The+blue+menu%27s+sweeping+breadth+and+awesome+authenticity+set+this+place+apart
Jonathan++Postal
The+blue+menu%27s+sweeping+breadth+and+awesome+authenticity+set+this+place+apart

West Miami-Dade's Lung Gong Restaurant has long been adored for its blue menu, which proffers palate-searing Sichuan-style cuisine. While the squeamish can dine on all the General Tso's chicken they like, enthusiasts can select from plates of shredded pig ear in black bean sauce ($12.95) and claypot pork braised with chestnuts ($13.95). The place recently got a new owner, but don't fret. Manager Jim Liu, husband of owner Yingxi Wang, says longtime favorites such as whole snapper cooked in a numbing combination of dried peppers and Sichuan peppercorns ($16.98) will stick around.

Readers' choice: Tropical Chinese

Speedily spirit your Shanghai soup dumplings ($7.99) away from Dumpling King. The aim is to get them home once they've cooled just a bit. When you're safely away from judging eyes, you can pierce the little pouches, releasing their glossy broth for your sipping enjoyment. You're at home, so feel free to slurp as loudly as you like. Nor must you contain the pain of an inevitable burn. Then move on to little fried purses filled with pork and pak choi ($6.99) or a bowl of scalding-hot mapo tofu ($6.99). If you're smart, you remembered to bring home sweet taro bubble tea ($4) to cool things down.

South Garden Chinese

It seems Miami's Sinophiles forget about South Garden despite the fact it offers both Americanized Chinese and more traditional fare. So take something to go. Once you're home, no one can judge you for scarfing down ten sticky honey chicken wings ($6.95). No one will see when you follow that with salty sliced fish in rice porridge called congee ($5.75) or a spider-like Dungeness crab that's been wok-fried with ginger and scallions. You won't have to hide when you gobble up South Garden's black mushrooms and bok choy ($10.95). Heck, now that you think about it, be proud! You're eating some seriously awesome Chinese chow.

Our bodies are our temples. That fact is easy to forget while downing tequila shots and eating croquetas. But Temple Kitchen can offer your cuerpo some TLC to keep going. The food here tastes good and is good for you. Try the cozy Curry Favor hot pot ($11), brimming with red chilies, fresh mushrooms, eggplant, edamame, coconut milk, and green curry. Or sip the seriously strong Just Ginger Elemental Elixir ($3) — a fantastically spicy pure ginger shot. There are also smoothies, juices, infused waters, soups, and more. Creative types can make their own salads or bowls, so the blue sky is the limit as far as plant-strong sustenance. Temple Kitchen's motto is "Joy to the Food," so you know you're in good hands.

Best Middleterranean Restaurant

Cleo

In case you're unsure, "Middleterranean" is a relatively new term used to describe the dining trend of combining foods from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. Think Mediterranean staples such as vegetables, olive oil, and fish but with the addition of exotic spices and flavors. In Miami, Danny Elmaleh's fun and affordable Cleo flawlessly executes this type of cuisine. The mezzes (small plates) are intended for sharing, but when the merguez ($7) comes out, you may want to steal the spicy beef and lamb sausage from your friends. His labneh ($8), a yogurt-based dip with feta, tastes like velvet. It's perfect with a warm piece of za'atar-seasoned laffa bread. Chef Elmaleh is half-Japanese and half-Moroccan, and the Israeli-born toque's enthusiasm for his heritage shows in his dishes. The Moroccan-inspired decor with touches of Hollywood glamor is the ideal backdrop for another crowd favorite: chicken cooked in a ceramic pot known as a tagine ($16). Kudos for taking a chance on Miami, Cleo.

Miss Saigon

If you order the pho ($10.95) at Miss Saigon, they deliver it properly, with the toppings on the side, the beef medium-rare, and the broth piping-hot. If you want to play beat-the-clock, ask for the beef raw on the side so you can race to heat the meat before that anise-and-cinnamon-flavored broth gets too cool. You cook the beef shabu-shabu style with chopsticks, turning the meat from red to brown with each twirl. It transforms into that magical synergy stuff known as pho. You continue to create your bowl of heaven by adding bits from the topping plate: jalapeño slices for heat, lemon wedges to squeeze for acidity, basil to tear for something herbal, and bean sprouts for crunch. Need to turn up the heat? There's sriracha for that. Another dish that can't be missed is the Miss Saigon rice noodles ($12.95). It's mixed tableside — a delicious combo of cool rice noodles with cut-up spring rolls, lettuce, carrots, shrimp, and chicken. If you get it to go, you can play chef for the evening by adding the contents of the multiple containers. Not only is the food at Miss Saigon delectable, but you also get to accessorize it to your palate's preferences.

