House of Wings
Courtesy of House of Wings

When it comes to chicken wings, options and customization separate the good from the mediocre. And both are offered at Mussaddiq "the King of Poultry" Muhammad's House of Wings. The chicken-wing master chose historic Overtown as home base for his counter-service eatery specializing in — as his nickname suggests — the most prized part of poultry. Since opening in 2003, the place has become a neighborhood institution. It offers more than 50 sauces that can be used on a choice of grilled, dry-rubbed, or deep-fried wings. Selections include everything from barbecue, sweet, or savory to spicy and homestyle. Popular choices include "Barack Obama" (a sweet blend whose ingredients are top secret) and "Ghetto" (a sweet-smoky mixture of four barbecue sauces). However, the jerk wings — flavored with a combination of fiery jerk seasonings and classic, vinegary Buffalo sauce — never disappoint. The selections don't stop there. You can order five wings with a combo meal that includes fries, onion rings, rice, or a side salad for $6.96 or up to 200 wings with four to eight sauces (call for pricing). And, yes, blue cheese and celery are included.

World Famous House of Mac
Courtesy of World Famous House of Mac

Mac 'n' cheese is one of those rare foods we love as kids and don't outgrow. Sure, there are four-star macs, and (heaven forbid) healthy and vegan versions made with nutritional yeast instead of cheddar, but you really want a big, heaping dish of gooey, sloppy, heart-stopping cheesy goodness. House of Mac brings out your inner child with its over-the-top mac and cheese. You want truffle in your mac ($10)? Check. How about a Philly cheesesteak mac ($15)? Yep. But if you've had a crappy day and need the food equivalent of a big hug from Grandma, go with the chicken parm mac 'n' cheese ($14). Hunks of fried and breaded chicken are mixed in and then graced with what seems like more cheese than can fit into the tin. Sure, it's big and you meant to share, but one bite leads to another and another and — whoops! — It's gone. Don't worry. It happens. Just order another. House of Mac isn't here to judge. It's here to comfort. Hours are noon to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and noon to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Sweet Dogs
Courtesy of Sweet Dogs

Just call Sweet Dogs' owner, Victor Ruiz, Mr. Worldwide, hot-dog-style. The self-made chef and 305 native loves not only hot dogs but also his city and Florida sports teams. He brings both together for the perfect Miami-American fast food. And each of his dogs is an edible work of art. All-beef franks are prepared and served with a number of creative, locally themed toppings. Priced from $6.50 to $8.99, Magic City-inspired selections have names such as the Panther, the Dolphins, and the Miami Heat. The most colorful just might be the Marlins, a dog topped with a fried egg, sweet plantains, chopped onions, banana peppers, guava barbecue sauce, and potato sticks. If all of that sounds a little too much for one dog, try the Miami Vice. It's topped with beef chili, chopped onions, pickles, coleslaw, cheddar cheese, and crumbled corn chips. Feeling even more basic? The homemade mac 'n' cheese dog includes the classic comfort food smothered in Parmesan cheese sauce and crunchy garlic croutons. Definitely game over.

La Leggenda Pizzeria
Christine Michelle Photography

To say that Giovanni Gagliardi is obsessed with pizza is like saying Wynton Marsalis dabbles in the trumpet. The entire life of this stout, half-bearded pizzaiolo from Naples revolves around perfect pies. He was born into a family famous for a roving truck that dished out first-rate versions of the stuff. He's won multiple world championships, and an armory of awards litters his small South Beach spot. The world's famed Neapolitan flour companies, which produce the only flour acceptable for making true Neapolitan pies according to European Union standards, fly him around the globe to stretch, dress, and bake on their behalf. Still don't believe it? Go ahead and visit for yourself and watch Gagliardi closely. Every now and then you'll see him snip a pie's crust with a pair of scissors to ensure it's puffing up and crisping just right.

Jr's Gourmet Burgers
Courtesy of Jr's Gourmet Burgers

There are secret weapons in the quest for umami, the so-called fifth flavor, which is a combination of savoriness and deep satisfaction. The wrongly maligned MSG is one of them. There's also tomato paste, anchovies, and the Japanese seaweed and fish broth called dashi. Chief among the ingredients, however, is mushrooms. Vegetarians for years have relied on fungi for meaty satisfaction. Jr's, the humble Miami Springs restaurant that in 2015 finally got some long-overdue recognition when it won the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Burger Bash, deploys a panoply of everything from button mushrooms to shiitake, porcini, and oysters on its wild mushroom burger ($8.85/$9.99) to create an umami bomb tucked in a bun. Take in each bite with a pull of Swiss cheese and a few strands of sautéed onions, and you have all the makings of midday ecstasy.

