Small Bites

Editor's note:

Periodically we will publish capsule reviews like those below in addition to our weekly full reviews. Contributors to this installment include Lee Klein, Pamela Robin Brandt, Bill Citara, Greg Baker, and Karen Figueiredo. More than 450 capsule reviews of local restaurants can be found at



13823 N Kendall Dr, South Miami-Dade; 305-408-5554. Open Sunday through Thursday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Craving some great ceviche? Then stop by Aromas del Perú. This rustic 43-seat restaurant in Kendall has several varieties: fish, octopus, shrimp, and mixed. The original fish ceviche is expertly prepared, particularly the spicy version. Chicharrón de pescado is also excellent: lightly battered corvina, perfectly crisp on the outside and delicately moist on the inside, served with lime-seasoned onion sauce. If you prefer chicken, try the aji de gallina, shredded chicken covered in a creamy sauce and served with potato and rice. Aromas also has several beef dishes, including Peruvian favorite lomo saltado. If you're lucky, they'll have suspiro de lúcuma available when you pass by. This exquisite dessert combines tropical lúcuma fruit with condensed milk for a rich, very sweet treat.

8080 SW 67th Ave, South Miami; 305-662-6855. Open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday 11:00 a.m. to midnight, Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday 4:00 to 10:00 p.m. A dedicated and efficient staff, along with piled-high plates of Italian classics at bargain rates, has made the Big Cheese one of the busiest and best of its genre. For two decades Bill Archer's fun, casual restaurant has matched top-grade ingredients with perfectly prepared recipes. Imported Italian pasta, flour made from the trump of the wheat, the best of California's pear tomatoes, and premium Wisconsin cheese are used in the traditional-style pizzas and the vast array of appetizers and dinners. The menu runs several pages and includes everything from Buffalo wings (although you're better off with the excellent Grandpa's Buffalo Mozzarella) to a fried-oyster caesar salad to subs to full meals (baked and sautéed pasta dishes, seafood, and plenty more). It's tough to resist ordering one of the primo old-school pizzas, especially when watching the pie makers and phone jockeys frantically trying to keep pace with demand qualifies as live entertainment. Expect crowds -- you will not find Italian food this good for lower prices anywhere.

12520 SW 120th St, South Miami-Dade; 786-293-5713. Open Monday through Thursday 4:00 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:00 to 11:30 p.m., Sunday 4:00 to 10:00 p.m. Corporate food is like corporate journalism: It takes up space but it doesn't satisfy. Bonefish Grill hides its corporate parentage (one of 40 restaurants in seventeen states) pretty well, right up until the moment your food starts arriving. It'll almost fool you, though, with its clubby décor, personable staff, and menu that touts an array of freshly caught seafood. At its heart is the selection of fresh fish and shellfish, cooked on a wood-fired grill and served with your choice of sauce. They're generally pretty good, though just as generally overcooked. Crabcakes are first-rate; "Bang Bang" shrimp are upscale junk food. Most everything else is a mess. Salads are bad, side dishes worse, sauces worse than that. Desserts are forgettable. But you will leave full.

100 SE 4th St, Miami; 305-372-8991. Open Monday through Thursday 7:00 to 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.; Sunday 7:00 to 10:30 a.m., 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. The Brick really isn't. It's not much to look at, to be sure -- a long, narrow, hugely unstylish space in back of a hotel stuck in the shadow of an I-95 flyover. But it does have a few tables butting up against the Miami River and food that's better than its lackluster ambiance suggests. Prices are reasonable and portions are big enough to feed you and your tapeworm. A birdbath-size bowl comes filled with plump, juicy mussels swimming in a wine-y, garlicky broth perfect for sopping up with bread. Salads are big and filling, pastas too. Rack of lamb arrives as a trio of double-cut chops with a tangy Dijon mustard-pesto crust. Solid, uncomplicated fare -- just like a brick.

