La Palma Calle Ocho
Maureen Aimee Mariano

As you drive on SW Eighth Street toward the hub of Calle Ocho, there's one building in particular that lets you know you're almost at the epicenter of Miami's Cuban culture. On your left-hand side near Sixth Avenue stands a structure with a white roof and orange walls. Its towering sign featuring a prominent palm tree attracts the eye. La Palma Restaurant (not to be confused with one by the same name in Coral Gables) is a 37-year-old establishment that serves your abuela's homestyle Cuban cooking. Try the lechón asado. It comes with rice and beans as well as yuca for $8.50. Every day features three specials. Favorites are Monday's carne con papas ($8.95), Wednesday's tamal en cazuela con maduro ($5.99), and Sunday's chicken and rice ($8.50). For the most popular dessert, check out the churro y chocolate ($2). While other restaurants remodel their menus or interior designs, La Palma keeps things classic and homey. It even serves food in red plastic baskets. The coffees and hot chocolates come in thick white ceramic mugs that are just warm enough to the touch. Hipster cutting boards and Mason jars, get outta here.

Readers' choice: Versailles Restaurant

33 Kitchen
Courtesy of 33 Kitchen

33 Kitchen in Coconut Grove is an Asian-leaning Peruvian restaurant helmed by chef-owner Sebastian Fernandez and his wife, Leslie Ames. The genesis of the casual 45-seat eatery's name has something to with its zip code, the boiling point of water, and the number of vertebrae in the human spine. But more important than the name is the food, and Chilean-born Fernandez is no stranger to the kitchen. In the "cold" tapas section, a highlight is the seared tuna with soba noodles, avocado, scallions, and miso ($16). Silky noodles wrap around fresh pieces of tuna, while a rich peanut and ají amarillo sauce tie it all together. The chef's chaufa, Peruvian-style fried rice, bursts with flavor and a pleasant hint of smokiness ($13). It tastes very much like Chinese fried rice and can be ordered with chicken, shrimp, or beef. Another winner is the grilled octopus, proffered with a creamy olive sauce and boniato chips ($14). There's only one ceviche on the menu, but what's most refreshing about this place is its focus on being different — 33 concentrates on being great.

Pueblito Viejo
Photo by Ricardo Rubio/Imagen Beyond

Life in Miami can be pretty surreal. But a trip to this Bird Road eatery takes it to a whole new level. The tame-looking wooden exterior belies a colorful and dreamlike interior that transports visitors to the Andean countryside. Flowers, stuffed dolls, instruments, flags, and traditional Colombian clothing hang from the ceilings, while paintings, photographs, and a seemingly endless array of knickknacks line the walls. And the food on your plate is as delicious as the ambiance is enchanting. Start with an arepa or gordito, followed by a churrasco or bandeja pueblito — the latter being the restaurant's version of the famed bandeja paisa, a generous plate of beans, rice, fried pork rinds, beef, sweet plantains, avocado, and a fried egg. Finish it off with a sweet Colombian-style milk pudding called postre de natas. Not enough? A musical act or comedy show will most likely entertain you during your meal.

An old Argentine saying goes that when you're giving it all you've got, you've thrown all your meat on the grill. But at Kendall's La Nueva Argentina, you can have any cut of meat you want — straight from the parrilla and without having to sacrifice every dollar in your wallet. A favorite among office types and asado-loving Argentines alike, La Nueva Argentina's astounding daily lunch special offers diners 12 exceptionally grilled cuts of meat, ranging in price from $8.99 to $17 per plate. A juicy, eight-ounce bife de chorizo, identifiable among gringos as NY strip steak, is offered for just $13 and comes with French fries, a simple salad, and rice. Other favorites are milanesa a la napolitana ($23.99 at dinner), a thinly sliced cut of chicken or veal that's breaded, lightly fried, and then layered with ham, gobs of tomato sauce, and mozzarella. And La Nueva Argentina isn't just for eating in: Die-hard asadores know that the adjacent butcher shop is among the best in Miami, offering prime cuts of meat at this spot's signature affordable prices. It's open daily from 11:30 a.m to 10 p.m.

Barbe-Cuban
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Barbe-Cuban

If you want a bite of Denise Paredes' baho ($10), you'd better ask in advance. Weeks in advance. In fact, there's a waiting list for it pinned to the icemaker at Las Mercedes Restaurant. The hopeful line up, desperate for this taste of home. This stomach-distending casserole is Central America's analog to Italy's timpano. A verdant banana leaf replaces the massive round of pasta dough. Indeed, there's no pasta, meatballs, or sausage here. Instead, spears of yuca are boiled into submission with heaps of garlic. Then come mounds of sliced beef brisket, ripe and unripe plantains, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and orange and lime juices. The whole thing is sealed up and boiled for hours. When it emerges, top it with the fermented cabbage slaw called encurtido, and dig in. But wait, before you do, secure yourself a good spot for the post-baho nap. Paredes says she makes it only once a month because it's so time-consuming. But the truth is, the stern master of this cafeteria knows sending her regulars back to their jobs in a food coma would be bad for business.

