Best Of :: Food & Drink
No more pho. No more rolling cakes. No more lemongrass chicken, and no more bun thit. Miami's insatiable real-estate steam roller flattened Little Havana's beloved Hy Vong, but not its owners' spirits. For nearly four decades, Tung Nguyen and partner Kathy Manning ran the quaint, bamboo-lined space, serving intensely flavorful, heartwarming fare that could brighten even the gloomiest day. Nguyen fled war-torn Vietnam in 1975 with little more than family recipes etched into her memory. And for 36 years, the product of her great spirit came flooding out of Hy Vong's humble kitchen spiked with fish sauce. Regulars, after getting their fill of pho, knew to order the squash-and-pumpkin soup layered with flavor and spice. The depth and variety of cooking was what made Hy Vong such a treasure. It is now lost to the ages.
UM buddies for life Paul Massard and Chris Nolte took their friendship to another level when the two partnered in a coffee company. While Nolte has the business acumen, Massard is the chief when it comes to producing coffee. The Colombian native travels the world sourcing beans for the fledgling coffee company. His travels take him to Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, and Brazil, with the coffee expert sometimes buying out an entire farm's crop to make sure there's consistency in the bean. The beans are then roasted at Per'La's facility just south of Coral Gables, and Massard tastes each and every batch. Cupping each coffee, Massard takes in the liquid with a mighty slurp as if he were born part Hoover. Only after he's perfectly satisfied with a batch will it be bagged and sold to a demanding public. Per'La sells its small-batch, single-origin coffees online and at the weekly Coral Gables Farmers Market for $22 a pound, and the coffees are turning up on Miami restaurant menus more and more frequently.
Brrrrrringgggg. Hit snooze. Brrrrrrriiiiiinnnnnnggggg. Too tired. Can't move. It's not really morning, is it? It's hard to tell with the blinds drawn. OK. You can do this. Come on. One leg out of the bed; now the other. Toss on some shorts, a shirt, and sunglasses. It doesn't matter if they're clean. This is presentable, right? Only half a block to walk — you got this. There it is! The teal sign and rapid-fire Spanish. Then it hits you in the face. The sweet smell of sugar being stirred with diesel-strength coffee hot from the machine. Then comes the clatter of spoons followed by the milk foamer's hiss. Next is the gentle purr of your cup filling. That first sip of David's Cafe's café con leche ($2.45) snaps your eyes open and leaves a wisp of milk foam lingering on your upper lip. Now you're ready to face the day.
This is a story about espuma: Only the finest cafeterias can coax the perfect amount of sweet bronze effervescence from the humble combination of sugar and first-brewed Cuban coffee. At Las Olas Café, the ladies working the window conjure the fluffy magic with a steady stream of espresso. "¿Que quieres, papi?" one asks as you step up with a fistful of bills. You order a colada, but she's already on it. She was working on it when you entered the cola. The clinking of a weathered spoon stirring coffee and sugar lets you know your time is drawing near. A few moments later, you're clutching that palm-size Styrofoam cup. But first, a personal moment. You peel the plastic top off to find a thin film of this sweet, startling espumita clinging to the surface. Take a lick and find your happy place.
The name Embarek Ali-Bey may not ring a bell, but it should. Michael Schwartz knows him. Danny Serfer too. He's practically on speed dial at Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Miami kitchens. So what's your excuse? OK, maybe we're being a little harsh. For years, this French baker has turned out crusty sourdoughs, hearty whole wheats, and buttery croissants for the city's best kitchens. In the early-morning hours in the bowels of a nondescript north Dade warehouse, he and a skeleton crew mix, shape, and bake hundreds of loaves. They begin making their way across the city just as most of us begin our days. For too long, you could get Alibay's products only while dropping serious coin at a fine-dining establishment. But he's expanding. He's grinding his own flour and making his decadent array of baked goods available to the public with a small café. Finally, a way to start your day off right.
Readers' choice: Zak the Baker
French bakeries tell an unrequited love story. Customers yearn for their sweet offerings, but the pastries don't return the passion. In fact, they produce a different kind of love — love handles. But that's nothing an oversized shirt and loose pants can't hide. Be sure to wear both at La Boulangerie Boul'Mich, a picture-perfect Miami-based French artisanal bakery spreading its oven lovin' from Key Biscayne to its newest location in Aventura. There are warm baguettes, chocolate-infused croissants, gourmet empanadas, fresh fruit tarts, and decadent cakes. There's also a full menu that boasts European-inspired dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from classic eggs Benedict ($13.95) to le club ($12.95), a French-style sandwich made with Black Forest ham, roast turkey, Brie, mushrooms, tomatoes, and lettuce. From the City of Lights to the Magic City, there's been no greater love than that of a quality French pastry shop. The patisserie opens its doors to helpless romantics Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Think about your happy place. Chances are there's a warm, fluffy bagel somewhere in there, and chances are it's from Mo's in Aventura. This spacious eatery serves every Jewish deli staple and boasts some of the softest, tastiest bagels in Miami. Go simple by adding some cream cheese spread to your bagel ($3.99), or get a scoop of tuna salad ($8.99). Other delicious options include the corned beef sandwich ($13.99) and the tuna melt ($14.49). At Mo's, everyone knows your name, but no matter how often you come — there's no way you can try everything on the menu.
