Milly's Restaurant

Fried and mashed plantains take many forms and names, but the version at Milly's Restaurant has a unique quality: It's made with love. Milly and her husband Hector give this mofongo a cozy and loving upbringing. Their Dominican restaurant on Calle Ocho is filled with tables of family and friends. Photos of smiling faces adorn the walls. In this nurturing environment, the mofongo grows up well balanced and flavorful. The plantains are fried and then mashed with fresh garlic that gets along well with all kinds of meaty friends from the land and sea. You can get the mofongo solo ($6.75), but why would you? It plays so nicely with others. Try the mofongo con longaniza (Spanish sausage) for $10.75; you can also get it with fried chicken, pork chops, shrimp, lobster, or conch. Whichever way it comes, it will be some of the best mofongo you've ever tasted.

Brazilians have been flocking to Miami for decades — and they've definitely brought along their caipirinha recipe. It's a cocktail that includes Brazil's most popular alcohol, cachaça (a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice), blended with sugar and lime. The origins of Lulu's Monday caipirinha night are unknown. Current management speculates it emerged sometime in the past three years as a simple solution to the Monday problem — it's a night of the week when Miamians are sometimes too hung-over to drink. That day, a pitcher goes for $24 and a glass for $4. It's rumored that a bartender named Vicky has even begun infusing hibiscus into the cachaça. The only way to find out if this is true, though, is to visit.

Pita Loca

Pita Loca is, well, different. The place that has served South Beach for more than a decade is kosher. It has a separate sushi menu, but the Middle Eastern and Israeli food shines brightest. In particular, we love those fluffy fried chickpea balls known as falafel. You can get a side dish (three pieces for $2.99), a pita sandwich (6.99), or the laffa or baguette version ($8.99). Don't forget the toppings and tasty sauces. You can also opt for a falafel plate ($12.99) with French fries, Israeli salad, and tahini. Plus, you can pick up all kinds of Judaica: Jewish texts, mezuzahs, yarmulkes, y mas. It's loca like that.

Beards are everywhere, covering the faces of every man, from Wynwood hipsters to Surfside Hassids. May we suggest a new look? The hummustache. It's a smooth and edible hummus mustache made from a blend of puréed chickpeas delicately flavored with ground sesame seeds, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and Mediterranean spices. This stache is applied to your upper lip using warm pita bread that will leave your hands clean. Just think of Bert's unibrow or Burt Reynolds' mustache dressed up this way! Where to find the key ingredient? We recommend a nondescript restaurant in SoBe for the most special blend. It's made fresh and has just the right creamy texture. And if the completely reasonable $5.95 for fresh hummus and pita seems too much to pay, check in on Yelp to get a batch of this potion for free. It belongs on your pita, on your face, in your mouth, and most surely in your belly.

Morro Castle
Emily Codik

For the past couple of years, the frita has enjoyed the spotlight. Morro Castle in Hialeah offers the ideal version. The smoky, spicy chorizo has the perfect sheen, and the fresh potato sticks have a warm amber hue, almost like a hard-earned suntan. And those buns? Oye, don't even try to say they're not surgically enhanced. But at the end of the day, the humble frita is a utilitarian, working man's food. It doesn't want to be celebrated or admired. The cost: $2.89 with tax. It even comes wrapped in paper so you can eat it on the run during a hectic day.

Ms. Cheezious
Photo courtesy of Ms. Cheezious

Béchamel is the stuff that binds France and Cuba. At Ms. Cheezious' long-awaited MiMo storefront, the humble mixture of butter, flour, and milk that's essential in croquetas and croque-monsieurs is doubled up with a couple of fat handfuls of creamy, smoky Gouda cheese. What emerges is the croqueta monsieur ($8). It's truly a thing of beauty. Three smoky croquetas de jamón are squished onto shaved tavern ham, with Gruyère cheese and sourdough bread soaked in béchamel and pressed until crisp. Call it fusion. Call it freakish. Whatever you call it, just make sure you have some.

Bulldog Barbecue & Burger
Alexandra Rincon

The smokehouse wings at Bulldog are simple, subtle, and scrumpdillyicious. The smoke flavor is present but not overwhelming, and the meat is tender, never burned. They have a kick without being uncomfortably hot. It's a perfect base for the fickle eater and nothing some extra RedHot sauce won't fix for fire-eaters. The pound at $15 is enough to satisfy a couple of hungry bellies, especially when it's paired with Bulldog's incredible mac 'n' cheese ($4 small, $8 large) or burnt-end beans ($4 small, $8 large). A smaller portion of wings costs $8, but when they're this good, why order less? Top it all off with a beer from the extensive bottled and draft menu, and you have yourself the perfect evening out.

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®