At five-star restaurants, you expect to be treated like an A-lister. After all, you're paying through the nose. But for excellent service, you sometimes do better at a neighborhood joint like Italy Today. Located on Main Street in Miami Lakes, the Tuscan-style Italian restaurant serves reasonably priced fresh bruschetta ($9), savory pumpkin ravioli ($15), and the most well-balanced combination of mascarpone cream, ladyfingers, and espresso you'll ever taste in tiramisu ($6.50). But that's not all. From the moment you pass through its rustic wooden doors and hear Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole crooning in the background, you'll feel right at home. The hostess greets you with a warm hello and a genuine smile as she grabs a stack of menus and walks you to your table. Moments after you settle down, a wooden slab with homemade bread appears along with glasses of ice-cold water. Your waitress pleasantly welcomes you with a list of recommended plates. As you place your order and devour the bread, a steady stream of servers and even the manager check on you. As soon as the chef puts the finishing touches on your plate, your food is immediately whisked to your table, along with grated Parmesan cheese. Rest assured you will neither be ignored during the meal nor waiting for your bill long after you've finished. At the end of your dining experience, you'll walk out with a grin, a full stomach, and the desire to come back soon.

How would a mad scientist eat his ice cream? He'd inject it with enough nitrogen to cover the whole parlor in a frosty mist. But you don't have to be a mad scientist to chill out like one, thanks to Chuck Woodard and Danny Golik, the brainiacs behind Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream. You've never had a tasty treat like this before. Begin by choosing your wet ingredients — or elements — from the "Periodic Table" behind the bar. With everything from vanilla (Vn) and Nutella (Nt) to biscotti (Bs) to dulce de leche (Dl), there's plenty to drool over. Add some "mix-n's," such as Krispy Kreme (Kr), Oreos (Or), or even Pop Tarts (Pt). It all goes into a giant mixing bowl that's churned and injected with just enough nitrogen to start a real smoke storm. Don't worry — it's all very safe and fun, and nitrogen is delightfully tasteless and odorless. You can imagine any ingredient combination you want, or you can rely on special weekly "equations" for something new. Chill-N is a real labor of love — the website says Woodard and Golik spent "six months locked up in a garage and 3,456,789 brain-freezes" to get the science right. So indulge in a creamy cup at least once. Grab a regular cup for $4.55, or upgrade to a large for $4.95. Each additional mix-n costs 60 cents. You should probably go nuts. It's well worth it.

Gelateria 4D

You don't have to travel all the way to Italy for some buono gelato. Located in South Pointe, right across the street from Joe's Stone Crab, is Gelateria 4D. The SoBe outpost of the Italian franchise offers some of the tastiest gusti di gelato this side of the Atlantic. There are more than 24 flavors on display, from sweet and creamy tiramisu to savory passionfruit and diet-friendly sugar-free coffee. But if you can't settle for just one sapore, go for the small ($5.95), which brings two scoops of any flavor in a cup or waffle cone. Try the Nutella, cookies 'n' cream, or bacio and coconut. If you're feeling adventuresome, try a stracciatella shake topped with whipped cream and syrup ($7.95), a banana split with your choice of Italian ice cream ($10.89), a mango gelato smoothie ($6.51), or a crepe ($9.35) served with fudge or cream caramel, a scoop of gelato, whipped cream, and Grand Marnier flambé. If you can't get enough of the frozen goodness, enjoy la dolce vita at home with one of Gelateria 4D's gelato boxes ($15.50 for a half-liter, $29.90 for a full liter).

Thank you, Laudurée, for choosing Miami Beach as your next international location after New York City and for bringing a touch of Paris to these shores. Thank you for employing such courteous staff at your Lincoln Road pastry shop. For a moment, we can forget where we are. Thank you for your miniature storefront awash in pastel hues that match your 16 macaron flavors ($2.80 each), as well as the stunning decorative boxes that are available to house them (starting at $21 for a box of six). Thank you for crafting macarons that taste even better than they look. The exoskeleton is crunchy without falling apart, while the inside is perfectly moist and bursting with a rich and velvety filling. We'll take a box of novelty flavors (orange blossom, wild berry jasmine, and lemon verbena) and a box of classics (salted caramel, pistachio, and vanilla), thank you.

