El Carajo
George Martinez

Miami's best-loved (and probably only) tapas bar in a gas station has a lot to offer. There are at least 2,000 bottles of wine alongside a few quarts of motor oil. There are plump shrimp doused in a fruity, garlicky olive oil sauce ($13.50) and enough candy bars to rot out multiple teeth. But after the thrill of ordering a cazuela of plump chorizo al vino ($8.50) with your gasoline, you're left with simple, delicious food to be enjoyed with good friends and plenty of wine. Because before we all started obsessing over the latest Spanish spot's pinxtos, that's what first drew us together, right?

What do you buy at a gas station? Gas (duh), a six-pack of mass-produced beer, lighters, lottery tickets, and condoms. At first glance, it seems arepas don't fit this list. But they do at this Doral Exxon station that also doubles as an arepa bar. Chefs here sling crisp corn cakes like nobody's business. If you're a gringo, ignore the Spanish menu and simply order an arepa especial. This particular pillow of corn is fried and topped with your choice of beef or chicken, ham, cheese, slaw, and avocado ($7). They'll also put a fried egg and a bevy of house sauces (there are six) on it to amp up the flavor profile. If you prefer your cakes stuffed rather than topped, Pepito Arepa Bar serves a plethora of traditional arepas, such as the reina pepiada (chicken salad with avocado), ham 'n' cheese, and scrambled egg with tomato and shredded cheese. Bonus: They're cheap! Buy a couple and you'll still have money left over for gas and whatever else you came here for in the first place.

Kush
Valerie Lopez

In anthropomorphic terms, most pan con bistec is an underachieving, pot-smoking genius. Kush takes this promising miscreant and turns it into a Mensa-level engineer who unlocks the secret of cold fusion on a bar napkin. The Wynwood spot's version ($13) starts with a palomilla steak from Cowart Ranch that's grilled and sliced. No more desperate struggling and gnawing through each bite. They swap the Cuban bread for a fluffy challah round, then add butter and press it into a slick, toasty delight. The perfunctory potato sticks, lettuce, and tomato are also on hand. So is a slice of spicy melted jack cheese that grabs the potato bits and doesn't let go. You'll feel the same way. So go and get one. Just don't let your favorite cafeteria know.

La Esquina del Lechon
Zachary Fagenson

The moment you sit down at Doral's La Esquina del Lechón, the pig takes over. If it's Sunday, there's most likely a whole pig shrouded in lettuce making its way across the dining room. Any other day, a meal begins with a few hunks of crisp fried pork belly and buttered Cuban bread. What most other places call "bread service" is simply culinary foreshadowing. The juicy shredded meat packed inside each order of pan con lechón ($7.45) is studded with innumerable bits of pork skin. The kitchen takes care not too douse it all in a combination of the pork's juice and mojo too soon. Such a crime would render the bits chewy and offset the perfect balance of tender meat, crisp skin, and slightly sweet onions.

Pollos & Jarras
Photo courtesy of Pollos & Jarras

If you're a ceviche fan (and if you're not, you might as well leave Miami), you've certainly come to know CVI.CHE 105 in the heart of downtown. It's highly regarded, but it's almost always packed. Fortunately, the owners have another — even better — option conveniently located down the block from their famous eatery. The ceviche at Pollos y Jarras is just as tasty and costs less. Even better, for now there's no wait. Upon entering, parties are ushered through an open-air kitchen and bar to an elevator that takes them to the dining area on the second floor. The walls are covered with colorful street signs, lending the sister spot a more casual and fun-loving atmosphere. The menu is stacked with nine ceviches in both fish and seafood varieties ranging from $10.95 to $15.95. Try the crema virgin for something creamy, or add some spice with the crema rocoto. You won't be disappointed.

Readers' choice: CVI.CHE 105

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.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®