Best Of :: Food & Drink
Most Miami restaurateurs are lost in space. Suffering from delusions of grandeur, they quickly overextend themselves. Like solar systems, they expand beyond the bounds of their own gravitational pull. The farther the food orbits from its star, the colder and blander it gets until, finally, flavor goes hurtling off into space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. But all is not lost. Like a culinary George Clooney, Andres Tovar is here to rescue Miami from the flavorless abyss. Tovar opened Miami's most succulent restaurant two years ago. Initially called Con Sabor a México Carnitas Estilo Michoacán, the Calle Ocho eatery had a complex name but a simple mission: delicious tacos. Now renamed Viva Mexico, the restaurant has propelled Tovar from secret genius to standard-bearer for Miami's burgeoning slow-food movement. Instead of opening more stores to maximize his profit, however, Tovar partnered with Pancho Taco to take his meat to the masses. How many thousands of hipsters have been drinking at Wood Tavern and suddenly catch a whiff of carnitas on the evening breeze? How many have been able to resist? Tovar has won the town's taste buds without store openings or promotional schemes.
Cocktails in these heady days are complex magic tricks, summoned from the ether by the showstoppers known as bartenders. But just as there's a difference between a Houdini and the clown at kiddie parties, there's a huge gulf in skill behind all the smoke and mirrors fluffing up craft cocktails around town. That's why the cocktails at Bar Centro are so satisfying. True, they're gorgeous, and there's a fair share of showmanship with liquid nitrogen and props. But the cleverest of cocktails has to be well rounded and delicious. Which is where José Andrés comes in. He's a master at making food that's both whimsical and delicious, and his chef-meets-Cirque du Soleil sensibilities translate to the cocktail menu. Here, a margarita ($16) is kissed by "salt air" (a bit of sea foam floating in the glass substitutes for a salt rim, giving you a more nuanced bit of salt in every sip); a dirty martini ($16) is graced with an olive spherification that bursts briny juice into your mouth when firmly pressed between your teeth; and a caipirinha ($16) is turned into a potent brain-freeze-inducing lime granita when mixed with liquid nitrogen. Each sip? Magical.
From the cash-only status to the friendly faces behind the bar, not all that much has changed at Duffy's Tavern in the past 25 years. Considering that this Red Road institution hits the trifecta of any great neighborhood bar — TV sets tuned to live sports, reasonable beer prices, and, of course, tasty food you can eat with your hands — that's one status quo we're thrilled to see maintained. Duffy's cranks out delicious renditions of all the usual suspects — chicken wings, burgers, and nachos — with some well-known specialties, like the Death Dog, a dangerously spicy frank whose ingredients remain top secret. Don't be too alarmed — wary folks can order the chili cheese dogs, which come packed and weigh a quarter-pound. Pints of beer start at $3 (with pitchers at just $10), and the mugs are always frosted. Duffy's might not be situated at the end of a rainbow, but the ceiling decorated in kitschy posters, the beer bottle chandelier, and the license plate collection on the bathroom walls make this place Celtic gold.
There are many terms for the person who crafts your cocktail: mixologist, bartender, barkeep. But it's best to just call Julio Cabrera a cantinero, the Cuban term for professional bartender. The word is romantic, conjuring up a sepia-toned image of a gentleman who prides himself on making the perfect drink for his guests at the Regent Cocktail Club. A man who believes that working a bar is a noble profession that requires the skills of historian, scientist, mathematician, chef, and psychologist all in one. Julio Cabrera is all of that and more. This cantinero, in the classic sense of the word, is a master of all trades. When he's not posing for GQ or winning awards such as Most Imaginative Bartender from Bombay Sapphire's national competition, he's conducting pilgrimages to El Floridita Bar in Havana, where another cantinero, Constantino Ribalaigua, made daiquiris for a writer named Ernest Hemingway. "Bartender," "cantinero," whatever you want to call him, the dapper Cabrera is the epitome of what a master of his craft should be: a man who elevates his field by paying tribute to those before him and serving as a mentor to those coming up.
Who says that a delicious, well-prepared breakfast need be reserved for Sunday brunch? At Deli Lane, the thick red plates are constantly full of fluffy eggs and perfectly browned Belgian waffles. If Leslie Knope ever left Pawnee, Indiana, for Miami, she would quickly forget about JJ's Diner after a meal at Deli Lane. Operating hours start bright and early at 7 a.m. every day. So you have plenty of time for a filling breakfast before work (or naptime). Tip: Try the power-up breakfast, which includes two eggs, potatoes, toast, two pancakes, and choice of ham, bacon, or sausage for $6.50. It's served Monday through Friday from 7 to 11 a.m. Other breakfast items are served all day long. But don't walk in asking for all the bacon and eggs they have, because they just might abide by that request.
Coral Gables is now a bona fide cool dining destination, and we have Bulla to partly thank for it. The name is pronounced boo-yah, which is Spanish slang for the ability to create a stir. Indeed, everyone is talking about the chic gastrobar's relaxed ambiance and unique take on popular Spanish dishes. Bulla's impressive brunch has also been the source of chatter, and you'll understand why after sampling the cojonudo y cojonuda ($8). It consists of warm toast crowned with quail egg, chorizo, and Spanish blood sausage purée. Like almost everything here, it's deployed with the utmost care and boasts a delicate taste. Meanwhile, classic small plates from the dinner menu such as the croquetas de jamón and the albóndigas (veal and pork meatballs) are available during brunch as well ($9). Got a sweet tooth? There's French toast whose brioche is infused with the Spanish liquor orujo and enhanced with vanilla berry syrup and white chocolate chantilly ($12).