Palomilla Grill

Enter Palomilla Grill and find yourself surrounded by ceramic trinkets and sunflower paintings that evoke the sensation of a faraway island. The setting is rich with lingering memories and remnants of hearty conversation. This is the kind of place where families go to spend time together and laugh over savory Cuban meals prepared by able hands. Some of the seat cushions are still even wrapped in plastic, just like abuela's. Sure, you'll want to try the signature palomilla steak ($11.25), but no proper Cuban meal is complete without flan for dessert. It's made in house, and you can practically taste the love in each bite. The soft, caramel notes melt on your tongue and get your taste buds dancing to the beat of Celia Cruz's "Azucar!" Basically, if your abuelita doesn't have her own top-secret flan recipe, she should be infiltrating Palomilla Grill to get her hands on this one.

Joe's Stone Crab
Photo courtesy of Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant

What's icy, tangy, zesty, crisp, tart, sweet, smooth and positively peerless? It's the key lime pie ($7.95) at Joe's Stone Crab. It's the kind of dessert you have to eat with your eyes closed to fully take in the multitude of textures and flavors. And like the 100-year-old restaurant's world-famous stone crabs, it's worth waiting in line for. The pie is said to have originated in Key West, where key limes abound, but Joe's does Miami Beach proud with its exquisite rendition of the quintessential American treat. Enjoy it after a filling meal at the storied institution, or grab it to go from Joe's Take Away next door. Full pies are available if you order ahead of time. Tote one home, refrigerate it, and enjoy its scrumptiousness for days.

Fro-yo is a way of life. You either get it or you don't. For some, closing an evening by swirling low-fat yogurt into a cup and accessorizing it with myriad toppings is the happiest of endings. Mimi offers that treat in North Beach. The flavors rotate frequently, but salted caramel and Tahitian vanilla are regulars. Sample some of the more exotic varieties, especially green tea, taro, and watermelon sorbet. You pay by the pound, so try to sail under the $5 mark on the scale. Toppings such as fresh fruit, cookies, and chocolate chips can really add up, but the soft mochi and burst-in-your-mouth fruit-flavored boba balls are light enough to keep the weight in check.

Restaurant Michael Schwartz
billweiserphoto.com

There's so much to love about Restaurant Michael Schwartz. For starters, there's the idyllic poolside setting, which makes for one of the most outstanding outdoor dining experiences on the Beach. Then you have a menu overseen by one of Miami's most acclaimed chef-restaurateurs, Michael Schwartz. Best of all, you've got a dessert list created by executive pastry chef and James Beard Award finalist Hedy Goldsmith. If you visit in a party of four or more, the family-style pie à la mode (flavors change regularly) served with homemade ice cream ($36) is haute comfort food at its finest. Meanwhile, the tangerine creamsicle pot de crème ($12) features custard dotted with vanilla beans and three warm, fluffy doughnuts. The desserts here are anything but ordinary. But they're not gimmicky or pretentious, and that's definitely something to love.

Misha's Cupcakes

Misha Kuryla-Gomez's cupcakes are pretty, oh so pretty. In fact, it might be impossible to enter Misha's Cupcakes without breaking into a smile. And in this case, appearances aren't deceiving, because these little treats are undeniably divine. Kuryla-Gomez began baking out of her kitchen to earn money while staying close to her young daughter, and — voilà — now there are five Misha's Cupcakes stores. What's more, her sweets are sold at numerous locations throughout Miami, including the Café at Books & Books and Epicure Gourmet Market in Sunny Isles Beach. Seasonal flavors include key lime, orange creamsicle, and s'more, and some regulars are red velvet, cookies 'n' cream, and coconut ($1.35 for mini, $2.60 for regular). Picture-perfect cakes (starting at $20) are also available.

Beehive Natural Foods

Oreos may be vegan, but an unrecognizable Crisco-based filling and some mass-produced chocolate wafers aren't exactly the stuff of a healthy diet. So what are meatless eaters supposed to look forward to at the end of a meal? Enter Beehive Juice Bar's cake du jour. Whipped up daily, the vegan lunch counter's cakes are dairy-free, flour-free, and processed-sugar-free. Owner and master chef Carlos Schicchi generally uses whole-wheat pastry flour, brown rice syrup, flax meal, pineapple purée, and an array of other good-for-you ingredients to craft cruelty-free masterpieces for your mouth. On any given day, there could be apple, strawberry, carrot, banana walnut, chocolate, or tangerine cake. And they're all guilt-free, cruelty-free, and bad-stuff-free. At $2.99 a slice, it's a sweet steal.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®