, tomato, lettuce, diced onions, and pastrami. Yes, pastrami. Because the only thing that's better than a big hunk of meat is a big hunk of meat crowned with spicy pastrami.

Sweet Dogs
Courtesy of Sweet Dogs

A hot dog with just the right toppings is sweet. Indeed, the franks at Sweet Dogs have it going on with Nathan's kosher quarter-pounders, which can be ordered boiled, grilled, or deep-fried. Beyond the bun and the meat, there are a lot of crazy toppings that give the famed Colombian dogs a run for their dinero. Try the mac dog ($5.50). Yes, that's five-cheese mac 'n' cheese on a frankfurter. Sports enthusiasts can order dogs by their favorite local team's name. The Dolphins dog ($6.50) has grilled ham, smoked bacon, melted mozzarella, pineapple, secret "home sauce," and papitas. For a little more sweetness, all dogs come with a free mini chocolate bar. It's like trick-or-treating with hot dogs.

PB Steak

Lobster mac 'n' cheese is hardly the novelty it once was, but in the expert hands of the Pubbelly Group (PB Steak, Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, L'echon, and Barceloneta), it's elevated to new heights. At PB Steak in Sunset Harbour, chef-partner Jose Mendin and chef de cuisine Guillermo Concho rely on a béchamel sauce spiked with blue crab and white cheddar to give their lobster mac 'n' cheese ($19) an assertive edge. The kitchen frequently switches up the ingredients used in this all-American side dish, and predecessors have included a cheddar and bacon version, roasted apple and chorizo, and even mac 'n' cheese escargots. Given that they've all been stellar, there's no reason to fear change. Besides, popular dishes like the steak tartare sliders ($5 each) and braised beef short ribs ($25) aren't going anywhere. With PB Steak, Mendin and partners Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro — AKA the Pubbelly boys — have given Miami something it was missing: an innovative and casual steak house with high-quality fare at reasonable prices.

The best things in life tend to be the simplest. One example: grilled cheese sandwiches. Luckily, the people at the Cheese Course, an artisanal cheese shop and bistro, understand this. It's why they steer clear of gimmicky add-ons and focus on offering high-quality dairy and bread to create a grilled cheese that's both utterly comforting and gourmet. Once you've decided between whole wheat and white French baguette, it's time to select your hand-crafted cheese(s). Choose from English cheddar, jalapeño Monterey Jack, Brie, or Asiago and fontina ($4.99). The addition of turkey, bacon, or Black Forest ham is an additional $2. A cup of tomato bisque or broccoli cheddar soup ($3.99) is quite complementary, as is a chicken caesar salad ($7.99 for half). The cheese mongers here can also help you step outside your dairy comfort zone by nudging you to try a variety of international cheeses. They'll also help you pick the perfect wine to pair with them.

Proper Sausages
Photo by Sergio Del Giudice

Yo, Jimmy Dean, have you ever considered orange and fennel as a flavor combination? What about prune and cognac? Even Proper Sausages' signature "Proper" is made of Berkshire pork, fresh sage, mace, and black pepper. Do you feel sad, Jimmy Dean? Ashamed? Your sausage game is weak, and sausage is your raison d'être, so quid pro, bro. Head over and check out the Black Tie, which has chanterelles stuffed in there. We don't even know what chanterelles are, bro. But we are inviting Proper to our sausage party.

Vega's Burger Bar
Photo by Carina Ost

"Where does your chili get this hint of sweetness?" we asked at Vega's Burger Bar. Of course came the response "It's sugar." Well, after we were done feeling dumb, we dipped that spoon back into the bowl of homemade beanless beef chili ($5). It was topped with shredded cheese, diced onions, jalapeños, and sour cream. It had the heat, the sweet, and the meat. It was real good. Have it on your burger, fries, or hot dog. Pro tip: Vega's also serves a decadent macaroni 'n' cheese ($6.50). Order both and you can make your own chili mac tableside. There's also a great beer selection, but chili mac is by far the best pairing at this joint.

