Sardelli
Photo by CandaceWest.com

"When you're here, you're family," was once Olive Garden's very catchy slogan. That catch phrase also applies to Sardelli's, a significantly more upscale Italian steakhouse in Hollywood. Whether it's your first or 100th time coming here for dinner, the staff will treat you like a regular. Contributing to this convivial atmosphere is the fact you're eating in a four-story house that underwent a $3 million renovation five years ago and is now both cozy and contemporary. What's more, the eatery is a family-run business, and owner Fulvio Sardelli Jr. is also the chef. How nice not to have to decide between pasta and steak. At Sardelli's, it's practically a must to order one of each. Get the cavatelli with braised veal shank in a truffle-butter-and-veal broth ($16 for a half-portion or $32 for full) as your primo, and order a USDA Prime certified Black Angus eight-ounce filet mignon for your secondo ($36). Another one of Sardelli's hits is the fried calamari in a delicious spicy tomato sauce ($15). There's nothing pretentious here, only homestyle cuisine in the most inviting of settings. Sardelli is open Monday through Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.

Readers' choice: Point Royal

Screaming Carrots
Courtesy of Screaming Carrots

Screaming Carrots is all about organic, plant-based cuisine, the type of food that's meant to nourish the mind, body, and soul. If you're skeptical of this place because of its name, don't be. The food is so tastefully composed it won't matter if you're a vegan, meat-eater, or pescatarian. It's all thanks to chef/owner Guy Braverman, just an average joe who began living a 100 percent plant-based lifestyle three years ago to boost his health. After plenty of trial and error, Screaming Carrots now offers customers many of his favorite organic, whole-food, plant-based recipes. Open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and till 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, the restaurant allows you to start your day with steel-cut oatmeal or a tofu scramble ($12): organic sprouted tofu griddled and tossed with baby spinach and mushrooms, topped with pine nuts, and served with a salad, house-made bread, and jam. For lunch, go for a bowl of Braverman's mushroom and coconut soup ($9): portobellos simmered in a fragrant coconut milk broth with peppers, onion, and cilantro, topped with a spoonful of coconut cream, and served with an optional side of rice. Meat-eaters will love the house schnitzel ($12): a savory soy-and-wheat-breaded tofu patty stuffed between two slices of fresh baguette with a generous slathering of homemade hummus and a heaping portion of chopped vegetables. For dessert, a Middle Eastern-style pudding ($6) will hit the spot; dairy- and gluten-free, it's made with refreshingly light coconut cream and chia seeds flavored with rose water and garnished with slivers of pistachio. Wash it all down with the house cinnamon-and-hibiscus-infused iced tea. Then sit back, relax, and rest assured absolutely no animals were harmed in the making of your meal.

Mikan Japanese Restaurant
Photo by Nicole Danna

After 17 years of running a sushi and ramen business in the heart of Miami, chef/owner Seiji "Ike" Ikemizu moved his Mikan Japanese Restaurant (named for the honey tangerine) to Pembroke Pines in 2014. And Broward County residents are thankful he did. Originally from Tokunoshima, a small island in southern Japan, Ikemizu prepares an authentic menu that is one of the best around. The sushi, sashimi, and composed plates are truly outstanding, but it's the soups that have generated the most hype. Choose from several styles (and a few of the chef's own quirky creations), including curry, vegetable, or nabeyaki udon — big, fat noodles bobbing in a flavorful broth. The ramen is prepared in a number of ways too, from traditional tonkotsu and miso to everyone's eventual favorite, the kimchi ramen: a spicy orange broth that's packed full of slow-roasted pork and homemade kimchi.

Take a trip to Brazil at Regina's Farm, where the evening's hosts — Brazilian natives Regina Rodrigues and Elizeu Silva — invite you to a communal feast at their Fort Lauderdale home with open arms and warm, wide smiles. Anyone nostalgic for the homestyle fare of Brazil's southern region will feel perfectly at home alongside Rodrigues, who began cooking large, family-style meals for friends and church members in 2010, first to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. As time went on, the events became so popular that she and her husband began accepting contributions to help buy the necessary provisions. Today a $25-per-person donation will get you a feast to remember at their fazendinha — "little farm" — an alfresco pop-up restaurant that takes place every Saturday from 5 to midnight, weather permitting. The experience transports guests to a miniature, more rustic version of Rodrigues' hometown in Minas Gerais for an all-you-can-eat dinner. There's free water and plenty of coffee, but no liquor; guests are welcome to bring their own wine or beer. But, of course, it's the food they're after. Served buffet-style, selections are laid out across the massive outdoor iron-topped stove. They start with baskets filled with steaming-hot pão de queijo — tiny balls of doughy Brazilian cheese-stuffed bread — and soup like caldo verde, a popular pale-green Portuguese classic with the consistency of porridge and made with potatoes, kale, olive oil, onion, and salt heated over a campfire. Around 7:30, the line begins for the main courses, everything from roast chicken with okra and moqueca de peixe (fish stew) to Rodrigues' specialty, feijão tropeiro, a Brazilian staple. The meal ends with ten or so desserts, such as a traditional coconut-and-condensed-milk-sweetened bolo de coco pegamarino ("cake to catch a husband").