Readers' choice: Roasters' n Toasters
The seemingly endless array of cafeterías across the 305 makes finding pastelitos easy. Locating fresh, warm pastries that are worth the calories, however, is a different story. And that, Miami, is where La Nueva Fe Bakery comes in. Baked fresh "de nuestro horno calientico para su casa," these flaky wonders come in all flavors. If you're craving a traditional pastelito, go for the pastelitos de guayaba (guava), queso (cheese), guayaba y queso (guava and cheese), or carne (beef). If you want a fresh, edgy spin on the original, try the coconut, coconut and cheese, or apple pastelito. If you're in the mood for something meatier, dig your teeth into the pastel de pollo (chicken pastry), cangrejo de jamón (ham pastry), cangrejo de chorizo (chorizo pastry), or the pizza pastel. Yes, pizza. And because each averages only $1, you really can't go wrong here.
Vanessa Diaz and Mariela Maldonado-Keen are purveyors of freshness and all-natural goodness. They are also owners of Brickell Key's beloved juice spot, the Juicery Bar. It was born in 2010 with the idea that healthful food could also taste good, make you feel good, and, most important, be affordable. Six years later, their dream continues to flourish with the help of knowledgeable staff who are equally passionate about healthy living and the desire to build a sense of community. Sip the Fountain of Youth, made with kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, green apple, and romaine, or the Hulk, prepared with kiwi, kale, blueberry, celery, chlorella, spirulina, pear, and coconut. You'll quickly feel the effects kicking in. No fad diets, processed sugars, or artificial flavors here. Just fresh, unpasteurized ingredients, made by people who focus on nourishment, education, growth, and the motto they live by: Juicing with a purpose. Visit this cheery health haven Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Miami has New York-style delis, French bakeries, Mexican taquerias, and Cuban sandwicheries. Add Threefold Cafe to the mix, and the 305 can boast Australian-inspired cafés too. The all-day breakfast eatery was created by Melbourne transplants Teresa and Nick Sharp, who wondered why a café of its kind wasn't already a Miami staple. Fast-forward two years, and Threefold Cafe has expanded to two locations, implemented a coffee program using local favorite Panther Coffee, and added dinner service. Enhancements aside, there's a reason the locally grown restaurant has quickly gained popularity: straightforward yet innovative breakfast that's conveniently served throughout the day. The menu includes classic items such as omelets, eggs, waffles, breads, and French toast, along with more creative options like the "Big Bad Aussie" ($19), made with fried eggs, house-baked beans, spinach, bacon, and toast; and the "Smashed Avo" ($13), a bestseller, which pours a mountain of avocado, feta, lime, basil, roasted mushrooms, and soft-poached eggs onto a thick slice of Zak the Baker bread.
Readers' choice: GreenStreet Cafe
You're midway through an order of Le Pain Perdu ($18), otherwise known as Nutella French toast, and all of a sudden the restaurant goes dark. Large black blinds are draped over the brasserie's floor-to-ceiling windows; you're left confused and accidentally spill Nutella on your clothes. Then you hear a loud thump, followed by another, and another. Brunch at Bagatelle is more than just eggs and bacon. It's a booze-filled, DJ-spinning soirée fit for the hippest brunchgoers in town. The menu includes traditional favorites like buttermilk pancakes ($19), a spicy crab Benedict ($24), and a turkey BLT ($22). There are kettles filled with warm tea and coffee, or you can opt for spirits, including vodka. Though the atmosphere is unconventional, it's exactly what you'd expect of Miami — rowdy, boozy, and surprisingly tasty.
Readers' choice: Biltmore Hotel
Prime Fish opened its doors more than two years ago, but it took more than a year and a half for its famed "Nemo brunch" to emerge. Nemo, the Asian-influenced seafood eatery by restaurateur Myles Chefetz, closed in 2010, and its popular brunch went with it. After a handful of years with die-hard brunchgoers wondering when it would return, the worm turned. If you're unfamiliar with what makes the weekend meal at this spot so special, think a full-service buffet serving both breakfast and lunch dishes, an entrée selection, and bottomless booze, all for $49. The buffet cold salads, freshly baked breads, meats, cheeses, and sweets. Eggs Benedict, omelets, fritatas, and raw bar selections (for an added price) are available on the á la carte menu. And that's not all. There's still a chunk of the buffet left to explore: dessert. Indulge in a medley of rotating sweets, including, but not limited to, chocolate Oreo squares, almond-caramel apple bars, homemade s'mores, chocolate coffee cake, and the signature chocolate and peanut butter bite topped with a Reese's peanut butter cup.