Lolo's Surf Cantina
Courtesy of Lolo's Surf Cantina

There are many places to get a great taco in Miami, but Lolo's Surf Cantina has an especially satisfying and interactive experience. The restaurant, owned by Richard Ampudia (hailed as the godfather of Mexican street food), offers straightforward Baja fish tacos, but you must order the whole fish for the most viscerally authentic experience. A whole snapper is lightly fried and presented intact. Once you've taken your Instagram photos of the creature, it's filleted upon request and served with fresh, warm tortillas and a host of accoutrements: fresh salsas and sauces made in-house, avocado, and an herb salad. Dig in and make your own creations. Priced at $29, it's more than enough for two — and so much more fun than a trip to the Taco Bell drive-thru. Lolo's opens daily at 8 a.m. for coffee and offers tacos from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Readers' choice: Coyo Taco

El Conuquito Restaurant
Nicole Danna

Finding a solid Caribbean restaurant in Miami is about as easy as stepping out your front door and ambling to the nearest street corner. But making truly authentic mofongo — a dish of mashed fried plantains and crunchy pieces of pork shaped into a ball — is an art form not many have perfected. El Conuquito Restaurant looks like something straight out of the islands. This colorful, family-run café has been serving Dominican and Puerto Rican classics for more than 12 years. The menu offers three varieties of the Latin comfort food, beginning with a traditional mofongo con masitas de puerco ($12). Soft, subtly sweet green plantains are mashed and rolled with tiny nubs of pork sausage and molded into a massive sphere before it's given one last dip in the fryer and served. There's also mofongo de longaniza ($12), the same dish topped with a creamy, seasoned, gravy-like caldo made from chicken stock. The dish looks more like a melting snowball than a garlic lover's dream. But the best seller by far is the mofongo de camarones ($16), served chunky with small pieces of pernil buried like treasure. It's topped with a single tender shrimp and doused in a sauce similar to the traditional al ajillo. Pro mofongo eating tip: Ask for a lemon wedge for an acidic kick and a side of bread to help soak up the extra shrimp and garlic sauce.

Macita's Restaurant & Bakery
Photo by Zachary Fagenson

Decades ago in the city of Medellín, Isabel Amaya's grandmother used to prepare arepas on a wide metal plate, spreading the batter thin before popping it into an ad hoc oven made of stacked logs. The result was almost a pancake. "It was crispy and tender, the perfect bread for eating anything," says Amaya, whose family has run this Colombian restaurant and takeaway spot since 1997. The bumpy white arepas the kitchen grills are the next best thing to her grandmother's. They look more like biscuits than the traditional fried corn dough rounds that Colombians have created to suit Americanized tastes. They're the perfect vessel for plowing through one of Macita's homemade morcillas. There's something about the creamy, fatty blood sausage studded with rice that — when combined with the tender-inside, crunchy-outside arepa — makes each bite an escape from the noisy dining room.

Fritas Domino La Original
Photo by Zachary Fagenson

Dagoberto Estevill's frizzled potato strings place him far above Miami's frita kings and magicians. The tiny strands are like little crisp, salty capsules holding puffs of air that crunch the second you touch Dago's frita cubana ($4.50). They come showered over a perfect patty with just enough Spanish paprika to fill your nostrils with their smoky aroma — and enough grease to tie each bite together. Then the julienned potatoes come on like a summer afternoon squall, soaking up the patty's seasoning while dancing around the scattered chopped onions. How does Dago make them? He won't say. "¿Pero, te gustaria más?" he inquires from behind the chest-high counter inside his pastel-blue cafeteria, Fritas Domino la Original. "Claro," is the only reply. Pop a few sticks into your shirt pocket for a snack later on.

Jennifer's Cafeteria
Photo by Zachary Fagenson

At first blush, there doesn't seem to be a thing wrong with a baleada for breakfast, particularly when for five bucks you can snag one of the thick whole-wheat tortillas from this compact North Miami Beach cafeteria where women rightly rule. Yet consider the history of this breakfast benchmark. The chewy, pillowy tortillas are thought to have first appeared in the early 20th Century near the banana plantations of Central America. Women pushing ramshackle carts would sell them to farmworkers striking out in the hot sun for a brutal day's work. For many, the thick tortilla with perhaps a smear of black beans was all they could afford. Jennifer's Cafeteria takes some of the sting out of the story via gently fried eggs, refried black beans, and — if you like — an ultrafragrant and spicy chorizo tangled up with melty cheese. Be sure to give thanks to those who paved the way.