141 Giralda Ave, Coral Gables; 305-445-1001. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., dinner Monday through Thursday 6:00 to 10:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 6:00 to 11:30 p.m. Ceviche bar open Monday through Saturday 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. Since Cacao first opened in 2002, inventive Venezuelan chef Edgar Leal has deftly toned down his generous but frustrating tendency to overload dishes with an overwhelming number of flavors. Now Leal's flair for stylish reinvention of traditional South American dishes shines as sleekly as the eatery's elegant minimalist décor in items like Yuca Stuffed with Brazilian Shrimp Bobo (an extremely labor-intensive Bahian dish featuring coconut milk, dende oil, and the holy trio of peppers, onion, and tomatoes) and Peruvian causas (napoleons) of chicken or octopus with authentic yellow potatoes, olives, and parsley oil. His version of Venezuelan reina pepiada (arepa chips with a salad of diced chicken and avocado, with rocotto sauce) remains wonderful. But the most welcome development, since Cacao's fresh fish is delivered daily, is a ceviche bar, where diners, for $7.50 per plate, can sample an extensive selection of marinated raw-fish creations: tuna with mango; snapper with tangerine; salmon with pink peppercorns; four-citrus sea scallops; Ecuadorian-style shrimp (with tomato); Peruvian black ceviche, and half a dozen more scrumptious -- yet for high-protein dieters sin-free -- small plates.

236 NE First Ave, Miami; 305-381-9254. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Air Jamaica posters on bright-pink walls beckon you to the islands via beautifully lush landscapes, but the food at Errol and Carol Whyte's cheery downtown restaurant lets you know you don't have to get on a plane to enjoy authentic Caribbean cooking. We mean the real deal: oxtail, cow foot, curry goat -- this place ain't for timid nibblers. Jerk pork and chicken are spicy, not fiery, and juicy within; chicken in yellow curry sauce and fish stewed and splashed with brown sauce are worthwhile as well. Lunch and dinner entrées, nearly all under $8, come with iceberg-tomato salad, a side of coconut-infused rice, and a couple of slices of fried green plantain. Some of the same meals are available for only $5 during a lunchtime special running from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The service is friendly, not fast, so take slow sips of refreshing homemade island juices like soursop, fruit punch, Irish moss, or the most famous island juice -- Red Stripe.

78 Canal St, Miami Springs; 305-882-0511. Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Set against a tributary of the Miami River, this elegant restaurant offers freshly made, flavorful, healthy food; smart décor; and crisp service. The spacious dining room is high-ceilinged and immaculate. Tablecloths and napkins are snow-white linen, flatware heavy and shiny, and chopsticks not the disposable type found at Americanized Chinese restaurants, which Chanlowe certainly isn't. Chef-owner Joe Lowe emphasizes authenticity, although for his Gobi dishes he must substitute cream for yak milk. The limited menu (just seventeen entrées) features three styles: Cantonese, Szechuan, and the curry-flavored Gobi items, true to the fare found beyond the Great Wall in the desert region. ("We have curry in China too," Lowe notes.) The creamy curry sauce applied to shrimp, pork, lamb, chicken, and vegetables is delightful, as are the Szechuan dishes, which Lowe prepares to order, adjusting the heat to diners' requests with spices and, if asked, with whole chili peppers. For a special treat, dig into the steamed whole sole ($14.95), or go on a Saturday and indulge in a whole or half Peking duck ($19 and $9.50). Almost all the other dishes cost less than $10.

3409 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove; 305-446-8800. Open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. In Europe, where people work to live instead of live to work, kicking back at a sidewalk café with a glass of wine, a slab of bread, a little cheese, and charcuterie is considered a very civilized way to dine. Here, anyone hanging out too long on the sidewalk is either homeless or trying to spare-change tourists. Perhaps a few more places like Massimo Cannavo's Cheese Market will change all of that; until then, this is what we've got. It's a cute place, very Euro, walls lined with shelves spilling over with gourmet items -- caviar and truffles and oils and vinegars, an impressive selection of wines from around the planet and, of course, cheese. Order a platter of cured meats and mixed cheeses and a bottle of wine you've never heard of and pretend Coconut Grove is really some charming little Parisian alley.

2475 Douglas Rd, Miami; 305-444-5804. Open Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sunday 1:00 to 9:00 p.m. Home-style cooking in a homely restaurant with the easygoing, no-hassles ambiance of home -- that's as good a way as any to describe Don Mamerto. Pull up to the ramshackle building on the fringe of Coral Gables and you'll see a clot of middle-age men relaxing and kibitzing out front, sipping café Cubano. Inside, the restaurant looks like somebody's home given a colorful paint job and boisterous bar, complete with a piano that customers of varying musical abilities are invited to play. The food is simple and hearty and generously portioned; prices are moderate. Appetizers are pretty rustic. Entrées -- fluffy Cuban tamale with creole-spiced seafood stew and bronze-colored chunks of roasted pork with garbanzo beans -- handle that rusticity better. Pudín de guayaba is a filling and very sweet conclusion.

