Haiti is about 700 miles away, but you don't have to go that far for some seriously authentic Haitian food. The best of the island's cuisine — a colorful blend of African- and Caribbean-influenced fare with a hint of creole — can be found at La Belle Jacmelienne. Step inside the tiny eatery and you'll feel as though you've made the trek. There's a tiki-inspired order counter and colorful wall murals, all meant to spirit you off to an island retreat — even if it's just for lunch. Here, root vegetables, ridiculously hot peppers, meats such as oxtail, and a unique blend of spices work together to form basic, zippy dishes that sing with a soupçon of French complexity. Friendly staff will gladly explain the basic offerings, such as hearty portions of legim stew, a complex dish with plenty of spices, eggplant, cabbage, carrots, peppers, and spinach. It also includes braised meats such as pork or oxtail and sometimes even seafood like conch or crab ($14 to $19). Or go for the griot (fried pork), prepared with an orange-based marinade that walks a fine line between sour and salty. The dish is served with pikliz, Haiti's official condiment — a spicy pickled-vegetable slaw made with white-vinegar-soaked Scotch bonnet peppers, carrots, and cabbage. Be sure to wash it all down with some Couronne fruit champagne, the island's popular soda, and your trip to Haiti will be complete.

Why try Kebab Indian Restaurant? How about warm naan baked in a tandoor and seasoned with garlic butter ($3.95); crisp vegetable samosas stuffed with potatoes, peas, and Indian spices ($4); and a plate of chicken biryani, in which tender pieces of poultry are cooked and simmered with rice, nuts, and korma sauce ($13.95). Those are just three of the more than 150 items served at this traditional Indian restaurant tucked away on NE 167th Street in North Miami Beach. The unassuming space allows Kebab's blend of aromatic spices, basmati rice, vegetables, and meat to shine. And if you visit during lunch, take advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet for less than $10. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

CY Chinese Restaurant
Photo by CandaceWest.com

The moment you step into this North Miami Beach hideaway, your senses are overcome by the overwhelming perfume of rendered beef fat and chili oil. Though Sichuan-style restaurants are popping up across Miami, none holds truer to the fiery cuisine of the Chinese province than this first U.S. project by Chongqing native and chef Yang Xian Guang. That beef fat is the central ingredient of Yang's hot pot. That rich, savory aroma is the yardstick by which most Chinese folks judge hot pot, he explains. The recipes include three or more kinds of chilies, a mountain of Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, garlic, ginger, star anise, fermented black beans, and a litany of secrets he refuses to share. A simple chicken broth, made by simmering carcasses with ginger and garlic for three hours, is poured on top just before the dish is sent out to the dining room. So whether you opt for the Chinese yam, the fatty beef, the pork blood, or just a tousle of vegetables, you're guaranteed an experience like no other.

Azabu
Photo by CandaceWest.com

A Michelin-starred concept from New York City, Miami's Sushi Azabu is as swanky as they come. In addition to a large main dining room, you'll find a snazzy cocktail bar and "The Den," a hidden sushi counter behind the kitchen. Prepared by Tokyo-trained chef Masatsugu "Masa" Kubo, Azabu's fare ($6 to $130) is largely cooked on a robata, a Japanese charcoal grill. It's served izakaya-style, where guests order a variety of small, sharable items served when ready. The menu includes yakitori, grilled chicken on a skewer; fried rice served tableside on a sizzling toban-yaki (ceramic) plate; sukiyaki, fried meat with vegetables and sauce; and a variety of udon noodles. The secluded sushi bar provides a more intimate experience. The 11-seat bar, accessible only through the kitchen, offers omakase-style dining featuring local and imported seafood flown directly from Japan ($120 to $150). Then, at the restaurant's cocktail bar, find a selection of international whiskeys and sakes. Try Azabu from 6 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. The bar is open till 1 a.m. daily.

Huong's Bistro
Photo by Ryan Yousefi

Vietnamese cuisine continues to grow across the region as more South Floridians discover pho, bánh mì, and bún thit nuong. But if you want to go beyond the popular classics, head to Huong's Bistro, where you'll find grab-and-go dishes like the ones on the streets of Vietnam. Try the fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth bánh bao stuffed with ground pork and boiled egg ($3.50). Or check out the steamed banana cake (bánh chuoi, $3.99). After you've sampled all the street food and desserts, order a bánh mì, made while you stand in line.