Dôa

Ceviche bowls abound in Miami's restaurants. But finding the tastiest and least fishy mixture of raw fish and seasoning is a challenge. We'll make it easy for you: Go to Doa. The Lat-Asian restaurant on Collins Avenue in South Beach specializes in Peruvian fare paired with traditional Japanese, Chinese, and pan-Asian plates. The name is pronounced dow-ah, and the place is run by restaurateur Arjun Waney, who's known for concepts such as Zuma and Coya. The traditional ceviche ($16) blends dashi — a Japanese broth — with the citrus-based marinade leche de tigre, creating a fresh flavor to cleanse your palate. A generous serving of crunchy choclo — Peruvian corn — is served alongside, giving the dish a slight smoky taste. While you're there, try the ceviche maki roll ($14), which takes the flavor of the bowl and transforms it into that of a sushi roll with leche de tigre cream drizzled on top.

Readers' choice: My Ceviche

Tatel Miami
Courtesy of Tatel Miami

You haven't experienced gastronomic perfection until you've tasted Tatel's truffled potato omelet: a simple mixture of eggs, thin-sliced potato, and fresh-shaved black truffle. The dish, concocted by Tatel Madrid executive chef Nacho Chicharro, is drool-worthy. And now you don't have to travel to Spain, the restaurant's birthplace, to try it. Tatel Miami recently opened at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, where owners Enrique Iglesias and two of the most important athletes in Spain's history — tennis legend Rafael Nadal and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol — have partnered to bring the famous tapas restaurant stateside. Here, expect to find plenty of high-end, imported European products used to create the dozens of mouthwatering dishes that have made the Madrid restaurant world-famous. To carry on the tradition stateside, Tatel Miami hired former Nobu Miami executive chef Nicolas Mazier to head the kitchen. He trained for months alongside Chicharro at the Madrid location in order to deliver the secrets of Spanish cuisine to Miamians. That means dozens of hot and cold tapas, from freshly sliced gourmet Ibérico ham ($65) and Gallego-style grilled octopus ($20) to dozens of homemade Spanish desserts, including flan de queso ($11): Brie flan served with caramel and whipped cream. Be sure to try Mazier's own dishes, unique to the Miami restaurant, such as miso-marinated black cod ($38) and lightly sautéed red prawn with Spanish extravirgin olive oil and fresh garlic ($32). And, of course, you'll want to check out that world-famous potato and truffle omelet, also known as tortilla trufada ($24).

El Palacio de los Jugos
Photo by Zachary Fagenson

Though its name translates to "the Juice Palace," El Palacio de Los Jugos offers more than just freshly squeezed fruit drinks. The restaurant, with locations across South Florida, is known for a sandwich counter that makes the most authentic Cuban sandwich in town. Made with real Cuban bread — the kind whose dough is topped with a moist leaf from a palmetto frond before it's baked — and pressed with a plancha, each sandwich is packed with ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, and mustard. It's cheap too, ringing in at just under $10 for a Cuban and a juice. The restaurant serves a variety of other low-priced Cuban eats, including lechón asado, pescado de aguja with yellow rice, and pollo asado with a fried sweet potato. Depending upon when your craving for a Cuban strikes, prepare for El Palacio to be jam-packed. It's worth the wait, though.

Nashville hot chicken is the centerpiece of the menu at Bird & Bone.
Photo by CandaceWest.com
Nashville hot chicken is the centerpiece of the menu at Bird & Bone.

This is fried chicken food porn at its finest. After all, you are sinking your teeth into a golden breast or thigh, crisp on the outside, moist and juicy on the inside. What could make it even more sensual? A tingle on the lips. Richard Hales' obsession with Nashville hot chicken led him to bring the craze to Miami Beach at his Bird & Bone inside the Confidante hotel. But unlike the original iteration that turns up the fire, Hales knows it's best to tease. His chicken is brined for a day and then fried to order before being coated with a special blend of spices and peppers. Finally, he drizzles honey on the bird. The result is pure pleasure: a sweet top note gives way to a sultry warmth as your teeth penetrate the flaky crust to get to the tender flesh. Go ahead — let out a low moan. The finest porn stars always do.

Readers' choice: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar

Shuckers Waterfront Bar & Grill
Photo courtesy of Shuckers Bar & Grill

Shuckers' deck tragically collapsed in 2013, sending more than two dozen people to the hospital. Then, in 2016, the restaurant and adjacent hotel were sold to a Montreal-based holding company. Yet unlike so many other iconic hangouts that have been purchased and died, Shuckers can't be stopped. Perhaps it has something to do with the wings. Order a dozen of them ($15) for your wing-fanatic friends and they'll agree there's no need for frying or vinegary hot sauce. Shuckers gets the job done with a secret seasoning that includes the perfect amount of salt and heat. A dance on a hot grill chars the outside, providing a crisp exterior encasing luscious meat. Of course, these wings are made even better by the sun, the salty air, and the sound of waves gently lapping against the seawall of a place that time seemingly can't beat.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®