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 Sandwich Shop
billwisserphoto.com

For decades, Miami has been a dominant force in the sandwich universe. Sure, New York and Chicago have claims, but the Magic City is one of few where the sandwich plays an integral part of life. Though Cuban sandwiches have long reigned supreme, a few years ago the intensely flavorful sandwiches of Peru appeared on the scene, and life has never been this same. The family-owned Mr. & Mrs. Bun in West Kendall specializes in what it calls panceta en caja china ($11.99). Pork belly is cooked in a special roasting box until the meat's absurdly tender fat and flesh are encased in a crisp crust. It's tucked inside a fluffy house-made bun with crisp sweet potato coins, crunchy lettuce, and a tangy mayonnaise. In Peru, these sandwiches are popular as drunk food, but there's no need for booze to make this version the best.

El Pimiento
Photo by Jacob Katel

Since 2006, the Miami Lakes restaurant El Pimiento has offered a sprawling menu of small plates — the kind you'd see served on the streets of Madrid — for a fraction of the price you'd pay at an American tapas bar. Prices range from $6 to $17 for most small plates. If you're the type to be overwhelmed by too many options — there are more than 40 tapas and 60 dishes in all — the small staff that runs the 12-table restaurant is happy to help you navigate chef/owner Juan Carlos de la Cruz's offerings, which range from hot and cold selections to vegetable, meat, and seafood plates. There are traditional picks such as the Spanish anchovies marinated in vinegar and olive oil known as boquerones ($11) as well as tortilla española, a Spanish-style potato and onion omelet ($7). For a truly indulgent evening, imbibe with a bottle of wine. The walls here are lined with rows of options sourced from Spain, Chile, and Argentina. Don't feel bashful about perusing them yourself, although the staff can recommend favorites.

Best French Fries
CandaceWest.com

At Pincho Factory, you have to order the epic tostón burger: a beef patty, jack cheese, and a dollop of cilantro sauce presented between two crisp fried plantains. But every burger needs a companion, and Pincho Factory offers several. Try a batch of fried plantains ($3.49), or go for an order of the classic French fries, cooked to a golden brown for a nice outer crunch. Or take it up a notch with bacon cheddar ranch fries served with ranch dressing. There are also the Cajun fries, topped with grilled onions, seasoning, and Pincho's top-secret pink sauce. Or check out the bite-size sweet potato tots. They're all under five bucks each.

222 Taco
Courtesy of 222 Taco

Taco and tequila veteran Anna Robbins' 222 Taco in North Bay Village is a Miami Vice-colored palace of tortillas and margaritas. It's also a comfortable place to partake of a well-priced meal. Tacos are categorized by land, sea, and jardin ($3 to $4 each). All — including traditional items such as carne asada and al pastor — are delicious, but it's the veggie tacos that will win you over. Cauliflower al pastor has the sweet and acidic flavor without the guilt, and hongo alambre has a lovely earthiness. The restaurant even offers vegan queso and crema so you won't miss a beat. Wash everything down with a 222 slushy margarita, a delightful frozen drink that's best described as a passionfruit piña colada with a liberal dose of tequila ($11).

Sunrise Pita & Grill
Photo by Alona Abbady Martinez

Celebrating 20 years in the same bustling location, Sunrise Pita & Grill was the go-to place for fans of the Israeli fried chickpea pita sandwich long before it became a South Florida trend. The vegan treat is made to order and then placed inside either fluffy pita bread ($6.75); an extra-large lafa, the Middle Eastern equivalent to a wrap ($8.99); or a baguette ($8.49). And this is just the first step. Select from a colorful array of fresh salads and sauces, and the jovial staff will add your choices. There's fried eggplant, sweet onion, pickled cabbage, garlic carrots, hummus, and tahini (sesame seed paste) prepared daily in-house. Those in the know will ask for a drizzle of amba, a tangy pickled mango sauce to pump up the party in your mouth. If you're not afraid of heat, ask for a bit of schug, the Moroccan herb-based condiment not to be taken lightly. A falafel platter is available ($10.49) for those who prefer to be more civil and use a plastic fork and knife. You can sit and enjoy Israeli news or take your order to go. A second location across from Nova University is expected to open soon. Another plus: Everything is glatt kosher, so God is on your side.

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
Photo courtesy of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill

Disney character Sebastian the Crab once said about the virtues of living under the sea (more or less): "Sure, it might be fun spending your life hiding in some coral rock, but you know what's more enjoyable? Devouring us." At Sugarcane, you can get the Little Mermaid's family together where they belong — on your plate. Sit at the lively bar and order a half-dozen oysters ($18, selection varies), a few shrimp, and a chilled lobster. Then go to town! Chef Timon Balloo serves meat from the robata grill, so you can happily sate any carnivorous desires.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®