Neme Gastro Bar
billwisserphoto.com

"Hey, Ketchup, it's me, French Fries. Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. It's been a crazy week of cutting, blanching, soaking, and frying. Yeah, I'm crisp, but is it worth all that effort? The guys at Neme Gastro Bar seem to think so, but I don't know. Anyway, I miss you. I miss us. I hope I see you soon."

"French Fries, French Fries? FRENCH FRIES? Oh, man, you need to hear what happened. There I was, chilling in the refrigerator, just being tangy, kind of sweet, mostly red. It was just another day. Then I smelled it — the unforgettable aroma of beef fat. And you know what happened? The bastards whipped it right into me. At first I was like, 'Whoa, this can't be kosher,' but then something changed. I was smoky. I was meaty. I was salty. I became the kind of ketchup I always wanted to be. I know things have been rough lately, but give Burger a call and let's all get together ($18). They're not going to believe what they taste."

Blue Collar
Photo courtesy of Blue Collar

Not to be dogmatic, but there are only a few ways to make a cheeseburger. The bun must be soft. The meat must be fatty and freshly ground; that way, the patty can be grilled medium-rare, giving it the color and juiciness of a peak-season strawberry. American cheese is the preferred choice. Cheddar doesn't melt right. For you aristocrats, blue cheese or pepper jack will do, but seriously? Danny Serfer's dry-aged cheeseburger at Blue Collar ($17) is his homage to the comforting excess of Americana, and it blows the roof off every category. The Portuguese muffin, sort of like an English muffin for the uninitiated, is bulky and tender enough to sop up the juices that pour out of a patty fashioned from prime New York strip. The kitchen is even magnanimous enough to let you have cheddar if you like. But don't, please. Get your burger with American so you can sink your teeth into perfection.

Readers' choice: LoKal Burgers & Beer

Arbetter's Hot Dogs
Photo courtesy of Arbetter's Hot Dog

Nothing makes the steamed buns and skinless dogs at this Westchester institution sing like Arbetter's special chili. It's a bean-free creation, in true Texas form, with just the right amount of smoke and spice and a tinge of the tomato tang. Get a cup of it ($2.52) to take home. Here's a list of potential creations: scrambled eggs and chili, chili mac 'n' cheese, chili-smothered corn on the cob, chili cheeseburger, chili chicken hero sandwich, spaghetti and chili, chili tacos, chili nachos, chili enchiladas, chili-filled tamales, shrimp stewed in chili, chili sloppy Joes, and chili-topped meatloaf. Good luck getting the recipe. It's been a closely held secret since Arbetter's opened in 1959. (The eatery moved to the its Bird Road location in the early '70s). Make sure you stock up each time you visit, because anything is possible with a cup of Arbetter's chili in hand.

Mr. Boneless
Zachary Fagenson

They come from Pembroke Pines, Miramar, and Boynton Beach — all for Terry Watts' cooking. When he first lit a grill more than two decades ago, he never thought he'd be "world-famous" as so many of his regulars now proclaim. He did, however, know he'd be called Mr. Boneless. As a lifelong Liberty City resident, Watts was no stranger to barbecue. It was a weekend staple. He eventually became one of the countless vendors plying grilled fatty meat on neighborhood street corners. But his was different. Watts had the good sense to liberate racks of ribs ($12) and chicken ($10) from their bones, making it easier to wolf down the succulent meat painted with his sweet, tangy barbecue sauce. It soon became a hot commodity, and legions tracked him down each weekend, hungry for a taste of Mr. Boneless. His phone was inundated with text messages. "Where you at?" was their battle cry. He silenced them all nearly a decade ago, when he opened an eatery inside a burnt-orange building guarded by a charcoal grill where all the meat is cooked. The hours vary, but the surest way to know Mr. Boneless is open is the smoking grill and the line stretching out the door.

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

Uncle Tom's Barbecue
Courtesy of Uncle Tom's Barbecue

You'd expect to find genuine barbecue-pit baby-back ribs and juicy, tender brisket at Uncle Tom's BBQ, but there's one item on the menu that tends to get overlooked, and it's what you need to be eating right now: Uncle Tom's stuffed mac 'n' cheese. Not really stuffed per se, this plate of gooey goodness is served as a casserole-like platter, drizzled in a sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce with your choice of meat (pulled pork, pulled chicken, or bacon for $10.95 or rib meat or brisket for $12.95) and just the right amount of cheese. If you prefer your mac 'n' cheese plain and on the side ($4.95), though, Uncle Tom's offers that too. But no matter which plate you choose, your taste buds will bask in the pure cheesy glory.

