The juicy fried chicken thighs hold an unexpected secret. It's not about buttermilk, grandmothers, or the American South. Instead, the salty crust that crackles with each bite is a Cuban tale. Vincent Herryman's uncle skipped Miami when he fled the island in the days after the revolution. He went on to open a handful of beloved fried-chicken joints throughout Harlem and Washington Heights in New York City. A year ago, Vincent, who spent 15 years learning his uncle's secrets, pulled up his stakes and reopened Caporal Chicken in the heart of La Saguesera. He peddles wallet-friendly ($1 per thigh, $2 per breast) buckets of chicken whose meat emits a smoky aroma. Accompaniments include a pile of sweet-potato fries ($2), fried yuca ($2), and a chocolate-chip-studded waffle slathered with maple- or strawberry-infused butter.

Readers' choice: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar

South Dade has long known Tom Wills as the man behind T&W Subs' hulking hoagies. What the good folks of this region didn't know is that they had a champion pit master at hand. It all began simply enough with a towed smoker for briskets. Before long, Wilms was taking jaunts across the South for barbecue throwdowns. After his ribs — baby-backs with a crackly, salty bark concealing juicy pink smoke rings — earned ribbons in Georgia and South Carolina, Wilms took out a space in a Cutler Bay strip mall. Thinking of going for lunch? Get there early. The brisket doused in a vinegary, mustard-based sauce often sells out.

Readers' choice: Shorty's Bar-B-Q

Walk into Sparky's during lunchtime and you'll see a herd of suits rolling their sleeves up and getting their hands dirty as they attack racks of St. Louis-style pork ribs. Owners, chefs, and barbecue mavens "Sparky" and "Sparky" (they nicknamed each other years ago, hence the name of the restaurant) came up with a special rub for the ribs one hot summer during a grill session. It has 26 spices and herbs, but the secret ingredient is a spoonful of sugar. Once the rack has been nicely rubbed, the thick slabs of meat are cooked "low and slow" until tender. The result: Every morsel of pork bursts with rub and smoke. You can go full ($26) or half ($16) rack depending upon how ambitious you feel. Either choice comes with two sides. One should be the baked beans, which have bacon bits smoked right into them. And whatever you do, be sure to squirt your rack with one of the five or so house-made sauce varieties. The guava-habañero is rib-licking good.

180 Degrees at the DRB

Every once in a while, your inner carnivore craves something more than a kale smoothie. It needs meat. Take it to 180 Degrees at the DRB for chef Ryan Martin's 50/50 ($12). Though that price might sound high for chopped meat, this burger is a sure thing. Equal parts chorizo and Angus beef are ground and then cooked to juicy perfection. The spicy Spanish sausage is a playful foil to the richness of the quality beef. The blend itself makes a tasty patty, but then Martin tops it with queso frito, maduros, and spicy citrus aioli. Just when you think this burger can't get any better, the chef slaps on a fried egg. Because everything — even an outstanding burger — can be made better with an egg. Finish it off with a cold beer, and your hunger pangs will have been vanquished.

Readers' choice: Burger & Beer Joint

Dogma Grill
Aran S Graham

"Dogma" is defined as a set of principles laid out by authority as absolute truth. The folks at Dogma Grill refer to this as their "Frank Philosophy." There are divine laws such as "Bring respect and creative culture to the hot dog" and "Create an urban oasis and a nostalgic place to celebrate the hot dog." If that sounds a little hippy-dippy for your ordinary Oscar Mayer wiener, just wait. This place aims to "offer the freshest ingredients," "focus on details," and "answer the demands of the vegetarian clientele." By this dogma, the hot dog abides. The results are pretty fantastic, and while others may compete, these are the hottest dogs and buns in town. The best of the best is the Pitchfork ($4.50), with barbecue sauce, bacon, grilled onions, and cheddar. It's more than the snap of a hot dog in your mouth; it's a religious experience. Peace, love, and hot dogs, man.

