Neighborhood Joints

Miami's Best Food Court Is Out of Sight

Granted, I don't often stroll around downtown Miami -- and when I do, it isn't generally in the vicinity of the Miami Towers building. What I'm trying to say is that I only recently stumbled into a downtown alleyway that led to a hitherto unknown-to-me cluster of outdoor restaurant/cafés. These include Thai Angel; Martini 28, a fusion/Asian restaurant/lounge; Caprichos, a Peruvian café/bakery; Habibi Mediterranean Grill; Giovana Café; and Pistou Bistro.

Outdoor tables overlap in a small central plaza, and when you first enter, you might think you've stepped into a Mexican market -- brick sidewalks, bright colors, and people speaking Spanish. And you can saunter into this court from four different blocks: SE First Avenue, SE First Street, SE Second Street, and Miami Avenue (where the parking lot is located).

I was familiar with Habibi Mediterranean Grill and Thai Angel but hadn't eaten in either. The Habibi folks weren't very friendly, which might be why it was empty. I have a vegetarian friend who swears by Thai Angel, and another who wasn't enthralled. I'd just finished lunch at another downtown spot, so I put off trying the Thai. I'll get to it soon enough.

Martini 28 is the slickest-looking of the places, and it was packed -- by that I mean the dozen or so indoor seats and at least that many outdoors. The menu is a mash that runs from shrimp scampi to spicy Caribbean tilapia to Oriental chicken sesame to chili shrimp tamarind. I thought the name of the place might refer to the number of martini variations on the cocktail menu, but the name of the man doing the cooking is "Chef Martini."

Things I'll be looking to sample in coming weeks are empanadas and lomo saltado at Caprichos, raspberry and tarragon chicken at Pistou Bistro, and GioVana Caffe's "World Famous Chicken Salad," the recipe for which a reader of our 100 Favorite Dishes recently claimed was stolen by Manhattan Café (and although I chided that reader, I was wrong: The description is the same down to the smallest details).

Anyway, in the near future I'll be checking out a few of these spots. In the meantime, I offer faith-based praise to this alternative to the usual plastic food courts composed of McBurger-Fil-A-KFCinnaBajaStarbuck-type places.

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