1656 Alton Rd, Miami Beach; 305-672-1861. Open Monday through Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Yes, the café does indeed open two hours before the store, and they do share the same space. No, you can't sneak in to do your grocery shopping early. But fuel up on one of Epi's five coffee blends (including French roast, plus Lavazza decaf, one of the few decaffeinated brews with guts) plus a good croissant or a flaky, sticky almond Danish, and you'll be perky enough to push ahead of the hordes at 10 a.m. From the small but quality selection in the prepared-foods case you can find pints of the town's best fresh-squeezed OJ and grapefruit juice for $2.99, fresh fruit salads, and sandwiches. Ham and cheese on croissant is only $3.25, but the big prime-roast-beef sandwich with slaw and Russian dressing on pumpernickel, $7.95, is worth every cent. You can buy a morning paper to read with breakfast, including the always eye-opening New York Post. Or inspire the rest of your workday with one of the novelty housewares on the shelves surrounding the café, like a pack of napkins reading, "All I Want Is an Umbrella in My Drink."

9118 Bird Rd, Westchester; 305-221-0221. Open Tuesday through Thursday noon to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11:00 p.m., Sunday noon to 10:00 p.m. Closed Monday. There are bare-bones restaurants and there are no-bones restaurants. Then there's Frankie's. Parking lots have more ambiance than this square, spare room decorated with a worn Formica counter, faded sports posters, and a rattling cooler full of soft drinks. No booze, no seats (except a couple of benches to park butt until your order is ready). Who cares? Frankie's is the best goddamn pizza from which you could hope to dribble tomato sauce on your shirt. It's all in the crust, a round of culinary alchemy that's crisp on the bottom, airy and slightly chewy, and tasting of fresh-baked bread. You could put motor oil on it and it would still be delicious, though it's better with the standard array of toppings, judiciously applied so you can taste what Frankie's pizza is all about.

1744 SW 3rd Ave, Miami; 305-858-0608. Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., 5:00 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., 5:00 to 11:00 p.m.; Saturday noon to 11:00 p.m. Closed Sunday. You know a restaurant has tapped into those wacky Californians when you can eat Mexican-style chicken eggrolls, caesar salad, herb-marinated and grilled skirt steak, spinach-sausage lasagna, and chocolate soufflé all in the same meal. Throw in a mostly California wine list, affable servers without a shred of Miami's infamous 'tude, and an ambiance so relaxed that half the diners seem to have gone limp, and you've got Fresco California Bistro, a modest (and modestly priced) little eatery a sundried-tomato's throw from Biscayne Boulevard. Even if the food isn't all that special -- more like good home-cooking than high-wire, big-city restaurant fare -- it's such a pleasant place to dine that you can make like a wacky Californian and just kick back and enjoy the show.

11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 305-673-4611. Open mid-October through mid-May, Sunday through Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Love Joe's stone crabs but aren't in love with two-hour waits to dine amid hordes of crustacean-rutting tourists in a warehouse-size room that vibrates with the decibel levels of an Ozzy Osbourne concert? Take it away. Joe's next-door to-go eatery offers the same exquisitely fresh (and breathtakingly expensive) stone crab claws as its full-service older brother, along with a few other dishes you won't find on Big Joe's menu -- tasty wild mushroom lasagna, fresh but bland ceviche, lobster Reuben with dessert-sweet sauce. Skip the supermarket-quality barbecued chicken and sloppy, gloppy chopped salad, but don't miss the crusty hash browns, crispy-creamy fried oysters, and tangy key-lime pie. If you want the authentic Joe's restaurant experience, invite all your neighbors over and wait two hours to eat.

13712 SW 84th St, South Miami-Dade; 305-382-6200. Open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sunday noon to 10:00 p.m. Since 1980 Mike's has been proving that you can get good pizza in Kendall. The New York-style pie is excellent with fresh garlic, tomatoes, and onions. Mike's has traditional toppings such as pepperoni and Italian sausage, but for variety try the Special White Pizza with ricotta cheese, basil, garlic, and mozzarella. The pasta at this place is also tasty. Choices range from ziti to fettuccine covered in anything from marinara to mushroom sauce to mussels marinara. The gnocchi is some of the best in Kendall. Ask for a combination of Alfredo and meat sauce for a rich pink cream. Cannoli, tiramisu, or profiteroles will be calling when you're finished mopping the sauce with Mike's ultra-garlicky rolls.

