Best Of :: Food & Drink
Mall food courts generally have nothing in common with fine dining. They are there to feed shoppers quickly so the masses can return to their favorite store's sale racks. You can find the usual flavorless options like sodium-laden lo mein, dried-out burgers, and that unidentifiable brown stuff called "bourbon chicken." That is unless you find yourself at Aventura Mall. This commercial juggernaut is quickly becoming a high-end mecca. Stores such as Fendi and Louis Vuitton share real estate with Lululemon and the Apple Store. Now the mall has upped the ante at its food court with the addition of GastroPod. Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog's commercial version of his Airstream food truck serves comfort food for locavores at fair prices. Arepas topped with goat cheese are $6, pulled pork tacos run two for $7, and a bowl of freshly made noodles costs $9. This is delicious, real food made right there — not at some chain restaurant commissary a thousand miles away. Before you head to the Apple Store to blow a few hundred bucks on that new watch, stop at GastroPod for a Mo' Betta burger. Having a full belly might make the fact that the item you want is on backorder a little easier to swallow.
Egyptian brothers make Miami's best bagels. Islam and Khaled Mohammed came to the United States from their Mediterranean homeland in 2001 and took up work in bakeries throughout New York and New Jersey. In 2012, they opened the exposed-brick-covered Toasted Bagelry & Deli on a clogged Brickell thoroughfare. But they came on strong. On Sundays, they churn out more than 4,000 of the chewy little rounds topped with everything from salty-savory whitefish salad to the comforting combination of lox, eggs, and onions ($6.99). Toasted does things the old way, using kosher malt, flour conditioner, and filtered water to produce pristine bagels. However, none of that matters if you can't get your hands on a hot one. So reconsider sleeping in on weekends.
Readers' choice: Bagel Emporium & Grille
Two words bring joy to the hearts of transplanted New Yorkers living in Miami: hand-rolled bagels. Bagel Cove has them, and though purists prattle about New York producing the only decent version (while citing the Big Apple's water quality as the basis of their argument), the fact is that these are damn good bagels that don't require hopping a plane. Served with "schmear" ($2.79), they're a breakfast staple. But go for the gusto and add some nova, tomato, and onion ($12.95) for the ultimate breakfast. There's also a slew of other breakfast items designed to make you homesick for Bubbe, like the nova, eggs, and onions together in a scramble ($9.29) and the matzo brei with onion ($8.95). Starting your day at Bagel Cove is like going home again — if home were Brooklyn.
Readers' choice: Buena Vista Deli
Brunch, like many things in Miami, tends to be way overpriced for the same boring thing. A few eggs, a pancake here and there, and a little prosecco with OJ, and you're looking at about 50 bucks in some places. Add a handful of peel-and-eat shrimp and some mini Danishes, call it a buffet, and you could be dropping 100 bucks for your meal. What if you could get a spicy, savory, exotic breakfast for less than $20? A shakshuka with eggs, tomatoes, and spices, bubbling hot from the oven, is served with thick slices of rustic bread ($12). A Benedict with house-made merguez sausage comes with fiery harissa hollandaise ($16). There's even an authentic Egyptian brunch that takes up your entire table with clay bowls brimming with delights such as feta cheese, fava bean stew, and eggs scrambled with cured beef tenderloin, all for $16. As you dine in the friendly loft-like space filled with travel posters and freshly cut sunflowers, you may find yourself daydreaming that you're in a Greek taverna or a Moroccan café. Just have another glass of sangria (bottomless for $20) and go with it, because brunch at Mina's is like an afternoon in the Mediterranean. By the way, your "vacation in a brunch" is served Saturday and Sunday, so you can staycation twice a week.
Readers' choice: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
Sometimes you want a classic eggs Benedict and mimosa for brunch. Other times (like any given Saturday or Sunday afternoon) you desire infinite amounts of sushi and sashimi, oysters, and baby-back ribs doused in chili, ginger, and scallions. If you're itching for the latter, head to Zuma. The fare at this Japanese izakaya located on the ground floor of the swank Epic in downtown doesn't come cheap (brunch costs $95 per person), but you can easily drink your money's worth in umami marys (Zuma's version of a bloody mary, containing house-made truffle dashi vodka). There's also uninterrupted service of sake, lychee martinis, and other rotating Japanese-inspired libations. If you want a sure thing, head to the raw counter, where you can reel in as much fresh catch as your plate (and stomach) can handle. Just be sure to leave room for at least one poached egg with chilled soba noodles. Then there's the ever-changing dessert platter, which is a reflection of the pastry chef's sweet tooth. Regardless of what you choose, one thing is certain: You're in for a treat.
If it's true that we first eat with our eyes, Sugar Yummy Mama's cupcakes, cake pops, and other delights are a delicious visual feast. Owner Giselle Pinto opened her Sugar Yummy Mama food truck around Valentine's Day 2011 and, appropriately, stole Miami's heart with colorful cake pops and cupcakes in cutesy flavors. There was "bananarama" and yummy "wuava." Even hardened cynics couldn't resist her confections, often bedecked with sprinkles, hearts, or, in the case of the recent 101 Gay Weddings event thrown by celebrity chef Art Smith, bow ties and bridal finery. Now Pinto has opened a brick-and-mortar bakery in Wynwood, where she sells to retail customers and takes orders for custom creations that range from branded cupcakes for corporate events to a mountain of cake pops for a sweet birthday celebration. Take one bite of her Bermuda Triangle cake pop (a take on the classic Caribbean rum cake), and you'll be forever lost under Sugar Yummy Mama's spell.