Fried chicken
Courtesy of Whisk Gourmet
Fried chicken

Jefferson: So what do you feel like taking in tonight, Art? You finally got a vacation from your job in Atlanta, and I'm guessing you'd like to have yourself a time.

Arthur: Indeed, indeed, but I have to tell you, Jeff, I'm mighty hungry.

Jefferson: Hungry, eh? Well, what're you fixin' to eat? Here in Miami, you can try some Cuban food or some spicy Bahamian jerk goat or maybe some fish à la creole.

Arthur: To be honest, I'm feeling like I could go for something a little closer to home, y'know? Something Atlanta, something Southern.

Jefferson: What, like Krispy Kreme?

Arthur: No, not Krispy Kreme.

Jefferson: But Krispy Kreme is from North Carolina.

Arthur: I know Krispy Kreme is from North Carolina, but I don't want any Krispy Kreme right now. I want chicken. I want a good fried bird.

Jefferson: Ahhhh.

Arthur: Any chance there are joints down here that can put together a proper Southern bird?

Jefferson: Matter of fact there is, my friend. There's a place in South Miami called Whisk. You want me to get your mouth watering? Get you all riled up?

Arthur: Preach.

Jefferson: Art, my friend, this place Whisk, they make a plate of fried chicken for $18.95 that'll leave you clucking at the moon to thank the gods of fried fowl. They marinate it in buttermilk first...

Arthur: Speak on, brother.

Jefferson: Oh yes, and then they fry that big ol' Bell & Evans bird breast up nice and crunchy with that perfect bit of flake and lay it on top of green beans and honey-roasted carrots and some mean mashed potatoes...

Arthur: Yes...

Jefferson: And then they top the whole thing off with the best gravy you ever had, full of rosemary and bacon and warm, gooey goodness.

Arthur: Amen. Jeff...

Jefferson: Yes, Art?

Arthur: Why aren't we already on our way to Whisk?

Hotel Astor

Fries, meat goo, cheese chunks. It's delicious. It's disgusting. It kinda depends upon whether you're the kind of person who perversely craves a 1,000-calorie mound of hot, goopy grub. Developed in the 1950s by French Canadians hoping to empty the fridge and prevent horrific hangovers, maudite poutine (which, literally translated, means "fucking mess") has since been embraced by gastropubs, modern bistros, and Burger King. But one especially nice and fancy Southern riff on this glorious Quebecois gut bomb is the Tater Tot Poutine at the Downstairs at Hotel Astor in South Beach. For $10, you get a plate piled with golden potato nuggets, white country gravy, melted squeaky curd, and shredded, slow-braised short rib. However, because this is a fine-dining establishment, the whole thing is topped with a truffle-oil drizzle and delivered in a serving size that even the sober can probably scarf down in less than ten minutes.

Doggi's Arepa Bar
Photo by Maureen Aimee Mariano

Venezuelan arepas can come split open like a sandwich with a variety of fillings. At Doggi's, there are plenty of choices. When it comes to something as simple as cheese, there's a rainbow of queso blanco, queso amarillo (Gouda), and queso de mano. Try the arepa domino ($8.99), which comes with refried black beans and organic white cheese. Vegetarians will appreciate the silvestre ($8.99), with lettuce, tomato, avocado, cilantro, and palm hearts. Carnivores can get their arepas with everything from shredded chicken or beef to chorizo to steak. The options are vast, but you can be assured your arepa will have that perfect crunchy exterior to protect your precious fillings.

Sure, you'll find some of the tenderest cuts of churrasco with chimichurri at Graziano's Market, but there's one unexpected surprise at this Argentine mercado in Hialeah: a mouth-watering display of empanadas. At $2.59 apiece, these golden pillows of baked goodness come stuffed with various ingredients, including traditional meat, chicken, or bacalao; prosciutto and cheese; and ham and ricotta. But the sweet and salty plum, bacon, and mozzarella empanada is a local favorite. And ay, ay, ay! If you're in the mood for something picante, the spicy beef turnover will give your taste buds the kick they crave.

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Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®