5920 S Dixie Hwy, South Miami; 305-668-8205. Open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight. It's a measure of how good the food is at this South Miami Thai eatery that the bleating New Age CD that plays over and over until you want to rip somebody's face off doesn't send patrons screaming from the room with their hair in flames. Aural indignities aside, Origin is a lovely place, albeit next to a tittie bar -- ahem, gentlemen's club -- on perpetually traffic-clogged U.S. 1. Chef-owner Joe Sinevang has a precise and refined touch in the kitchen, turning out dishes like chunks of succulent scallop in an ethereal custard aromatic of Thai basil, kaffir lime, and lemongrass; brittle-skinned whole fried snapper with ginger and garlic-infused tamarind sauce; and beignet-like Thai doughnuts that dissolve in your mouth like puffs of sweetened air. Just bring earplugs.

8888 SW 136th St (The Falls shopping center), South Miami-Dade; 305-234-2338. Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight. Yeah, it's in a shopping mall. Yeah, it's a chain. Yeah, it does the kind of business that would make your average big-city McBurger franchise go vegetarian with envy (up to 2000 covers on a typical weekend evening). Thing is, the food at this always jam-packed restaurant is pretty damn good, and the service -- despite the constant crush and hammer and din -- is efficient and relentlessly cheery. Starters like salt-and-pepper fried calamari, potstickers, and braised spareribs don't break any new ground but are robustly flavorful and consistently well done. Same goes for chili-fired Szechuan scallops, wok-seared lamb, and quite creditable Cantonese roasted duck. Oh, yeah.

667 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-672-2334. Open daily 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. The name may say "rustic" but the concept is as slick as a Miami lobbyist with a briefcase full of cash and a pocketful of Vaseline. Pick a well-trafficked location, say Lincoln Road. Stay open all day and all night churning out big trays of crispy-chewy-crusted pizzas, everything from classic Margherita to shrimp with pesto and mozzarella. Order at the counter, by the slice, cash only. Grab one of a handful of indoor seats or wander outside with the hope that one of the slightly larger handful of tables frees up. Scarf down the pizza. Damn good. Cheap, too, especially for Lincoln Road. Wander off. You'll be back.

199 West Palm Dr, Florida City; 305-246-3114. Open daily 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Really good, really Mexican Mexican food is as common in South Florida as snowstorms on Ocean Drive, which is why this modest little eatery just off Krome Avenue in Florida City is worth getting in your car and enduring the inevitable turnpike Sturm und Drang. No ambiance to speak of, but the food is freshly made and tastes of fresh ingredients, a big change from many local Mexican eateries, where the most important piece of kitchen equipment is the can opener. Shrimp with potatoes, carrots, and peppers in a mild ranchero sauce makes a hearty entrée, as does roasted chicken with a surprisingly complex, sophisticated mole sauce. Chimichangas, enchiladas, and the ubiquitous tacos are better than average too. Puffy, greaseless chilies rellenos are superb.

12850 SW 120th St, West Kendall; 305-255-3399. Open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11:00 p.m., Sunday noon to 10:00 p.m. Located in a corner of the Plaza del Paraiso mall, Rotelli is a nice addition to the Italian scene in West Kendall. The restaurant has a wide variety of dishes, including classics like lasagna and baked ziti and more interesting fare like sea bass al pesto and chicken quattro stagione. The chicken marsala is pleasantly sweet and not too heavy. Penne alla vodka is a wonderful blend of cream, vodka, and tomatoes with fresh garlic. Soups of the day tend to be excellent and usually have a unique flavor even when they sound plain, like a pea soup with just a bit more spice than expected. Order the bruschetta Italiana to start. It has just the right mix of balsamic vinegar, garlic, and tomato. Gourmet pizzas are also good. Skip dessert, though: The tiramisu tastes more like whipped cream with cream cheese than mascarpone with espresso, and the crme brùlée is sometimes baked to a loose, flanlike consistency rather than being torched or broiled.