Esther's Restaurant
Zachary Fagenson

Esther and Clemente Palmarola opened a restaurant on NW Seventh Avenue in 1961 as a catering kitchen turning out boxed lunches for newly arrived Cuban immigrants. A decade later, they sold it to Pablo Suarez Sr., who kept the place mostly the same until the 1980 riots. Then more African-Americans began moving into the working-class neighborhood, which was previously dominated by Cubans. Many wandered into Esther's each day, wondering what smelled so good. Hence, the take-away business was born. Soon it became Miami's go-to spot for heaping, hearty portions of soul food. These days, Suarez's sons, Tony and Pablo Jr., oversee two restaurants — another was added in 2001 a couple of miles from Dolphin Stadium — where you can get fried fish and congri ($5.99) or the Cuban oxtail stew called rabo encendido ($14.97) with a heap of macaroni 'n' cheese. In the morning, there are scrambled eggs, buttery grits, a biscuit, and a choice of bacon, sausage links or patties, or ham ($4.29). For lunch, the sprawling steam tables are cleaned and reloaded with juicy palomilla steaks ($7.50) and meatloaf ($6.20) that can be accompanied by everything from black beans to stewed okra and tomatoes. What's not to love?

This Coral Way spot is confusing in the best sort of way. Step inside the sprawling space festooned with menacing bull silhouettes, and you're faced with two menus. On one, choose from a lineup of Indian classics like chicken korma ($15) and lamb rogan josh ($17). On the other, find an extensive array of Spanish favorites. But as you decide whether you want your tortilla filled with shrimp ($9) or jamón y queso ($5), don't forget to order the chorizo croquetas ($1 to $1.25). Each fat, crisp cylinder overflows with a creamy filling that can only be described as meat frosting. The savory, salty pork is the first thing to smack your palate. Then comes the salt, followed by intense smoke and spice courtesy of plenty of paprika and garlic. The rich béchamel tempers and ties it all together. This sets you up for the next bite — or maybe more of that rogan josh.

Jimmy'z Kitchen
Rebecca Blanco

Jimmy Carey's heart is made of mofongo. Sure, the food at his growing list of Jimmy'z Kitchen restaurants spans American, Spanish, French, and Nuevo Latino dishes, but it's the Puerto Rican chow that has his ticker's rhythm. And from the panoply of platos puertorriqueños, it's that savory yellow/green plantain mash that really has the beat. You can find it at the Wynwood, Brickell, and Pinecrest locations throughout the week. There are so many selections. Perhaps you want your chicharrón-studded dome encircled by shrimp ($17.50) in a tangy creole tomato sauce. That same sauce spices and sweetens the starchy mass. But if you choose mojo roast pork ($17), the combination of the sour-orange marinade and the pig's savory juices softens the mofongo into an ultra-savory pile of decadence. Think of it as ice cream — some days, you want sprinkles; others, you want fudge. No matter how you dress it up, it's something you crave everyday.

Tripe is the food of poverty, desperation, and white-knuckled survival. But like so many unappealing cuts, it has been a focus of chefs who aim for the delicious. And at Cliff's, honeycomb tripe and fat butter beans ($5.50 at lunch, $10.43 at dinner) morph into something magical, urged on by enough pungent masala powder and enough ginger, garlic, and scallion to test the will of even the most dedicated curry fiend. The mixture is similar to that used in the curried goat. It could be considered the perfect hangover chaser or the ideal meal to wash away the memory of a rough day. There's nothing like it, and no dish in town comes with more bang for your buck.

The Butcher Shop's pan con lechón uses house-made bread.
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
The Butcher Shop's pan con lechón uses house-made bread.

Angel Torres' customers devour about 200 pounds of juicy pork a day, most of it in the Butcher Shop's pan con lechón ($2.99/$5.99). But that's not what makes this dish so addictive. It's the loaves of bread he constantly proofs and bakes in a sweltering kitchen where huge vats of black beans and yuca bubble away. Here's what happens: You place your order, and a mountain of glistening pork is spooned on top of the bread. Next come a few shards of crackly pig skin. Then it's to the griddle. Here's where the magic happens. The crust of Torres' bread is crisped into an impossibly thin wafer that somehow supports all the porcine delights. Each loaf soaks up the sandwich's juice along with as much of the tangy "mojito" sauce as you can squeeze out of the bottle. The magic continues after you've finished, when you find yourself back at the counter, begging for a sandwich to-go.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®