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Airport Liquors & Cafe

2 - Comfort food
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I love taking people here because it’s the most-Miami place I can think of: a former liquor store that added a restaurant, where the owner’s son was once on “Food Network Star.” Reuben Ruiz makes fantastic fried chicken sandwiches and burgers, like a huge Jameson apricot-glazed monstrosity, that he serves alongside classic Latin food, like bistec empanizado. I brought an intern here once, a Harvard kid named Jacob, just to see the look on his face when they carted out a massive burger. It was classic. Not to mention you can order a bottle of whiskey with your meal. Don’t call HR.


Al-Amir Lebanese Forno

2 - Lebanese
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Al-Amir is a tiny Lebanese shop that has stood on Bird Road near Ludlam Road since 2017. They have a tight menu of Lebanese food, including grilled lamb, which they serve in platters or in wraps. Sandwiches pop with tangy pickled veggies. The real showstopper is their baba ganoush, a cousin to hummus that’s made with roasted eggplant instead of chickpeas. In this one, you can taste the fire-roasting of the eggplant, and the sweetness of pomegranates against the tart lemon juice. They bake their own pita bread, which comes smoking and puffed out of the oven. This instantly goes on our roster of Miami places to visit regularly.


Ariete

4 - New Miami Cuisine
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Michael Beltran cut his teeth with some great chefs, including James Beard winners Michael Schwartz and Norman Van Aken. He struck out on his own for Ariete, where he is among a new wave of Miami-born chefs of Cuban descent, reimagining our city’s cuisine. The foie gras uses sour orange. Baked ricotta includes nispero (sapodilla). The house charcuterie features a duck pate with dark rum. A calabaza squash side is heightened with jerk seasoning. Majua, a small Caribbean smelt eaten as street food in Cuba, shares the menu with a smoked pork chop finished with a mango mustard sauce. And you’d be smart to finish with the flan made candy cap mushrooms that add the flavor of maple syrup. The menu is always changing. Trust it and let Beltran be your guide to, let’s call it New Miami Cuisine. Read more


Atchana's Homegrown Thai

3 - Thai
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My oldest daughter had always cringed at Thai food — until she ate at Atchana with me during a dining review. Interestingly, though, the cuisine is not adapted for the American palate at Atchana, from the Thai beef jerky to the Bangkok wings and pad Thai. Go for the Thai beef noodle bowl or the pad kee mao drunken noodles with chicken and basil for $15. Even for dinner, a heaping bowl of noodle goodness is still under $20. If you like things spicy, they have an entire menu dedicated to dishes honoring sriracha hot sauce. Read more


Awash

2 - Ethiopian
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Miami seems to be able to hang on to only one Ethiopian restaurant at a time. I’ll gladly take more of them as long as we get to keep Awash. Give me the combination injera platter, a mandala of colors, flavors and textures that includes doro wat (stewed chicken), shiro (split yellow peas) and misir (red lentils). Plenty of spongy rolls of injera bread to sop it up and Ethiopian coffee to finish. Read more


Babe’s Meat & Counter

2 - Sandwiches
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One of Miami’s best butcher shops, Babe’s stocks top-quality products, including wagyu, and uses them in their takes on some of Miami’s classics. They know their meats and how to bring out the best in them. Their Cuban sandwich — presented non-traditionally in a round Cuban bun stuffed with lechon they marinate and roast in-house — is easily one of the best I’ve had in Miami. And it is one of the few places in Miami that prides itself on poutine, that ugly-delicious Canadian snack. Canadian Melanie Schoendorfer and her husband, Jason, make a real-deal version, with crispy fries covered in squeaky cheese curds and homemade gravy (made from the stock of their roasted pork). Read more


