A good bowl of pho isn't hard to find, but a great one is. Pho, in general, is a gift from the heavens. It's difficult to mess up rice noodles swimming in a deliciously complex broth with your favorite cut of meat playing hide-and-seek beneath bean sprouts and leaves. What sets a bowl of pho apart from the rest, though? Authenticity. Saigon Cuisine serves a piping hot bowl of pho that is as close to a plastic stool on the side of a Ho Chi Minh back street as one can get without a plane ticket. Saigon Cuisine's pho comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms (cup for $4.75, extralarge bowl for $11.30). You can order chicken, beef, seafood, or veggie varieties. The common denominator in each variation is the deep-flavored broth. The husband-and-wife team of Dung and Mai Lan are from Vietnam and have spent the past two decades perfecting their recipes in America. If the pho isn't enough to make you feel like you've taken a day trip to Southeast Asia, the decorative traditional Vietnamese atmosphere, complete with a full band on a stage, will. When it comes to pho, the closest you'll get to the real thing is right on 441. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; the restaurant is closed Monday.

Prime 112
Photo by Gary James / Courtesy of Carma PR

It's hard to mess up mac 'n' cheese. Indeed, some of the biggest food snobs will admit (after some coaxing) that even Kraft makes a pretty decent version. But decent and excellent are worlds apart, and Prime One Twelve's versions of the all-American classic are nothing short of perfection. The modern steakhouse serves both a five-cheese truffle mac ($13) and a lobster mac 'n' cheese ($25) for those looking to indulge. The macaroni is always cooked just right, the cheese is of the highest quality, and that final layer of crunchy breadcrumbs is simply irresistible. And you know what goes great with mac 'n' cheese? Steak, of course. Order a 12-ounce USDA Prime dry-aged filet mignon ($55), and prepare to be satisfied. Finally, whether you dine for lunch or dinner, don't leave without at least one bite of the signature fried Oreos with French vanilla ice cream ($15). Since opening in 2004, Prime One Twelve has repeatedly made the list of highest-grossing restaurants in the nation. The caliber of the steakhouse's food and service is topnotch, and it's fair to say this locally owned restaurant deserves every penny.

Carpaccio
Cori Mizrahi

Whether it's Christmas break or the dead of summer, Carpaccio's restaurant is packed every day from 11:30 a.m. till 11:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. Saturdays). This long-standing anchor tenant of the upscale Bal Harbour Shops is beloved by locals and tourists alike for its affordable and unpretentious Italian fare and flawless service. From the moment you're seated (try to snag a spot on the lovely terrace), the staff brings a rack to hang your jacket, shopping bags, and handbag. What other eatery in Miami does this? The waiters here are trained to deal with even the finickiest of customers, to the point that if you wish to have your Margherita pizza ($13.95) with the tomato sauce and cheese on the side, they'll find a way to make it happen. They aim to please without being over-the-top about it, and food is always brought out in a timely matter. Try the grilled calamari ($11.95), followed by the signature pasta, "pennette Harry's Bar" ($16.95), named for the restaurant in Venice, Italy. Penne pasta is tossed with garlic, fresh spinach, tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts. And although it's not listed on the menu, some of the best people-watching in town always accompanies a meal at Carpaccio.

Forte dei Marmi
Ilona Oppenheim

Miami is known for its opulent restaurants — the more extravagant, the better. But sometimes less is more, and South Beach's Forte dei Marmi is proof. The rustic Italian restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Antonio Mellino and his son Rafaelle was designed by Chad Oppenheim and Milan-based Henry Timi. Their goal was to bring the essence of the beach inside, creating a tranquil oasis. Clean, simple lines and a focus on natural materials define Forte dei Marmi's aesthetic, which allows the sophisticated organic cuisine to shine through. The space is awash in shades of beige so that the Enzo Enea garden and landscapes can truly pop. Once you peel your eyes off the stunning decor, indulge in the homemade tagliolini with Alaskan king crab ($28) and the perfectly cooked glazed veal chop with duck-fat potatoes ($49). The restaurant is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 to 11 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 6 to 11:30 p.m., and Sunday from 6 to 10 p.m.; it's closed Monday.

