These places aren't made for out-of-towners.
They're made for Miamians. And that's why we keep them a secret. We take our family, perhaps a friend or a date. But that's it. We don't want these places disrupted by rowdy crowds.
What follows are the top ten hidden gems in Miami.
10. Bali Café
At this downtown cash-only restaurant, you can indulge in delicious, inexpensive Indonesian fare. There are shrimp dumplings coated in peanut sauce; deep-fried egg rolls stuffed with chicken and cabbage; and por ayam -- chicken legs cooked in spiced coconut milk. Bali Café's best deal is its rijsttafel, an elaborate six-course tasting menu that costs only $17.45. Try the sambal goreng teri kacang, a spicy blend of anchovies, peanuts, and chili sauce. It is delicious.
Etzel Itzik Deli in Aventura just might be the best Israeli spot in town. For breakfast, they serve shakshouka -- eggs poached in a fiery tomato sauce. For lunch, they've got hummus, labneh, and sandwiches crammed with egg, pickled mango, eggplant, and tahini called sabich. They're all great, but who are we kidding? Are you obsessed with the cookbook Jerusalem? Then you must go to Etzel Itzik and try the real deal.
Sawaddee Thai is always busy. Credit the fresh Thai fare -- pad see ew ($10.95), tom yum soups, and duck in red curry ($19.95). Or blame it on the cramped space: This Normandy Isle restaurant boasts a mere 16 seats. That's fine by us. Everyone in the neighborhood knows that Sawaddee makes some of the best Thai take-out around.
7. La Latina
You could use some more plátano in your life. At La Latina in midtown, sample the cheese and sweet plantain arepa for just $5.75. (Bonus: These hefty sandwiches are vegetarian.) Want additional sweetness? Go for the cachapa -- a sweet corn pancake oozing with cheese. Sure, it's on a main road in a budding neighborhood. It's near Target and Home Goods. But this areperia is a hidden gem because it's still undiscovered by the masses.
In today's dining scene, chefs slap eggs on top of everything. In Argentina, things work a bit differently. Buenos Aires puts dulce de leche in cookies, cakes, ice cream, even coffee. (We're not complaining.) Buenos Aires Bakery does the same. This North Beach cafecito shop adds the golden syrup to all of its confections and sweets. That means everything here is absolutely delectable.
Can La Camaronera still be considered a "hidden" gem? Possibly. In the past few years, the West Flagler seafood shack has been visited by the likes of Guy Fieri and Cooking Channel's Unique Eats. But many folks still don't know about this bustling restaurant and its amazing, deep-fried fish. That's a shame. The pan con minuta ($5) and ostiones fritos here are a classic.
Fiorito is in an unlikely setting. The Argentine restaurant, run by brothers Maximiliano and Cristian Alvarez, opened in Little Haiti last year. In this lively neighborhood, the duo serves some of the tastiest empanadas, mollejas ($8), and dulce de leche flan in town. Their place is cozy -- adorned with coiled light bulbs and Diego Maradona's jersey. It was once a Haitian cafeteria. Now it's one of the best Argentine restaurants around.
Located in a Miami Gardens strip mall, L.C. Roti Shop sells delicious, home-spun Trinidadian eats. For more than 28 years, Elsie Chin has been serving potato pies, doubles ($2), and pholourie (split-pea flour dumplings). Want something more substantial? Order the curried goat roti ($9). It packs a crêpe-like bread with spicy, deeply flavored meat. Get ready to eat it with your hands. At L.C.'s, there are many rules: cash only, no cell phones, and no forks allowed.
To find this place, you must first seek out Japanese Market, an unassuming store on the 79th Street Causeway. Then you must go inside, head toward the left, and take a seat at the sushi counter. There, Michio Kushi prepares the best affordable sushi in Miami. Order your lunch omakase-style -- chef's choice. Or opt for Kushi's ceviche roll, fried shrimp heads, or pristine sashimi. It's all good. Sushi Deli has odd hours. (It's open primarily during the day.) But we think that makes it even better.
1. Viva Mexico
In a city prized for its fritas and pan con lechón, Viva Mexico in Little Havana proffers the most delectable Michoacán-style carnitas around. Owner Andres Tovar slow-cooks pig parts -- shoulder, tongue, stomach, ears, ribs, and rind -- in lard. The result is a succulent, rich meat. The tiny, cash-only taqueria's best offering: tacos campechanos ($1.75) -- luscious pork shoulder crowned with crisp chicharrón. It's a great place. Just don't tell anyone what you know.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.
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