La Patagonia Argentina

Argentina is much more than pampas, the tango, and carne. And Argentine restaurants are some of the best this town has to offer. At La Patagonia, named for that nation's southern reaches, you get a long list of good stuff, including free valet parking; a cozy atmosphere; delectable empanadas ($2.50) to start your meal; homemade pasta such as linguine, fettuccine, gnocchi, and ravioles de espinaca with spinach and mushroom fillings; reasonably priced steaks like bife de chorizo (a 16-ounce grilled New York strip) with mixed greens for $16.95; a parrillada platter packed with skirt steak, short ribs, flap meat, sausage, blood sausage, and sweetbreads for $16.50; and a panqueque de dulce de leche (caramel crepe) to close out your meal for just $5. There are bonuses too: Food is likely to be delivered by the friendly owners. You receive 50 percent off the food portion of the bill on weekends, And you get a bonus with your bill: a coupon card for half off your next visit — as if you needed more incentive to return. Winner, winner, steak dinner! La Patagonia Argentina is more than a fine restaurant. It's a revelation in hospitality.

Rooster sculptures guard this pocket-size, cafeteria-style spot in Little Havana. That may be because El Gallito Coffee Shop offers far more than just a stiff, sugary cup of café. Stop by in the morning for hulking baleadas. The chewy flour tortillas cost only $4 each and come stuffed with soft-scrambled eggs, refried black beans, and (usually) a fan of sweet Florida avocado slices. Later in the day, order the pollo ceibeño ($9). The iconic Honduran preparation offers a protein — in this case a pair of thick-crusted fried chicken thighs atop a mound of fried plantains crowned with curtido, a ripping-hot condiment made of fermented cabbage, carrot cubes, and red onion. Grab a container to go.

La Mar by Gastón Acurio
Photo by billwisserphoto.com

Gastón Acurio needs no introduction. The chef, restaurateur, and official ambassador of Peruvian cuisine is to Peru what Jacques Pepin is to France. Acurio has opened 40 restaurants worldwide, including his flagship Astrid & Gastón in Lima, which is ranked number two on TheWorlds50Best.com's list of the top restaurants in Latin America. But that's not the only one of his establishments to earn a place on the coveted roster. La Mar's outpost in Lima sits at number 14. Now on Brickell Key, you can get a taste of Peru's (and Latin America's) best without having to fly overseas. Simply pay for valet parking (free during lunch and $12 at dinner with validation) at the Mandarin Oriental. A universe of Nikkei (the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian) flavors awaits you. Try the inimitable chaufa aeropuerto ($26), which combines Chinese sausage, roast pork, shrimp omelet, Nikkei sauce, and pickled salad with pan-fried rice in a superheated stone bowl. Or check out the day's catch, fried whole and steeped in a Peruvian-Japanese spicy sauce ($49). Adventuresome eaters can nosh on veal or chicken heart skewers from the anticucho grill. Of course, the plethora of ceviche options shouldn't be overlooked — the citrusy fish staple of Peruvian gastronomy is what made Gastón Acurio and La Mar household names.

Little Brazil
Alexandra Rincon

They say good things come in small packages, but condensing a region the size of Brazil into one restaurant is quite a feat. Little Brazil in North Beach gives you a taste of flavors from the largest country in South America. On weekends, feijoada — the national dish — is served. It's a black bean stew with fresh and dried beef, salted and fresh pork, bacon, sausage, and ribs. This meaty masterpiece is served over collard greens with orange slices and farofa. There is also excellent churrasco, but one dish that steals the show every day of the week for lunch and dinner is the Salada Little Brazil ($16.95). It has plump pieces of Brazilian sausage and jumbo shrimp in a garlic, white wine, and lemon butter sauce over mixed greens, palm hearts, tomato, and carrots. Go little in a big, Brazilian, and beefy way!

High blood pressure? Slide over to Sam Konata's North Miami spot. There, the lifelong Rastafarian will serve you a plate of spicy rainbow Swiss chard. "All you need vitamin K, and that's what you'll get," says the 58-year-old proprietor of Konata's. It's been five years since he opened this spotless vegan place serving Ital food. No, we don't mean Italian. Ital is the diet all Rastafarians keep, and it's as spicy, rich, and satisfying as any plate of oxtail. Better yet, his ever-changing lineup of $11 vegan lunches will do more than fill your belly; it'll satisfy your soul. "This is life food," Konata says, "and it's all ya really need."