13856 N Kendall Dr, South Miami-Dade; 305-386-6685. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:00 to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:00 to 11:00 p.m. Whether you're in the mood for a relaxed sushi dinner or feel like catching flying shrimp, Ruson is the spot for Japanese in West Kendall. The restaurant is split in half, the left with hibachi tables and the right with traditional ones. Start with a veggie tempura appetizer or some steamed gyoza. For true sushi lovers there are several combos, such as the "Mini Single," which comes with three pieces of sushi, nine pieces of sashimi, and a rainbow roll. If you're a bit squeamish, have the "Green Dragon Roll" -- fried shrimp with asparagus, scallions, and spicy mayo wrapped in rice and topped with ripe avocado. Ruson has a roll for all levels of sushi enthusiasts. If you prefer your food sizzling, try the "Samurai Dinner" from the Teppanyaki menu -- filet mignon, lobster, and shrimp grilled on the hibachi table. Ruson also has excellent Thai dishes, including Pad Thai and Chicken Volcano.

1000 S Miami Ave, Miami; 305-371-3473. Open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., 5:00 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., 5:00 to 11:00 p.m. Closed Sunday. This downstairs, downscale, tapas-oriented adjunct to pricey, cutting-edge Mosaico has fewer ambitions than its more-celebrated partner and is rather more successful for it. It's a sleek, contemporary-looking space, with a few tables outside where you can smoke and watch the traffic crawl by on South Miami Avenue. The room has more spark than the food, which, though competently prepared, doesn't generate much excitement. But there are several things to like: chorizo braised in cider, lusty brandade redolent of pungent salt cod, greaseless seafood croquettes, rustic octopus-and-potato salad, and lush cuatro leches cake. Salero gets high marks for its wine program, which offers several tasting flights of Spanish wines, right now the hottest quaff on the market.

9999 Sunset Dr, Kendall; 305-279-6906. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner Sunday through Thursday 5:00 to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 10:45 p.m. It's not difficult to find a Thai restaurant on Sunset Drive. Sometimes it seems as if there's one on every block east of SW 117th Avenue. It is difficult, however, to find Thai food as flavorful as what you'll get at Siam Palace. If you're not sure where to start, try the combination appetizer. You'll get two light and crispy spring rolls, six fried wontons with a sweet dipping sauce, and a curry puff filled with vegetables. The names of dishes at this restaurant can even help you choose your dinner -- like the "Try Me" plate, a combination of chicken and shrimp in a savory garlic sauce. Siam chicken is similar to volcano chicken found at other Thai places, but the texture of the battered chicken and the sweet/spicy mix of the chili sauce surpasses most of them. Even the pad thai seems to have more flavor here. Thai iced tea, sweetened with condensed milk, will make you feel guilty about also ordering dessert -- but do it anyway; you won't regret the decision.

12275 S Dixie Hwy, Pinecrest; 305-255-7799. Open Monday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Philly Cheese Steaks are the specialty here -- eight-inchers for $4.75, foot-long monsters for just a buck more. They're made with thin sirloin; they come with a choice of grilled onions (a must), green peppers, or mushrooms; and they're topped with real melted cheese, not that processed stuff from a can. You also have a choice of either a white or a honey-wheat hoagie roll, but don't worry about this joint ruining a street classic with silly fancification. "French style" just means they toast the roll. For non-purists, there are some tasty variations on the classic Philly (for just 35 cents more), the best -- if not messiest -- has cream marsala sauce. Teriyaki peppers kick butt too. If you don't feel like a Philly, choose from a variety of other subs, including a nice Italian cold-cut model, and an egg/pepper/onion hoagie for herbivores. For more high-brow eaters, there's a new line of designer sandwiches, like a Chicken Waldorf or a veggie thing with sprouts.

5683 NW 36th St, Miami Springs; 305-887-2212. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., dinner daily 5:00 to 10:30 p.m. Suvi proves that if an eatery is going to go the now-predictable Thai-sushi route, the best approach is abundance. So what if the tom yum talay is so light on the chili fire it ends up tasting like hot lemonade? There are a half-dozen other Thai soups to try, and the wonton was loaded with nicely textured chunks of chicken. No conch today? Try quail eggs. There are seven appetizers, five salads, nine entrées, six curries, eight shrimp dishes, nine fish and squid offerings, four preparations of duck, four types of fried rice, seven noodle-based selections, fourteen vegetarian choices, and the same number of house specialties (including two made with frogs' legs). Oh, plus seventeen lunch specials. And that's just the Thai menu. There is an equally vast range of Japanese-style dishes. The sushi was just fine -- half the items very good, half not so great. But simply reading through Suvi's menu (squid stuffed with salmon and asparagus, chilled seaweed and sesame) is quite an experience, and no one can complain about a lack of choice.

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