Readers' choice: Zak the Baker
A cup of steaming milk, a shot of cafecito, and a pile of sugar can turn any day into the sweetest day ever. Willy's Bakery is known for creating some of the tastiest cakes in East Hialeah, but try one drop of la dulcería's café con leche and you'll find yourself making frequent visits to la Ciudad que Progresa. It's not just the price ($1 for a small, $1.50 for a medium, and $2 for a large); it's that every lick of this liquid gold is made to order. You control the intensity ("oscuro o claro," dark or light) and the amount of sweetness ("con azúcar o sin azúcar," with or without sugar). From the moment the café is poured into your cup and the boiling milk is served from the stainless-steel dispenser, you prepare yourself. Take the first sip of that perfect blend of silky milk, bitter espresso, and sugary goodness, and it's love.
A typical trip to Casola's goes something like this: You stumble in — probably inebriated after midnight — and can't help but immediately go for the free squares of pizza. The first thought that pops into your head is, Mmmm. Pizza. So. Good. But before you place an order for the shop's colossal, saucy, greasy, and cheesy slices, think about tomorrow. Do you want to regret eating a wedge of bread and molten cheese larger than your face, or would you rather tell yourself you made a wise decision by going for the chicken salad croissant ($7.29)? Hear us out. Yes, croissants are those flaky, buttery pastries that leave crumbs all over your face. Well, at Casola's, they're baked fresh every morning. (Side note: They are huge. Like stupid big.) And they come stuffed with savory fillings like ham, turkey, salami, roast beef, and chicken salad. About that last one, the chicken salad: It's also made in house. It's the standard recipe — chicken, mayo, salt, pepper, lemon juice, more mayo, and a lot of love. If for some bizarre reason you're still thinking about pizza, throw some Swiss cheese on your toasty croissant. It'll be like falling in love with Casola's all over again after ordering pizza for the past 33 years. And if you don't remember it the next morning, just head back for another when the croissants are hot out of the oven.
Who would have thought the French could make delicious, smooth lattes? This seems especially unlikely in Miami, where the combination of milk and espresso is reserved solely for cafe con leche made by Cuban mamis and papis. Yet Miam Café & Boutique — which takes its name from the French word miam, meaning "yum" — can give those mamis and papis a run for their money. Not only does the coffeehouse roast refreshing blends, but it also offers sweet and savory treats. The items may be on the pricier side, but that's because they use organic ingredients and, hey, they're French! Take, for instance, the Miam version of a breakfast burrito ($6.50): gloriously fluffy eggs, surrounded by crisp bacon, with roasted potatoes tossed in the mix, all smothered in a secret sauce that tastes like sour cream and then wrapped in a flour tortilla. It may appear a strange combination at first, but one bite will have you closing your eyes in ecstasy. The freshly baked cookies and pastries are also more than satisfactory. So are the sandwiches and homemade soups. Come for the coffees and lattes ($4), but stay for the pastries ($2.25 to $5) and sandwiches ($4.50 to $10). Plus, the café is located in the heart of Miami's hottest neighborhood, Wynwood.
Readers' choice: Panther Coffee
It doesn't matter whether the empanadas are large or small, baked or fried, or packed with chicken or picadillo. What's most important is that they're not underfilled. Too many in Miami are, and too many first bites through golden crusts reveal little or nothing at all. You won't find these disappointments at Richard Alvarez Guerra's Ricky Bakery. Here, the fried empanadas filled with golden-raisin-studded picadillo ($2.15) feature bubbly, crisp crusts that seem ready to burst at the slightest touch. The baked varieties are just as crave-worthy, with flaky, slightly sweet crusts folded around spicy chorizo and chopped ham. The coups de grâce, however, are those filled with spinach. There's no salty meat to hide any shortfalls. It's only you and a mound of emerald-tinted greens mingled with stretchy cheese. Eating one is a treat and a challenge. Nibble a bit off the corner to give some of the heat a chance to escape. The courageous few can dive right in. Just be ready for the burn.
For more than 40 years, Rio Cristal Restaurant has been serving dishes with origins in the small Cuban town of Güines. The famous original steak may be the most popular dish, but like a celebrity in a hat and dark shades, it's covered in fries. The other plate that deserves the spotlight is the flan de Rio Cristal ($3.90), which is silky-smooth and has just the right jiggle. It tastes like something abuela would make. The sugary syrup gathers at the bottom, and each spoonful requires a dip in for extra sweetness. The creamy consistency is king, and the sweet syrup is the queen. Miami has long embraced flan, and this one is a mainstay. Be sure to try it, but don't forget to brace yourself: It's so good you may get weak in the knees.
The cubano ($5.45) at Luis Galindo's Latin American Cafeteria & Restaurant begins with thick slices of juicy pork. It continues with crisped Cuban bread and then crescendos amid ropes of stretchy Swiss cheese lathered in mustard. This Calle Ocho cafeteria still bears the name of its original owner. Luis' brother, Raul, was revered because he served one of the city's favorite cubanos at his Coral Way spot, which was a spiritual home for El Exilio way back when. Though Luis Galindo's was bought out long ago by a Lebanese-Syrian man raised in Cuba, it maintains its beating heart. Every day, masters take the pulpit at the restaurant's center to slice and stack sandwiches. By noon, the place is serving at a fever pitch as crowds squeeze in to pay their respects and take a bite of history.