Readers' choice: Coconuts

Panya Thai
Photo by Javier Ramirez

Approach the larb ($9.95) with caution. The verdant, chilled ground-beef salad is everyday fare in parts of Southeast Asia such as Thailand and Laos, and it's Panya Thai's specialty alongside the yellow curry noodle soup called khao soi ($10.95) and the cinnamony pork-intestine-and-tofu stew called guay jab ($10.95). The larb, which bellows the aroma of cumin, star anise, and cloves, pulls no punches in the heat department. As soon as the stuff passes your lips, your whole mouth goes aflame with the heat of Thai bird chilies. Your nose might run. Your eyes might water. Little beads of sweat might gather on your forehead. Despite your screaming nervous system, you can't help but plunge your chopsticks back into the mound for another go.

Macchialina
Photo by Liz Clayman

Every Thursday, pasta prince and Italian wunderkind Michael Pirolo offers more than a half-dozen of his pristine handmade noodles for merely 10 bucks a bowl. This should be reason enough for you to visit every week. But there's more. Pirolo spent years traveling and cooking at Michelin-starred temples in Piedmont, Lombardy, Bologna, and Campagne. When he returned to the United States, he linked up with Scott Conant, eventually leading the opening of Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Pirolo's arsenal is as vast and precise as that of a championship basketball team. The veal and pork meatballs he calls polpettine ($11) are lighter than manna from Heaven. The Mediterranean octopus ($18) is soft as filet mignon, and the concentrated tomato sauce it's paired with lends just the right amount of acidity and sweetness. So while you're getting your fill of pasta, it's a good idea to peruse the everyday menu and decide what'll be on your plate tomorrow.

An izakaya is a traditional Japanese establishment that serves small, intensely flavored plates that can stand up to a deluge of beer and sake. At this Gables spot, don't be afraid to call out your order for any one of the dozen and a half daily offerings scribbled on a chalkboard opposite the sushi bar. If it's any motivation, dishes such as the sweet vinegar-marinated yellow jack called aji nanban zuke ($6.50) sell out quickly. You'll also want to claim your hamachi or sake kama ($14) as fast as possible. They emerge from the kitchen sizzling hot, with a faint aroma of the fish's natural oils. But don't be fooled: This amorphous cut holds some of the juiciest flesh in the ocean. When the time comes for that second round, be sure to pair it with the hybrid omelet/fritter called okonomiyaki ($15.95). Sticky Japanese mountain yam is blended with egg and grilled into a crisp pancake that's topped with spicy mayo and gossamer shards of cured tuna loin. Finish it off with a carafe of sake. Kampai!

Frenchie's Diner
billwisserphoto.com

In the luxurious enclave that is Coral Gables, husband and wife Gabriel and Shannon Castrec run a place that can only be described as like walking into someone's home kitchen. Some days, you'll find pristine potato leek soup ($8) and a skillfully seared fillet of Florida pompano (market price) prepared with care and skill. Gabriel ensures your meal is as precise as any you'd find at a more formal establishment while doling out hugs and glasses of wine. The menu is an ever-changing affair and scrawled onto a chalkboard wall. Across the way are bowed shelves bearing dozens of bottles of French wines. The place is the closest thing Miami has to the inviting bistros of Nice, Lyon, or Paris. But what brings it home here is the relaxed atmosphere. No need to worry if the verdant shallot-and-herb butter covering escargots ($11) runs down your chin. And that spot of Gruyère on the table from your croque-monsieur ($12)? Ce n'est pas important.

Steak Brasil Churrascaria
courtesy of Brasil Steak Churrascarria

As soon as you settle at a table, the server hands you a large card. Here's what you should do: Slam down the green side, emblazoned with the words "Yes, please." Then sit back and enjoy the procession of piping-hot, juicy grilled meats — flank steak, lamb, ribs, and picanha — until you can't eat anymore. Then you flip the card to the red side, which reads, "No, thanks." It's almost like having a meat-eating contest with your guests and the other patrons taking part in the all-you-can-eat Brazilian buffet. It's hard even to make room for the delicious sides such as yuca fries, sweet plantains, and Brazilian cheese balls. For $27 per person, the buffet is a bit pricey, but Steak Brasil often offers Groupon deals that allow a party of four to eat for less than $100. Aside from offering grilled meats, the menu also lists traditional Brazilian dishes such as moqueca, a steaming saltwater stew made with fish, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and coriander cooked slowly in a terra cotta casserole; and feijão tropeiro, a savory mishmash of beans, sausage, collard greens, eggs, and manioc flour from the southeastern region of the country. Customers also receive a parking rate discount at the nearby Total Bank lot for three hours. Cost: $1. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and weekdays except Monday, when the restaurant closes at 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 7 p.m.

Baires Grill

Forgo that expensive plane ticket to Argentina and try one of the three locations of Baires Grill. Grilled meats are plentiful, and best sellers are a Black Angus skirt steak ($29) and a tender flap steak ($27). The indecisive can try them all with an order of a parrillada ($55), which includes skirt steak, flap meat, short ribs, chicken, sausage, and sweetbreads on a flaming gridiron for two or three diners to share. House-made pastas ($18) include butternut squash gnocchi doused in a blend of blue cheese sauce, Malbec reduction, and caramelized figs. There are beef, chicken, and spinach empanadas too ($4.50), as well as dozens of wines by the glass or bottle. The atmosphere is relaxed, with a patio nestled between high hedges and topped by glimmering lights.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®