Bahamian Pot Restaurant

The rest of the week, you can eat all the fried conch and oxtail you like. But the weekends are reserved for something special: souse. At Liberty City's powder-blue Bahamian Pot, Trudy Ellis offers souse with chicken ($6) or pork ($8). The hearty stew begins with tripe sautéed with mirepoix (a mixture of chopped onions, carrots, and celery), vinegar, and blistering-hot chilies. A pork stock is poured atop and heated to a ripping boil, turning each bit of offal into a velvety bite. Finally, the main protein is added alongside some of its juices to round out the spicy potion. If you ask nicely, maybe, just maybe, Trudy will give you one or two of her famed johnnycakes. The cornbread rounds are the perfect medium for sucking up all of that luscious sauce and cooling down the heat.

Chez Le Bebe
Natalia Molina

In French, the word "chez" loosely translates to "at the home of." In Little Haiti's Chez Le Bebe, the homestyle treat is the goat's head stew ($10), served in limited quantities — only weekend mornings. The crowds flood in for this one, as did the Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern. The rest of the week, you can get your griot and oxtail fix, but on days off, it's the roasted head, spicy and bubbling in a cauldron of vegetables and potatoes. Weekdays, Chez Le Bebe is a reliable spot for heaping containers of crunchy plantains and the crisp fried pork chunks called griot ($4) or oxtail ($10) in a rich gravy that doubles as an excellent sauce for the accompanying pile of rice and pigeon peas.

Readers' choice: Tap Tap

Côté Gourmet
Aran S Graham

Miami Shores is not quite Paris, and the medical/office building on NE Second Avenue that houses Côte Gourmet doesn't much resemble the iconic Hausmann architecture of the City of Lights. But get beyond that and you'll discover a quaint, authentic bistro run by a French husband-and-wife team. Evelyn toils in the kitchen while Yvan tends to the front of the house. The service at times is slow, but charming touches such as red ribbons tied around the dinner napkins and a solid, well-priced wine selection make up for it. Try the soups, which rotate daily. Made from fresh vegetables, they're wonderful, satisfying, and not at all salty. Escargots ($11) are delicious, especially with fresh bread, and the smoked salmon crepe ($16.95) is a great meal when you don't want to weigh yourself down with a heavy steak. French food is supposed to be all about comfort, and at Côte Gourmet, you can experience a meal like the French do — one that's simple, well prepared, reasonably priced.

Il Mulino New York

We're not sure whether Tony Soprano is still alive. After all, that last scene in The Sopranos' series finale was mighty ambiguous. But if he were to visit South Beach, he'd take his goombahs to Il Mulino. The restaurant has locations in New York, Atlantic City, and Sunny Isles Beach, to name a few, but the South Beach outpost looks like it stepped out of Italian Vogue. The dining room is all white — so much so that you think maybe you should order white wine and something without marinara. Fuhgeddaboutit! You're about to eat like a don! For starters, you'll be offered freshly baked bread with carved parmigiano — just a nibble while you peruse the menu. Pasta dishes come in full or half portions. A fettuccine with rustic lamb ragu is fragrant, spicy, and a touch gamey. Get the half, because you want room for one of the West Third Street favorites — like the fall-off-the-bone osso bucco ($58), a generous veal shank slow-roasted in a red-wine-and-porcini-mushroom sauce and served with risotto. It's hearty, yet it's like butter. Chef Artie at the fictional Vesuvio couldn't make a better dinner himself.

Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant

Pane e Vino

Spaghetti al pomodoro
CandaceWest.com
Spaghetti al pomodoro

Perhaps you're the fortuitous progeny of no-nonsense Italians who would rather be nailed to a cross than served dried pasta. If you're not that lucky, head to Española Way. Yes, Española Way. There, Sicilian-born chef GianPaolo Ferrera plies guests with more than a half-dozen handmade pastas that could entice anyone to re-embrace gluten and carbs like two long-lost cousins. There are also lovable red-sauce classics like chicken Parmigiana ($18), pounded thin and fried up crisp. The hefty lamb shank ($29), which takes a long, slow braise in red wine before it collapses into a delicious mess, is also a fine choice. Then there's the wine. A dozen options by the glass, all for $8 or less, have been culled from all over Italy's boot. Bottles of reds and whites from France and Italy are offered for under $30. Meanwhile, the only pasta that crests the $20 mark is the ravioli filled with ricotta and Parmesan and then sprinkled with a flurry of black truffle. Otherwise, it's a wonderland of tagliatelle, cavatelli, gnocchi, and fiocchetti. They pair best with stretchy pants.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®