Miami Juice
Aran S Graham

At Miami Juice in Sunny Isles Beach, you can get whatever you want — that is, provided it's on this side of healthful. Eating well is the name of the game at this casual eatery and minimarket. The menu is extra-large, featuring myriad anything-but-bland compositions. A popular item is the baked butternut squash. It comes stuffed with your choice of tuna or chicken salad ($14.95) or veggies and melted cheese ($12.95). The chicken here is organic, and for $2 extra, you can even get a kosher bird. Try the organic red kidney beans with Rosemary grilled chicken ($15.95). Crisp falafel is the perfect add-on to MJ's special salad loaded with veggies and feta cheese ($12.95). Freshly made fruit and vegetable juices are always excellent, and the servers are pros at working a crowded room. Since 1992, Miami Juice has been proving that healthful food can taste great and even be comforting. To that, we raise our kale juice.

Mignonette
Photo by billwisserphoto.com

What do you get when Blue Collar chef/owner Daniel Serfer and lawyer/blogger Ryan Roman open an oyster bar and seafood eatery together? A glimmering pearl adjacent to a cemetery. In this borderline-sketchy area in Edgewater, servers wear T-shirts with bow ties printed on them, deviled eggs are topped with Maine lobster, and clams swim in bacon broth. You can go the fancy route and order Kaluga caviar ($110), or you can eat sea-creature popcorn (think oysters, clam, conch, and shrimp) fried to golden perfection as if it were finger food ($14). It's this juxtaposition of swank and blasé that makes Mignonette dazzle. And though bivalves are the undisputed stars of the show (check the vintage marquee for the day's rotating East and West Coast attractions), everything on the seafood-heavy menu plays a part in this real-life rendition of "Under the Sea." Get your hands dirty with the peel-and-eat wild Florida shrimp ($13) or the buttery and impeccably succulent lobster roll ($22). And don't forget your veggies! Think wilted rainbow chard with preserved lemon or roasted cauliflower and smoked trout roe mayo — y'know, just in case you didn't get enough fish with your fish.

Esther's Restaurant
Zachary Fagenson

Many restaurants try to tell a story through food. Liberty City's Esther's spins the tale of Miami. Opened as a catering kitchen for newly arrived Cuban immigrants in the '60s, it survived the race riots of the '80s to become the neighborhood's soul-food favorite. Guiding impressive growth was Pablo Suarez Jr., whose father bought the place in 1965. Come here for a $3.97 breakfast of grits, eggs, and a biscuit. Later in the day, swing by for a $5.47 catfish fillet with okra, rice, and peas. Really, though, the options seem limitless. Turkey wings ($5.59) with mac 'n' cheese and candied yams are one possibility. A half-rack of baby-back ribs ($9.99) or two hefty slices of meatloaf ($5.49) can be served with anything from stewed okra and tomatoes to sweet cornbread muffins to pigeon peas and rice. Rest assured the steam-table selection is always hot and vast. And don't be surprised when the customer standing next to you fishes out some change if you're a few cents short.

Readers' choice: Ms. Cheezious

Matador Room
Courtesy of Purple PR

The bar starts the seduction with lubrication from libations. Ready to get more intimate? Enter the Matador Room, where mood lighting emanates from a vintage chandelier suspended over a sunken circular dining room with plush seating. A wave of ambiance crashes over the cape of temptation. If you need some fresh air, head to the terrace for pool and ocean views, candlelight, and hanging plants laced into the pergola overhead. When your appetite has been thoroughly whetted, delve into the menu. World-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has melded his signature style with the flair of Latin cuisine. The menu has titillating touches such as sweet pea guacamole ($10); then it gets down and dirty with arroz con pollo ($18), studded with sizzling, crackling skin and lemon zest. This is not your abuela's chicken and rice; the fanciful flavors and textures dance in your mouth. The roasted red snapper, playful with a tamarind glaze, bites back. For dessert, get your churro sticky with an assertive dunk in orange cajeta, a thick dulce de leche-like syrup with a squeeze of orange to enliven it. After this intimate dining experience, you're ready to take the bull by the horns or give the ferocious beast your sword.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®