Have you ever experienced real culinary comfort? The kind of food that gives you a hug and reminds you of home and family, speaking to your heart as well as your taste buds?
Comfort foods vary, but the ones with cheese, carbs, grease, meat, fat, salt and/or sugar reign supreme. They touch that soft spot and send you to the comfort zone. Here are the ten best in Miami.
See also: Miami's Ten Best Late-Night Eats
10. Cookies and milk at Swine Southern Table & Bar
We weren't all blessed with a family that would provide milk and cookies as an after-school snack. Have no fear -- Swine can make up for it in adulthood with homemade Oreos and bourbon-spiked milk ($10). The black-and-white sandwich cookies come filled with white chocolate, and you can wash away the embarrassing black crumbs (and your troubles) with ice-cold bourbon milk sipped through a swirled chocolate straw. Still not feeling better? Strawberries and a dark chocolate dipping sauce sweeten the deal.
9. Fried chicken at Joe's Takeaway
If you associate Joe's only with fancy waiters, stone crabs, and key lime pie, head to the neighboring gourmet to-go shop. A fried half-chicken costs only $5.95. When you are looking for comfort, a bucket of KFC, an eight-piece box from Publix, or Krispy Krunchy's "crack chicken" will do. However, Joe's has the best seasoned breading and crisp exterior combined with moist interior. It is also a fraction of the price of other food at Joe's, so you can be comforted by the same great quality with more padding in your wallet.
8. Hobo frito pie at Kush
A meaty bowl of chili defines comfort, but sometimes you want a little more edge and street cred. Take, for example, a bowl of chili that's all that -- and a bag of chips. The newly opened Kush offers homemade chili served in a cut-open Fritos bag with the corn chips topped with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped raw white onions ($5). This dish may not be a delicacy, but this Santa Fe tradition in Miami is a real treat.
7. Veggie plate at Blue Collar
Who says veggies can't be comforting? They give your body nutrients and come in a rainbow of flavors, colors, and textures. Sure, Blue Collar's massive chocolate cake will catch your eye, and its big ragout sandwich will jump off the menu, but the veg chalkboard cannot be ignored. A plethora of potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and squash are worth digging into. If you can't decide, go for the veggie plate ($16), which lets you try four of them. Tip: Order the artichoke hearts in lemon aioli to stuff into your big ragout.
6. Key lime pie from Fireman Derek's World-Famous Pies
We're all looking for the key to happiness, and sometimes it's as easy as pie. In Miami, key lime pie is our slice of life. Fireman Derek is a hero in many ways, but what he creates with this pie ($15) is pure magic. We'll refrain from making any Jason Biggs gestures à la American Pie, but Fireman Derek's creation is really that good.
5. Buttermilk biskits at the Federal Food Drink & Provisions
You know you're onto a good recipe when Food & Wine has deemed your biscuits best in the United States. The Federal repeatedly plucks the heartstrings with comfort food, but it is these buttery beauties ($6) that must accompany every comfort meal. These pillows of perfection come topped with a sweet honey-apple cider glaze.
4. Bacon jam at Crackers Casual Dining
The entire menu at Crackers spells comfort, from the fried chicken to the fried bread pudding. However, it's the bacon jam that spreads the love better than any other dish. You can order it as an appetizer ($6.95) or add it to your sandwich or burger. Either way, it's delectable -- sweet, salty, and tangy. If you can't identify all the flavors, here are some hints: bacon, coffee, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, black pepper, onions, garlic, and brown sugar.
3. Mac dog at Sweet Dogs
Remember when you would get hot dog slices with your macaroni 'n' cheese as a special treat? Now flip that for a more mature version of your childhood dream. At Sweet Dogs, the dogs are kosher quarter-pound Nathan's franks that can be ordered boiled, grilled, or deep-fried. The mac dog ($5.50) takes the beef to new heights, dressed with a five-cheese mac 'n' cheese, Parmesan, and garlic croutons. Though the croutons might not make this masterpiece qualify as a salad, they are definitely cheesy and carbolicious.
2. Hong Kong-style wonton soup at Blackbrick
Soup is a melting pot of flavors, where all the ingredients get cozy with one another in one tasty bowl. The wonton soup ($9) at Blackbrick is a hearty meal in itself. The flavorful stock is made from rabbit bones and vegetables. It's studded with homemade noodles, shrimp wontons, slices of barbecued pork, and crunchy noodles. The wontons offer delicate wrapping containing plump shrimp. According to our very own Laine Doss, "If food could give you a hug, this one would."
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1. Crabby cheese melt at Ms. Cheezious
A tuna melt is an oldie but goodie, the kind of food you order from your favorite greasy spoon. It has an edge on a grilled cheese and adds something fishy in the mix. For an updated and elevated version, head to everyone's favorite comfort food truck. Ms. Cheezious brings the curves, the crab, and the cheese. The crabby cheese melt ($8) features fresh crab salad (it beats the tuna kind) and sharp cheddar cheese between buttery slices of sourdough. The crab's sweetness will get you out of any crabby mood and comfort you. For extra support, pair it with tomato soup or a bowl of hearty chili.
Follow Carina on Twitter @CarinaOst