Rok:Brgr

You can taste the difference between fresh and frozen fries. You can also make out the distinction between those cut in factories and the ones that are hand-sliced a few at a time. Rok:Brgr takes great pride in slicing its potatoes by hand every day. The result is thick-cut fries that are crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and can withstand any adventure like an intrepid explorer. You can take them for a dip in the house-made ketchup or dress them up with truffle oil and Parmesan flakes. You can even weigh them down with Wisconsin cheese curds and brown gravy. (They will keep their structural integrity.) Also check out the sweet-potato fries and the truffle fries — and don't forget the trio of dipping sauces.

Baccano
Courtesy of Baccano

Have you been to Naples? No, not the town across Alligator Alley — the one in Italy in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. If you can't make it there, Baccano might be the next best thing. An homage to all things Italian, including a classic red Fiat impossibly parked inside the entrance, Baccano (née Café Babbo) serves pizza made with double grade-00 dough and topped with San Marzano tomatoes, cheese, and subtle spices by a pizzaiolo from Napoli. The pies are quickly fired in a wood-burning oven imported from Milan to form a crisp, charred crust. For nine bucks for a classic Margherita pizza, your wallet will say, "Grazie mille." Pair the pie with vino from owner Antonio Chia's family winery in Montalcino, and you'll have yourself one hell of an Italian vacation — in Wynwood. Dolce, dolce, dolce.

Readers' choice: Steve's Pizza

Thick, pillowy dough; oozing, melty cheese; earthy sautéed mushrooms and onions — this is the stuff of a mouthwatering Mellow Mushroom pizza. The one that's best, however, isn't your average pie; it's a veganized version of the spot's popular Holy Shiitake. Like many of the eatery's specialty pizzas, the HS can be altered for vegans. Skip the aioli, leave off the butter, and switch out the regular cheeses for Daiya and — voila! — you're in pizza heaven. Though not a vegan establishment, Mellow Mushroom goes out of its way for plant-based eaters. The kitchen staff stocks the nondairy Daiya, tempeh, tofu, and fruits and veggies in every color and flavor. Guests can even build their own creations. Beginning with the dough, the pizza masters slather each pie with Daiya ($1.50 extra on a small pie, $2.50 on a medium, and $3.50 on a large). Then they pair pineapple with jalapeños, artichoke hearts with sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli with tempeh — the sky's the limit. And it all tastes just as delicious as the meaty alternatives. Traditional pizzerias, eat your hearts out (but not really, because vegans believe in nonviolence).

Llewellyn's fried chicken with waffles and watermelon
Tracey-Ann Jarrett
Llewellyn's fried chicken with waffles and watermelon

Mac 'n' cheese might be universally loved, but not all is equal. By far, the most delicious variety is the traditional Southern kind. Rich in cheddar and baked piping-hot, this is a robust, casserole-like dish brimming with different textures. Open your individual crock at Yardbird and you'll find a multi-layered mac 'n' cheese. A semiburnt cheese crust is topped with cornbread crumbs for added texture. Poke it with a fork and you'll discover the creaminess within. You'll find no lobster bits or morel mushrooms. It is simply one of the most pleasurable experiences you'll ever consume. It will take you back to Sunday supper in the South — no matter where you're from.

Crumb on Parchment
Alexandra Rincon

Enter the atrium of the Melin Building in the Design District and you'll get a whiff of sweet, freshly baked pastries. Miami's culinary sweetheart, Michelle Bernstein, runs this cozy, shabby-chic café. Her mama is responsible for some of the baked goods. Because Bernstein is a longtime "friend in our head," we often imagine a life where we'd go to her house after school and her mom would make us grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, and chocolate chip cookies. Crumb on Parchment brings this fantasy to life. The Gooey Grilled Cheese ($7.50), with melted fontina on buttered bread, melts our heart and takes us back to this childhood memory that we never quite had. If you don't feel like being kosher, add bacon for $2.25. If you wanna go crazy, add wild mushrooms for a dollar and think about that time you and Michy got busted with magic mushrooms in high school. We know, we are delusional, but it's a damn good sandwich.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®