Atchana's Homegrown Thai
Photo by CandaceWest.com

It's bold to name a dish "the perfect bite," but Atchana Capellini has done just that. The miang kham ($15) is a delight handed down through the generations. A plate holds wrinkly pale-pink dried shrimp, toasted coconut flakes, and tiny slices of ginger. Even the leaves look different. Rather than the ruffled bright-green fronds of butter lettuce, these betel leaves are deep green and spade-shaped, with an almost unnoticeable flavor. Combine all of this with a few bits of crushed peanuts, a squeeze of lime, and a dash of spicy-sweet tamarind sauce, and you'll soon be reaching for a napkin to dab the tears of joy cascading down your cheeks. See, Atchana's family has been cooking these dishes at home for years while also dishing out coconut curries in some of the city's best-known Thai spots. Only recently has she had the confidence to give Miami all of this, and we can only be grateful it happened.

Tacology
Courtesy of Tacology

Miami is rife with Mexican joints. But Brickell City Centre's Tacology stands out. Run by chef Santiago Gomez, known for his work at upscale Mexican restaurant Cantina La Veinte, Tacology offers variations and regional styles of popular street food. His tacos are delicious, fairly priced, and eclectic. You'll find a Baja-style lobster taco with black beans, yellow rice, and creamy chipotle sauce ($14) and an Asian-influenced tuna taco stuffed with tuna tataki, seaweed, avocado, and crisp malanga ($10). There's also a lineup of tostadas, guacamole, chilaquiles, and Mexican nachos. For dessert, Gomez gets creative with a guava cheesecake ($9.50) and a selection of flavored paletas such as lime, chocolate, tamarind, mango, and strawberries and cream ($6). Tacology is open from noon to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday.

Lona Cocina Tequileria
Photo by Lona Cocina Tequileria

Appropriately named "Canvas" in Spanish, this oceanside Fort Lauderdale newcomer paints a pretty picture of modern Mexican cuisine. Pablo Salas is already well known to specialists, but Lona Cocina Tequileria is his first eatery in the United States, and thankfully, it's a far cry from the mediocre beans-and-cheese mush that is so common in Broward. Try guacamole with crab ($15) or huitlacoche quesadillas ($10), made with a prized fungus that grows on corn (it's way better than it sounds). Or check out the mole ($24), the traditional chocolate-based sauce often associated with chicken that here is served with salmon instead. This popular spot offers several areas — outside for alfresco drinking and people-watching, inside for a hopping bar scene (go for the margarita or the Paloma Brava, each $11, because anything that translates to "mad dove" must be good). Deep in the heart of the restaurant, find an intimate space featuring tequila lockers. Lona is a tequileria as well, so be sure to try some of the more than 270 kinds of tequila and its agave cousin, mezcal, with 100 selections offered.

Jamrock Cuisine
billwisserphoto.com

Chef Maurice Chang's Chinese father and Jamaican mother taught him to make magic when he was growing up in Manchester Parish, near Jamaica's southern coast. One of his signatures is an egg roll that's unlike any you find folded in wax paper. It starts with a thin yellow egg batter on a griddle, and as it firms, he lays down a slick of ground pork fortified with garlic and ginger. It's rolled, cooled, and sliced to reveal umami-packed disks adorned with pinwheel patterns. It comes on the choy fan ($10.50) — which is filled out with roast chicken, char sui (Chinese barbecued pork), and white or fried rice — as well as on the tousle of yellow egg noodles, protein, and bok choy called sui mein ($11.50). Next time you think about take-out, think again.

Alter
Photo courtesy of Alter

It's not hyperbole to say Alter has changed Miami's culinary game forever. When Brad Kilgore opened his Wynwood restaurant, naysayers said it might not last. Sure, the food was impeccable. Kilgore impressed guests with his intricate dishes that combined molecular gastronomy, traditional culinary techniques, and an artistic worldview. But there was more. The food was not only delicious but also lovely. Dishes such as soft egg white sea scallop espuma and caviar ($20) might sound twee, but one taste will leave you groaning in delight. The restaurant offers tasting menus starting at $75. It's no wonder Kilgore has won dozens of accolades, including being named one of Food & Wine's best new chefs of 2016. Alter is open from 7 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and bar hours are 5 p.m. to midnight those days.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®