Bachour

3 - Bakery
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I have struggled to make peace with a $4 croissant, but the inner turmoil is eased the moment I tear apart the flaky, buttery, laminated layers in Antonio Bachour’s perfect croissant. France has never made a better one. And now you can find it airline-free in Coral Gables, where it sits mild-mannered alongside a pain au chocolat (made with hazelnut and chocolate) that might elicit a single teardelicate, and Instagram-worthy pastries that made Antonio Bachour an international pastry star. His Sunday brunches have become a hit with the Coral Gables and Instagram crowd, as has the flower arrangement cascading over the doorway. Read more


Bay 13 Brewery

2 - Bar & Brewery
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A wide open outdoor beer garden at the heart of this new Coral Gables brewery is its biggest draw. It makes the best of dining outdoors under umbrellas, with plenty of space between tables. My favorite time to come here is at night (usually on a Tuesday when it’s less crowded), when a breeze blows through the courtyard. Of course, the food is on point with Threefolds Cafe’s Nick Sharp bringing in his Aussie influences: a thunderously crunchy fish and chips, flavorful homemade sausages, bao buns with braised short rib, shiitake mushrooms or duck. And of course a robust beer menu of everything from light hefeweizens to barrel-aged brown ales. It has helped make Coral Gables the hot new dining destination. Read more


Blue Collar

3 - Comfort food
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The chef turned a diner in a former by-the-hour motel and his training under James Beard award winners into this comfort food haven. There’s always a roasted meat of the day, parmigiana of the day, and veggies of the day. I love this spot for a late breakfast or early lunch. I’m a sucker for the heavy dishes here, diet be damned: pulled pork eggs Benedict, whatever the parmigiana is or a Corben sandwich (braised brisket on a Portuguese muffin), named after Miami filmmaker Billy Corben, a regular.


Bon Gout

2 - Barbecue
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Jean “B.J.” Lucel and Wesley Bissaint hauled their smoker and grill around Little Haiti, cooking roadside barbecue true to its name. But as outsiders prospect for cheap real estate in Little Haiti, Lucel and Bissaint staked their claim. They unhitched their grills and anchored them to a storefront in the neighborhood where they grew up. Little Haiti responded by showing up hungry — with money in hand. Read more


Boxelder Craft Beer Bar

2 - Bar & Brewery
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The OG craft beer bar in Miami has also become a sort of incubator for restaurant pop-ups out back. So while you’re ordering a couple of great craft beers from small, independent breweries from around the country, you can try some of the best up-and-coming food concepts, depending on the day of the week. United States Burger Service and El Bagel both launched here out of food trucks. These days, keep an eye out for Square City Pie (Detroit-style pizza) and Steve Santana’s (Taquiza) Super Good Chicken before they open at their upcoming brewery, Off Site.


Breadman Bakery

1 - Bakery
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Cuban bakeries are the backbone of Miami and Hialeah, so it’s hard to recommend one over another. However it’s worth highlighting how Andy Herrera pushes what a Cuban bakery can be. He was among the first to put Nutella in a pastelito, he combined flan and rice pudding into something he calls the Alabao. And like the best Cuban bakeries, he can make intricate over-the-top cakes (like a giant domino with the numbers 9 and 2 for my late dad’s 92nd birthday). He was the madman who took the archetypal Cuban cake (the crumb soaked in simple syrup), spread Nutella cream between the layers — then covered the whole thing in 100 croquetas. Behold, the Croqueta Cake. It’s a Cuban party plate in one dish. Read more


Caracas Bakery

2 - Bakery
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Father and son Manuel and Jesús Brazón fled Venezuela and started unlikely careers in baking together, just as the pandemic started. Their first year in business ended the way it began, with the aroma of their bread bringing a long line of customers to their door. At their Doral bakery, they create a unique mix of French-style and Venezuelan baked goods, from naturally leavened sourdough to cultural classics such as pan canilla and campesino, similar to French baguettes, cachitos, pan dulces and pasteles. Read more