It's May 4, 2014, and Zak Stern, standing atop a wooden counter in his brand-new, gleaming-white Wynwood bakery, is giving a godawful speech. He begins to talk about the challenges he and his wife, Batsheva Wulfsohn, have overcome, only to interrupt himself every time a familiar face passes through the bakery's open bay door. Zak the Baker, as he is known, smiles and stutters on his way to eventually thanking nearly everyone in the room. But not a person in the audience is put off by his address. First of all, their mouths are stuffed with delicious sourdough bread. Second, the speech is vintage Stern: goofy, honest, and — like his loaves — all natural. It's been a decade since Stern dropped out of college to travel the world, along the way learning how to farm, bake, and make cheese in far-flung locales such as India, Sweden, France, Israel, and Italy. In 2011, he moved to Miami and began using the traditional methods he learned overseas in baking. He rented a shop in Hialeah and sold his loaves to heavyweights such as Steven Perricone and Michelle Bernstein. Soon his bread was in sandwiches at Panther Coffee and on charcuterie plates at Oak Tavern. But none of his past success compares to opening a bakery in the most bustling neighborhood in town. He now has his own mixer and oven, capable of churning out 140 loaves per hour. Tomorrow, Wynwood will wake up to the smell of sunflower and sesame, fennel and rye, olive and za'atar, walnut and whole wheat. So we can forgive Zak the Baker this Sunday evening as he struggles through his inaugural speech. Besides, it's not like we've got anything to say. Our mouths are stuffed with sourdough.
Buffets aren't known for providing quality over quantity, but that doesn't apply at POC. It offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert options that won't leave you asking where or when your food was prepared. POC has become a popular brunch spot on Sundays, when the buffet special goes for $17.19 and mimosas cost only $3 each from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You can choose from standards such as fried rice, honey chicken, and caprese panini sandwiches, or go with any of the made-to-order options like crepes, Belgian waffles, or chimichurri-glazed churrasco. There's even a sushi bar with more than a dozen sushi combinations that are constantly being restocked. Be sure to grab a fortune cookie and enjoy a postmeal espresso ($2.50) before you fall into a food coma. POC is open every day of the week for lunch and dinner. Food to go and catering are also available.
Pizza is a democratic food item. Most people like pizza — unlike, say, escargots — at the very first taste. And, unlike escargots, it's a humble meal made from bread, tomato, and cheese. The best pizza remains true to its working-class roots in style and price. Indeed, Pauloluigi to Go itself is humble. The small Coconut Grove spot is strictly take-out and delivery. Order a margherita pizza to go and open the box. The gentle aroma of cheese and bread soothes as your eyes take in the perfect brown crust and the islands of cheese and basil floating on a tranquil sea of marinara. Bite into a slice and experience cheesy nirvana. The sauce is mellow and slightly sweet, the cheese has a subtle nuttiness, and the crust is firm enough to fold — a pizza necessity. The prices are also humble. An 18-inch margherita costs $17.56 with tax and easily feeds four people. Can you satisfy a hungry group with a quality meal for less than $20 elsewhere? Fuhgeddaboutit!
Having pizza brought right to your door is a beautiful thing. At Mario the Baker, a franchise with multiple locations, delivery wait times are short, prices are affordable, and the pies are extra-good. Thin-crusted, lightly sauced Neapolitan-style pizza is eschewed in favor of thicker pies laden with a rich red sauce and a generous serving of gooey cheese. The classic cheese ($7.95 to $12.95) is utterly comforting, and — perhaps more important — tastes excellent when eaten cold the next day. You can also opt for less traditional creations, such as the Buffalo chicken pizza, topped with Buffalo wing sauce, chicken, and mozzarella and served with a side of blue cheese ($17.45 to $18.95). Mario the Baker certainly doesn't skimp on pizza varieties, and the large menu also boasts subs, salads, soups, pastas, and meat dishes. The popular chicken parmigiana ($12.95) comes with a side of pasta with tomato sauce and two delectable garlic rolls. Oh, and for less than six bucks, you can get a traditional Italian dessert too.
Fluffy green falafel, that is all. You have come to expect those balls from Etzel Itzik, a popular Israeli deli where Hebrew is spoken all around. Glossy photos of customers grace every inch of the walls here. Pictures are also stuffed beneath the glass on the tables at this casual eatery. Owner Itzik Younis wants everyone to feel welcome, and just in case you forget that, a green chalkboard sign near the kitchen reads, "At Itzik's you're at home." The deli offers a bounty of bowls with free salad to grace your table as soon as you are seated, but it is those neon-green falafel balls that are most memorable. Break through the crisp brown exterior and you'll find a warm interior with some extra bounce. You can get them in a pita ($5.95), on a baguette ($6.95), or as part of a plate ($7.45). Whatever the vessel, the falafel will shine through. It's a religious and familial experience you'll want to keep popping into your mouth. Hallelujah.
Server: Olive oil and paprika?
Sever: Good, you like it like we do.Just like that, you have the perfect hummus. Wissam El-Zoor goes by Sam, and he knows how to sling delicious kebabs, shawarma, dolmas, and a plethora of fresh salads to patrons whom he effortlessly schmoozes. All of the items served at this market and deli are stars, but the hummus stands out. It is velvety smooth and made fresh every other day. You really taste the nuttiness of the tahini in each bite as you spread it on your pita. Sure, you can buy all the ingredients at the market portion of the shop to make your own, but why bother? Sam and family have you and your wrap covered.