Babe's Meat & Counter
Photo courtesy of Babe's Meat & Counter

Montreal-smoked meat is Canada's answer to New York's pastrami. Many of our friends north of the border claim it's superior to pastrami thanks to a certain amount of sugar being replaced by condiments and spices such as black pepper, coriander, and mustard. Regional disputes aside, Babe's Meat & Counter chef/owner Melanie Schoendorfer has given Miami a Montreal meat sandwich ($10.99) that stands far above any would-be competitors. Perhaps it's Schoendorfer's use of Wagyu beef brisket that makes this sandwich so delicious, but don't ponder it too much. All you need to figure out is whether you want to Reubenize the thing for another two bucks and which cuts of meat you'd like the Sausage Queen of Miami to prepare for you when you arrive. Regular hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Best Cuban Sandwich
Alex Broadwell

Size matters, and Sarussi has it. The half-century-old spot is the place to go for a hulking, 16-inch Cuban sandwich generously loaded with ham, pork, pickles, and mustard ($13.60). But the real kicker here is the secret spicy sauce that perfectly complements all of that fatty richness. That might not sound like your abuelo's recipe, but in Tampa, which makes its own claims of Cuban-sandwich superiority, they use salami, and it's a respected form. So, sure, Sarussi's sandwiches aren't toasted as you might find at your neighborhood cafeteria, and the idea of a spicy sauce might throw you off, but considering they've been doing it deliciously for decades, who are we to question their methods? Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

La Esquina del Lechon
Zachary Fagenson

At La Esquina del Lechón, piping-hot rolls come served in baskets strewn with butter packets and fried pork chunks just to get things going. A life-size, wood-carved pig greets diners, who can opt to sit at the bar or in the main dining area, filled with millennials, abuelitos, and construction workers eating shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the week. The menu is huge, but go for the classic "el famoso lechón en nuestra caja china" ($24): a pile of pork that's slowly roasted for seven hours. Come with extra mouths or extreme hunger, because this dish can easily serve two. A hearty portion of moist meat peeks out from beneath a crunchy layer of pork skin, and the sautéed onions are buttery and sweet. The restaurant bottles and sells its own barbecue sauce in two flavors —Smoky & Sweet and Guava — but the tender meat does just fine on its own. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Cafe la Trova
Photo by Adam Delgiudice

It's always a party inside Café La Trova. On a recent evening at the Calle Ocho restaurant, which combines chef Michelle Bernstein's take on traditional Cuban fare with the cocktails of world-renowned mixologist Julio Cabrera, a live band performed a careful dance with trumpets and guitars behind the bar while skilled bartenders crafted mojitos and daiquiris. At the same time, Bernstein's dishes, executed by Cuban chef Raul Salgado, formerly of Havana's iconic El Floridita, were whisked from table to table, from paella croquetas served with a shot of seafood caldo and saffron aioli ($11), to plates of lechón con chicharrones, where braised mojo-marinated pork shoulder is served on a bed of steamed yuca with tangerine mojo ($19). It's the kind of place where one comes for dinner but stays for the evening, swaying to the sounds of la trova, a renowned genre of Cuban music, while sipping elegant cocktails. Hours are 6 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Wednesday and 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Readers' choice: Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop

Best Restaurant on the Upper Eastside

La Placita

La Placita
Photo by Natascha Otero Santiago

Jose Mendin has already made a name for himself through his work in beloved institutions such as Pubbelly Noodle Bar and Pubbelly Sushi. Now the Puerto Rican-born chef has created something more personal with La Placita. Along with his partners, Mendin has founded more than an eatery: It's a multisensory trip to Puerto Rico. Nothing about this place is subtle: You'll know you've arrived when you see the three-story Puerto Rican flag painted on the building by artist Hector Collazo Hernández. Inside, Goya bean cans serve as napkin holders, and a mural lists the restaurant's offerings. Everything is thoughtful, from the music to the soundtrack of coquís — Puerto Rico's famous singing frogs — chirping in the bathrooms. The menu reads like a trip to abuela's house: Plantain fritters known as alcapurrías ($12), the codfish pancake called bacalaito ($8), and a piquant escabeche de pulpo ($12) are all delicious, but the star of the show is the mofongo. Choose between classic plantain or trifongo (green plantain, yuca, and sweet plantain) for your base; then add shrimp, lobster, chicken, or ropa vieja as a protein (prices vary by base and topping). Any way you order it, it's Mendin's flavorful tribute to his homeland. Wash it all down with a cocktail menu created by Cocktail Cartel and you'll be swaying to the beat of the salsa streaming from the speakers — and from your heart. Hours are noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Bon Gout BBQ's "zakos."
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Bon Gout BBQ's "zakos."