Pastelmania
Photo by Carla Torres

How this long-standing Little Havana bakery turns out so many of these stubby little fingers of oceanic delight is a mystery. Arrive early on a weekday, and countless dozens of croquetas de bacalao emerge in a constant stream from the back of the compact space. What makes Pastelmania's salt cod croquetas ($1) so addictive is their creamy, unctuous core made of whipped codfish that boasts an almost cloud-like texture. Once it's encased in breading and fried until delightfully crisp, you might find yourself turning your car around on the way to work to fetch a dozen — no, two dozen — more.

Best Pastelito
Photo by Zachary Fagenson

Gilbert's began in 1962 after the family bakery in Camagüey was seized by the Castro government. Family members fled to Miami to rebuild, starting with a place on Douglas Road at SW 16th Street. Today the ship is steered by Gilberto Arriaza Jr., who oversees a vast production operation that keeps the streets flooded with croquetas and guava-packed pastries. Yet it's true strength, and Arriaza's passion, is keeping alive the culinary traditions of Cuba that have faded as the country has sunk into economic hardship and the exile community has built a new life. Case in point is the menesier de pollo ($1.25). A flaky pie-dough-style crust is folded around shredded chicken prepared like ropa vieja. Once out of the oven, it's cooled, and a quick slick of sugar syrup gives it a chrome-like shine. Its depth and complexity, combined with an addictive sweet-savory flavor combination, make it a pastry like no other.

Doggi's Arepa Bar
Photo by Maureen Aimee Mariano

Why, you ask, is the city's favorite arepa spot named for a misspelling of Canis lupus familiaris? In 2010, matriarch Yoleida Galiano and her sons Carlos and Giovanni Esteves purchased a small food cart and served wieners, sodas, and the famous papelón con limón, a traditional Venezuelan beverage made with sugarcane and lemon. After runaway success, the trio opened a restaurant on Coral Way with the same name. Today they dish out dozens of varieties of Venezuelan arepas from multiple locations, including a food truck in Wynwood (305-434-2241). Try the domino ($8.99), plumped up with black beans and rice, or the reina pepiada ($7.99), that oh-so-addictive combination of chicken salad and avocado. You might imagine this was what manna from Heaven looked and tasted like. The outside is freckled with char marks, hinting at the greatness to come: unparalleled crispness that gives way to a tender, hot, steamy, fluffy, almost biscuit-like interior of white cornmeal that's soft and delicate enough to serve as pillow stuffing. It's no wonder new locations are popping up across town.

Best Frita
Courtesy of Cuban Guys

The most Cuban sandwich of all isn't the eponymous one. It's the frita. And though Miamians will argue their favorite frita spots all day, there's one that does the frita like no one else. Sometimes you want it quick and cheap, and that's where Cuban Guys comes in. With four locations from Hialeah to Kendall (and one opening soon in Miramar), they know what makes this sandwich so sensational, perfecting it in fast-food form for $3.99 a pop (and for only $3 Tuesdays after 4 p.m.). Let's start with the bread: A fresh-baked Cuban bun displays the restaurant's logo stamped on top. The beef, seasoned to perfection, is never frozen. It's hand-shaped into patties each day. And those crisp potato sticks are cut and fried in-house, so they're never soggy. Make it a deluxe with mayo, tomato, and lettuce. And if one frita isn't enough, you can always go for the doble ($4.99). Piled high with double the ingredients, it's one of the sexiest — and cheapest — fritas in the 305.

Atlantic Pho
Courtesy of Atlantic Pho

It's easy to find a good bowl of pho, but to locate one that makes you feel as if you are sitting on a stool in Saigon is incredibly difficult. Atlantic Pho is one of the few places in South Florida that produces steaming bowls of Vietnamese excellence. Priced between $6.95 and $9.95, the stuff comes in standard varieties: chicken, beef, combination, seafood, veggie, or any mix of those. In each one, the family recipe, derived from Da Nang, Vietnam, and still in use there, separates the dish from the pack. The rice noodles are cooked just right, the bean sprouts and mint leaves are fresh, and the broth could be a standalone soup in most upscale restaurants. It's pho-tastic.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®