Cindy Lou's Cookies

2 - Bakery
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Tired of making lavish desserts for 25 years, Cindy Kruze and her life partner Eric Paige decided to turn all that pastry chef expertise toward the humble cookie. Don’t let it fool you. The flavors are so layered and complex they could be served on Wedgewood china. Also, they’re as big as your head. The Lemon Cloud cookie is a must-order. Her brownie layers fudge, Rice Krispies, chocolate sauce, a thin layer of Nutella used as an ingredient rather than a sledgehammer and a crunchy toffee topping. It’s a terrine of sweet decadence. Don't leave without the carrot cake, whether or not you like carrot cake. It'll change your mind. Read more


Clive’s Café

1 - Jamaican
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For 38 years, Pearline “Miss Pearl” Murray rained down flavorful Jamaican brown stews at her Wynwood location of Clive’s. And when developers forced her out in 2014, she consolidated at the second location in Little Haiti, which remains a locals’ favorite, and never skipped a beat. Tender oxtail that begs for you to suck it off the bone poured over rice and peas, with a side of sweet plantains, is the play. In a rush? Order a golden, flaky Jamaican patty and stuff it inside a baked-to-order hunk of yeasty coco bread (it’s not on the menu; ask for it), and you have a meal to keep you full the rest of the day for about 4 bucks. Read more


Drinking Pig

3 - Barbecue
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Three Kyu chefs turned the dead-end street in front of their homes in northeast Miami-Dade into a new pop-up they’re calling The Drinking Pig. Tender brisket and spare ribs share a tangy jerk rub, and the spice-rubbed smoked chicken rivals any other you’ve ever had. Sauces include a Carolina vinegar-mustard glaze you’ll want to slather on everything, including the moist, sweet cornbread dusted with salt flakes. Do not leave without ordering the all-spice kissed baked beans. This may be South Florida’s truest celebration of barbecue, from flavor to vibe. Noon until sold out, Friday through Sunday. Orders are taken via Instagram, @drinkingpigbbq, and must be paid ahead of time with Venmo, Zelle or Cash App. Read more


Eating House

4 - New Miami Cuisine
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Westchester native Giorgio Rapicavoli opened his first restaurant with money from winning Food Network’s “Chopped.” And it has become a Miami institution. Here he creates food inspired by his upbringing (Argentine dad, Italian mom, Miami boy through-and-through) but styled with his culinary skill. I love how he mixes genres here: cauliflower “elote,” croquetas with smoked pork belly, chicken and waffles with spicy buttermilk, pasta carbonara with black truffles. A seasonal menu promises you’ll always have something new to treat your tastebuds. It’s a small restaurant so use OpenTable to make same-day reservations. Want to try his take on his mom’s Italian? He opened up a new nearby Italian restaurant, Luca Oteria, in Coral Gables’ Restaurant Row in Giralda Plaza. Read more


El Bagel

2 - Bakery
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Many of my weekends late in the pandemic began with a Saturday morning run to El Bagel for a dozen bagels (half everything, half plain for the kids). El Bagel has been making arguably Miami-Dade’s best bagels since they moved out of their weekly food truck behind Boxelder into their own shop in MiMo — 13 days before the pandemic closed down restaurants. Matteson Koche’s bagels are naturally leavened, which gives them a subtle sourdough flavor, delicately chewy on the inside, and perfectly crisp on the outside. The homemade scallion cream cheese schmear takes them to another level. And their sandwiches are a luxury. Buy a dozen, slice them and freeze them. That way, you just have to pop them in the toaster on low to medium, and it’s like they came right out of the oven. Read more


El Mago De Las Fritas

1 - Cuban
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To me, there are only two legit places to order a traditional frita cubana in Miami, and El Rey de las Fritas is the other (1821 SW Eighth St., Little Havana, or 9343 SW 40th St., Westchester). El Mago is a personal preference because it’s near my house and I love the cumin-and-chorizo-flavored sauce they use to flavor their ultra-flat, all-beef burger once it hits the griddle. Their crispy papitas are fried throughout the day. A beer and frita go a long way toward finding enlightenment. Read more