The Bon Gout BBQ crew arrives shortly after the crack of dawn to begin preparing brisket, ribs, chicken, and a bounty of Caribbean and soul-food sides including rice and peas ($3) and mac and cheese ($3). But the ruler of them all is the griot ($10). Fat-rippled knobs of pork shoulder are plunged into a deep fryer and emerge with a burnished crust and a juicy interior. If you prefer, the meat can be lovingly tucked into a tortilla and crowned with the spicy fermented cabbage known as pikliz. The Haitian condiment has taken the world by storm, and for good reason: Its tart, spicy flavor provides the perfect complement to Bon Gout's unctuous pork bits. Hours are noon to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Rakachaka Grill y Más
Zachary Fagenson

This bright, airy fritanga — tucked into the border where Little Havana meets downtown Miami — offers all of Nicaragua's classic fried favorites alongside more traditional dishes in a clean, serve-yourself format. Rakachaka does so in a more welcoming atmosphere than many of its nearby competitors, giving people unfamiliar with the glorious world of fritangas the comfort to try everything they offer. In the morning, grab a fresh juice and try to decide between scrambled eggs and chorizo or a swollen nacatamal bursting with pork, potato, peppers, onions, mint, and olives. Think you're done? No way! You'll be back in a few hours for a complete meal ($7.99) with a daily selection that might include pork ribs, beef soup, stewed beef tongue, or a grilled hunk of pork and beef. All good, no guilt. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Readers' choice: La Sandwicherie

Las Tapas de Rosa
Zachary Fagenson

Brickell is moving west, people! Renew your leases, sign a contract for a parking spot, and call your one lawyer friend in case your greedy landlord tries to push you out early. But when exactly will West Brickell crest I-95 and begin creeping into East Little Havana? That's anyone's guess. Whatever happens, Rosa Rodriguez and her daughters Sara and Gloria will be there to make it all OK with their heavy-handed pours of tempranillo in a comforting space on Calle Ocho. Once seated, you might be overwhelmed by the expansive menu. Don't fret: Rosa is there to help guide you in the right direction. Just be sure to ask for extra bocadillos. You can't go wrong with cured pork loin, Manchego cheese, and roasted pepper tucked into the sandwich they call Pijo ($9.95). Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Best Chef
Zachary Fagenson

Did Carlos García intend to become a standard-bearer for his native Venezuela's cuisine? Who knows. But the bespectacled chef's Brickell restaurant, Obra Kitchen Table, is a standout in a neighborhood where big money and trends often trump ingredients and good cooking. While he and his team are plating dishes such as classic Venezuelan chicken soup ($14) and a clam salpicón with smoked avocado in a crisp arepa ($19), García is also lending a hand in the kitchen at Camillus House through his nonprofit, Recipes for Change. His award-winning restaurant Alto still operates in the heart of Caracas amid political strife and social upheaval. He also works with other chefs to make a dent in the South American country's massive food shortages through the nonprofit Barriga Llena, Corazón Contento (Fully Belly, Happy Heart). Obra's hours are noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 11:30 p.m. Friday, and 6 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

Readers' choice: Geoff Lee (Byblos)

Sanpocho Restaurant
Zachary Fagenson

This eye-popping technicolor Colombian spot is the place to be when La Selección is on TV or when you need to fill your pantry with hard-to-find Colombian snacks and ingredients. Otherwise, pop in early in the morning for a sweet coffee and a puffy pandebono ($1.50), and return later in the day for a heaping bandeja paisa ($12.95) with the crispest pork skin this side of the equator. Make Sanpocho your final stop after a long night out, when you can find a griddle set up on the sidewalk and cooks frying sausages, burgers, and eggs to ensure you stave off that hangover. Hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday,

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®