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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You know you're at a legit mofongo joint when the signature Puerto Rican plantain dish is served on a platter with its wooden pilón, the same mortar and pestle used to mash the fried plátano verde. Located in the heart of the City of Progress, El Rinconcito de Santa Bárbara opened in 1997 as a Cuban restaurant. Two years later, it became a fusion of Cuban and Puerto Rican food after its owners, Rosa and Pedro Delgado, took a trip to Puerto Rico, were blown away by the island's cuisine, and decided to introduce comida boricua to their family-run restaurant in Hialeah. Today, El Rinconcito has become synonymous with the island's most famous plato. All of its house mofongo specials are topped with crunchy pieces of chicharrón and paired with a side of fried pork masas ($8.99), picadillo ($9.50), garlic chicken ($9.50), peppered fish ($10.50), or lobster tail ($25.99). They even come stuffed in a roll of churrasco ($15.50). No matter how you choose to enjoy it, you'll be dreaming of mofongo for days.

At Garcia's, what they catch is what you eat. The decades-old restaurant and fish market has its own fleet of fishing boats, so the seafood is as fresh as can be and affordable too. Founded by brothers who fled Cuba in the '60s, Garcia's is a serene spot with great-tasting, simple food. On a gorgeous day, few epicurean pleasures rival scarfing down a fish sandwich ($10 to $14) while perched on Garcia's terrace overlooking the Miami River. All sandwiches come on a bun, with chopped tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, red onion, and an excellent light cream sauce. The grouper and dolphin are favorites, and the fish can be blackened, grilled, or fried and comes with one side dish. The sweet plantains are always a good decision. Garcia's is open for lunch and dinner, and in case you're wondering, the pescaterian dishes extend beyond sandwiches.

Technically you're in Brickell, but you might as well be in Barcelona when dining at Perfecto, a modern Spanish gastrobar. Chef-restaurateur Oscar Manresa is proud to say his first eatery outside Catalonia is authentic through and through. Even the chef de cuisine — Daniel Torres — came straight from working at the Michelin-starred Catalan restaurant Hofmann. Tapas, of course, are the focal point at Perfecto, with the avocado cannelloni ($18) hogging the spotlight. There's no pasta to be found, just an exterior layer of avocado slices covering luscious lump crabmeat accented with tomatoes, microgreens, and ginger. Another standout is the tender octopus "Perfecto" prepared with whisky rather than water and proffered on roasted potato spheres ($16). Come here with friends who relish sharing food, and spend the night drinking gin and tonics off the extensive list and listening to resident DJ Ferran Lozano spin house music. Yes, he also hails from Barcelona.

Prime Italian

At Prime Italian, dinner always comes with a side order of top-tier people-watching. But even the quirky characters of Ocean Drive take a back seat to the side dishes offered at this swanky South Beach eatery by restaurateur Myles Chefetz. Many of the "accessories," as they are called ($13), originated at its sister restaurant Prime One Twelve, and it's no secret that diners often get more excited about these accompaniments than the mains. The luscious creamed corn and creamed spinach are particularly outstanding, as is the creamy four-cheese truffle macaroni. Heck, you can easily skip the veal Parmesan ($47) or the Kobe beef lasagna bolognaise ($29) and cobble together an entire meal just from side dishes. There's a saying that accessories make the outfit, and at Prime Italian, they make the meal.

Bar Crudo

"Raw" is the word at Bar Crudo, a hidden gem tucked away in Miami Beach's South of Fifth neighborhood. Inside the miniature restaurant, you'll find walls lined with pop-art-style murals of seductive babes. You also might notice the lack of ovens and stoves. Instead, proprietress Andy Travaglia (of Lee & Marie's Cakery) has equipped her eatery with sous-vide machines and induction burners. She also hired talented chefs Reto Von Weissenfluh and Jan Tomaszewski to wow diners with their curing, preserving, and raw-cooking techniques. Every component of the artfully constructed dishes is included to emphasize the main ingredient. Indeed, a white shrimp ceviche would fall flat were it not for the addition of avocado, mango, and orange. The same goes for the mixed ceviche, which mingles octopus, snapper, orange, and yuzu. Bar Crudo likes to switch up its small-plate-centric menu, but most items are in the $12 range. Charcuterie and cheese options abound for $6 to $9, and carnivores will be pleased to know that meat gets the raw treatment too.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®