El Palacio de los Jugos

1 - Cuban
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I once took a pair of doofuses I work with — South Floridians who had never been to Palacio — and fed them a sampling of just about everything on the menu for 35 bucks. That’s why I love this original Cuban food hall, where several vendors serve different kinds of hot food ready to eat in or take out. When I work late and have to rush the kids to volleyball or lacrosse practice, I know I can zip in, order a pound of roasted pork, a healthy serving of yuca or calabaza squash with onions and a bag of chicharrones, and be out in less than 15 minutes — and for under $20. It’s also a great place to order a batido de guanabana or mamey. They have 10 locations, but I frequent the original on Flagler and Red Road. Read more


Empanada Harry’s

2 - Bakery
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No need to hit several bakeries to buy your favorite empanadas when Empanada Harry’s bakes them all in one place, including authentic Peruvian dusted in powdered sugar, crispy Colombian corn, hearty Venezuelan, and even riffs from the baker that include things like a Cuban sandwich empanada with pork, ham and pickles. Most empanadas are $3, so you can take a culinary tour of Latin America for well under $20. Harry Coleman and wife Michelle also make such a fantastic tres leches, $4.50, (made with Flor de Caña rum) that I drive 30 minutes west for it on special occasions. Read more


Ghee Indian Kitchen

4 - Indian
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Niven Patel changed the game when he started growing crops on his half-acre yard, then hiring farmers to grow produce specifically for his south Indian styled restaurant. And he didn’t open in the glitzy tourist areas but family-friendly Kendall. This food is not the cream-heavy northern India fare you might be used to, but a vegetable-forward menu. Charred corn with paneer, yellow lentils with local eggplant, crispy cauliflower with roasted red pepper sauce and backyard pakora veggie fritters — if it has the Rancho Patel stamp next to it, just order it. But don’t let any of that stop you from ordering a roasted pork vindaloo or roasted lamb with coconut milk. Read more


Groovin’ Bean

1 - Coffee shop
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Keon Lewis and Monique Messer opened their coffee shop a year ago, defying those — even their own neighbors — who told them “Black people don’t drink coffee,” Lewis recalled. They wanted to create a meeting space they felt was missing in Black Miami. And guess what? “Black people drink coladas. Who knew?” he joked. The Groovin’ Bean created a Starbucks alternative at the edge of downtown, where the couple sells the SoBe Cake (banana pudding, margarita Key lime and Crown Royal-infused red velvet) that made them known. It’s a rock-solid place for Americanos and lattes. But why not treat yourself to the banana pudding frappe, complete with a Nilla wafer, that became their signature? Read more


Happy Wine

3 - Wine shop
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You have to love a no-frills wine shop where bottles range in price to appeal to neighborhood abuelitas and connoisseurs, where owners J.C. Restrepo and his spouse, Joanna Fajardo, lavish attention on customers. The wine is sorted neatly by region and stacked on shelves made from wooden 2-by-4s, and every inch of wall space is scrawled with diners’ messages like “I got dronk here.” But don’t let it fool you; you can find everything from your favorite wine to the newest natural, organic or low-intervention wine to make it to South Florida. Pair the high and low, by ordering one of J.C. Restrepo’s fried chicken sanwichitos, a prosciutto and Swiss panini with garlic sauce and whatever wine J.C. recommends on a given week. (He turned me on over the summer to the low-intervention Friend & Farmer red blend from La Mancha, Spain.) Read more


Hometown Bar-B-Cue

4 - Barbecue
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I admit to being a Miami homer. I cheer for locals who bring us something new. But you have to tip your cap to someone like Brooklyn’s Bill Durney, who brought true Texas-style barbecue to Miami. The brisket is butter and the lamb banh mi sandwich life-altering. Drop the fork, grab a piece of brisket with your hands, stack it with a sliver of mild white onion, dill pickle chips and just eat that. Read more