Market 17
courtesy of Market 17

Every food spot boasts its cuisine is the freshest, most locally sourced. It's as if cows saunter up to their drive-thrus, asking to be burger-ized. And it is baloney. But there's at least one restaurant South Floridians can rely upon for actual farm-to-table dishes: Market 17. Opened in 2010 at Portside Center in Fort Lauderdale, it offers an enticing array of culinary experiences, including a blind tasting menu with Dining in the Dark and more than 600 bottled wines curated by in-house sommeliers. Youthful and talented chef Lauren DeShields chooses from a wide range of organically grown produce, humanely raised meats, and wild-caught fish to create food that is unforgettable. Try the awe-inspiring house-made charcuterie. If you want to meet that pig on your plate, visit the restaurant's website to check out the local farms that Market 17 patronizes.

Café Roval
Photo by CandaceWest.com

Café Roval's coral house is a charming structure. But that cute little building is just the half of it. If it's romance you seek, you'll find it in the restaurant's outdoor garden. Everything about it screams "happily ever after" for the couples canoodling over wine, caviar (market price), and mussels ($23). Tables are strewn around a grotto with waterfalls and statues. If it looks familiar, it's because it's straight from The Little Mermaid's big showstopper. As tree frogs croak quietly along with the soft sounds of clinking glasses and giddy laughter, it's as if you can also hear Sebastian the crab beckoning you to "kiss the girl." The opportunity is too good to pass up. Go for the smooch.

The Spillover
CandaceWest.com

Miami is known for its gorgeous coastal beaches, fishing, and proximity to the Florida Keys. Yet for all of this waterfront bliss, there are surprisingly few places to get fresh, affordable seafood. Enter the Spillover. The Coconut Grove eatery is owned by Matt Kuscher, the man behind Lokal and Kush, which serve burgers and beer with a strong commitment to procuring the freshest and most local meat and produce. What Kuscher has done for beef, he's now doing at the Spillover for seafood. Conch salad ($13) is sourced from 58 miles away, and a whole fried local fish ($28) is caught daily from fishermen who work the waters from Pompano Beach to the Keys. There are even gator ribs ($22) from Clewiston. Pair your meal with one of more than two dozen ciders that range in taste from tart and tangy to rich and funky.

Smith & Wollensky
Courtesy of Smith & Wollensky

Smith & Wollensky is not only a venerated institution for steak, but it also has one of the loveliest views in the nation. The restaurant is located in South Pointe Park, on the southernmost tip of Miami Beach. That piece of real estate happens to overlook Government Cut, the shipping channel that leads to PortMiami. The restaurant recently completed a major renovation, which means more outdoor space and a second-floor alfresco bar. So while you're enjoying your USDA Prime boneless New York strip ($50), you can wave to the happy cruisers setting off for points south. If you're on a budget, try the steak sandwich, made with the same prime beef, for a wallet-friendly $19.

Readers' choice: Rusty Pelican

The Mustard Seed's Tyrone Johnson
Photo by Stian Roenning
The Mustard Seed's Tyrone Johnson

Ask Tyrone Johnson for one of his sweet-and-sour-glazed racks of ribs ($16 for a half-rack, $23 for a full) that have been sitting in a far corner of his grill for three or more hours. The color has morphed from reddish amber to deep, chocolatey brown. The meat slips off the bone with little more than a hard stare. But before you can make this request, you have to find his family-run barbecue operation, the Mustard Seed. Begin by heading south on SW 107th Avenue toward West Perrine; then turn left on 176th Street and left again on 105th Avenue. Yes, you're in a quiet residential neighborhood, and, yes, you're in the right place. Notice the smell of meat in the air? Keep going, and keep your eyes peeled for a parking spot. They're hard to come by on weekend evenings when Johnson and his extended family roll out the barrel grills, coolers, and noisy fans that help keep the crowd cool. When you spot the floodlight illuminating a bellowing column of smoke, you're in the right place.

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

Best Restaurateur
Courtesy of Javier Ramirez

Forty-three-year-old Javier Ramirez led a charmed childhood in Caracas. His parents were both physicians, and he earned an economics degree from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, then took a job in Venezuela's vast, insanely profitable oil industry. He would have stayed in the country if strongman Hugo Chávez hadn't swept into power in 1999. The move pushed Ramirez abroad, first to London and eventually to Miami, where a lifelong obsession with food became more serious. It was so serious, in fact, that he now has a hand in Wynwood's Alter and Cake Thai, as well as Brickell's Bachour Bakery + Bistro. There's little doubt the three restaurants are among the city's most exciting. Alter's Brad Kilgore has claimed armfuls of awards, including Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef nod in 2016. Cake Thai serves the city's best traditional Thai fare, and Bachour sells a sugary feast for the senses. Ramirez has no plans to slow down.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®