Ivan Dorvil has cooked for P. Diddy and Lil Wayne. He has manned the stoves at high-end South Beach spots and at Haitian institution Tap Tap. He has emerged victorious from reality cooking competitions. But the Haitian-born chef is at his best inside his eponymous North Dade restaurant, where he plays cook and host for a loyal crowd that returns time and again for a bill of fare that starts in the Caribbean and stretches out across the globe. Don't miss Dorvil's griot ($14) and tasso ($16). The fried chunks of pork and goat offer supremely crisp crusts encasing juicy meat. No other cook seems to have Ivan's ability to bring these Haitian classics to this perfect point of equilibrium. With a deft hand, he grills and fries red snapper ($22) and all other manner of Caribbean fish, leaving them supremely moist. Then comes a smattering of crunchy, blistering pikliz that hurts so good. He amps up a similarly styled seafood stew with funky salty miso. It's a quick visit to Asia, but soon you're back home with sweet boniato pudding á la mode ringed with sugary caramel ($7).

Readers' choice: Tap Tap

Zaika Indian Cuisine
billwisserphoto.com

Warm naan that melts in your mouth, delicate and perfectly spiced tandoori and paneer, and sweet pistachio ice cream to top it all off. From start to finish, Zaika is an impressive mix of flavors and textures that will satisfy the palates of even the pickiest Indian food lover. In just a year, the eatery has become well known for its array of delicious cuisine, affordable prices, and cozy ambiance. It even offers outdoor seating. The chefs, who have worked in India's renowned Taj Mahal Hotel, offer innovative options of classic dishes, all cooked to order (i.e., as spicy or mild as you'd like). Meat lovers should try the chicken tikka masala ($16.95) and lamb vindaloo ($16.95), while vegetarians won't want to miss dal makhani ($12.95) and palak paneer ($13.95). For dessert, try the homemade pista kulfi ice cream ($4.95) or gulab jamun ($4.95) — milk dumplings in a rose-flavored sauce. A vegetarian lunch special, served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., runs $8.95, and one with meat goes for $9.95 to $12.95.

La Pupusa Factory has been bringing home-cooked Central American and Salvadoran grub to the 305 for more than two decades. The Hialeah eatery serves more than just stuffed corn tortillas that are the most traditional Salvadoran dish. Here, you'll find everything from baleadas Hondureñas — pancake-like flour tortillas replete with fried beans, cheese, and your choice of meat ($3.50 to $7.95) — to appetizers including a chicken cornmeal tamale ($3.75); fried tacos topped with Salvadoran-style coleslaw ($8.95); and chiles rellenos, green peppers stuffed with beef served with rice and beans ($14.95). But if you want to have a bite of it all, go for the bandeja Garcia ($14.95), which brings a pupusa, fried taco, tamale, cheese, fried beans, cream, chorizo, and a corn tortilla. The portions can feed an entire Central American country, so sharing is strongly encouraged. But whatever you do, leave room for el postre. Try the sweet corn pudding called atole de elote ($3.75) or the quesadia ($7 for a whole, $2 for a quarter). Not to be confused with the cheesy Mexican dish of similar name, the quesadia is a rich, sweet dessert cake. By the end of your meal, you'll feel so satisfied you'll forget you're in the middle of "La Ciudad Que Progresa."

Le Zoo
Courtesy of Le Zoo

Restaurateur Stephen Starr knows what people want. Indeed, when he opened Le Zoo in Bal Harbour Shops toward the end of 2015, he knew Miamians were hankering for a classic French eatery with great food and service. Naturally, he knew the vibe and decor were equally important, so he created a breezy and uplifting space that's a cross between an archetypal Parisian bistro and a seaside Saint-Tropez café. Starr, who also owns Makoto and Continental in Miami, along with more than 30 restaurants across the nation — also knew to hire the right chef: Craig Wallen. One of the toque's best dishes is the classic trout amandine ($27). A gorgeous trout fillet is evenly fried and coated in a hazelnut butter, lemon, and almond sauce and proffered with toasted almonds and al dente green beans. What makes it soar is that the fragrant sauce doesn't mask the fish, which is flaky and delicate on the inside and crisp on the outside.And surprise, surprise, Starr couldn't have picked a better-suited pastry chef than Kelli Payne. Her profiteroles ($11) will make you feel like a kid again.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, calzone, or even tortellini, there's Bella Napoli. The low-key restaurant has been serving tasty Italian treats at bargain prices in South Beach since 1980. It's harder to find a more delicious homemade gnocchi at any price in Florida than the one served in tomato, meat, pink, or alfredo sauce for $10 here. The pizzas are solid, and the calzones are exceptional not only in flavor but also in size. Though the wine list and ambiance won't make a first date think you are a baller, if that first date can appreciate the simplicity of a house chianti and garlic rolls that melt in your mouth, he or she might be a keeper.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®