Itamae

3 - Peruvian
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The Chang family, dad Fernando and children Val and Nando, were such a hit in a Design District food hall that they opened a stand-alone restaurant. There the James Beard award nominated siblings create possibly Miami’s best Japanese-Peruvian Nikkei cuisine, from a wide selection of tiraditos and ceviches made with daily catches to signature sushi rolls. The pulpo al olivo roll made with the catch of the day and avocados is topped with dime-thin octopus slices and drizzled in olive aioli and their signature leche de tigre and minced red onion. It’s $16 well spent. Read more


King Duck

2 - Chinese
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King Duck does one thing: Cantonese barbecue. And they basically only deal in two ingredients, pork and duck. This is not a weakness. This tiny spot tucked in the corner of a strip mall churns out great char siu barbecue, remixed in several dishes. But just go for the pure stuff. A whole Peking duck with glass-like crispy skin and all the fixins (paper thin pancakes, slivered scallions, Hoisin sauce) will set you back $45. Pair it with a side of sticky-sweet spare ribs.


Kon Chau

2 - Chinese
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What I like best about this longtime Chinese restaurant, tucked into a strip mall in Westchester, is what most people overlook: They don’t do pushcarts for dim sum. Instead, dim sum is made-to-order (and not just on the weekends), so it arrives at your table steaming hot, and not wheeled in a cart that has first made a tour of the restaurant. And it’s way more affordable than places that trade on the cheap theatrics of the pushcarts.


Kush Hialeah by Stephen’s Deli

3 - Deli
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Matt Kuscher wasn’t born in Miami, but the young restaurateur has come to appreciate all the quirks of South Florida that make it unique — and incorporates that into his themed Kush restaurants. He took over a dilapidated Stephen’s Deli — the oldest continuously running deli in South Florida — and fused it with his burger-and-beer style. The result is an only-in-Hialeah shop where you can order a pastrami sandwich (lean or fatty) hand-sliced by Junior Biggers, who has worked here for more than 60 years, a “frita” burger with guava jelly, or items named for Hialeah celebs like DJs Lucy Lopez and DJ Laz. On weekend nights, there’s a cocktail bar in the back with nods to Ñooo Que Barato and “Caso Cerrado” playing on loop. On your way there, wash your hands in bathrooms themed after the late spiritualist Walter Mercado and the Hialeah Spider-Man. Read more


La Camaronera

1 - Seafood
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Four buddies and I spent the afternoon helping my cousin move into nearby Little Havana, and when we were done, we were sweaty, spent and starving. We hit La Camaronera, the spot where you can come as you are and order a killer minuta fried-fish sandwich (tail still on!) that is often imitated, never duplicated. I know it says “market price” on the board, but it’s always $7.35. Don’t sleep on the fried shrimp sandwich or the fried oysters, in which I once found an actual pearl. True story!


Lil’ Laos

2 - Laotian
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Sakhone Sayarath and her husband, Curtis Rhodes, catered Laotian food occasionally while she was an ad exec and he was the chef at Café Roval. When the pandemic hit and both were out of a job, they started selling their menu at pop-ups before finding a permanent home for Miami’s only Laotian food at The Citadel food hall. Their entire menu is a showcase of the unique flavor combinations you’d expect from cuisine influenced by bordering Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Bright lime and cilantro, pungent fish sauce, tangy soy and lemongrass all come together, nowhere better than in their homemade sausage and dipping sauce. The menu invites pairing it with their spicy cold papaya salad and pork ribs with a tomato dipping sauce. It’s hard to pick a favorite at this restaurant that is worth the drive. Read more


Lorna’s Caribbean & American Grill

3 - Caribbean
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A lot has changed recently about Lorna’s Caribbean restaurant, a neighborhood favorite that’s been popular with Miami Gardens locals — and local celebs — for more than a decade. It’s got a new location, a new vibe, no longer just a take-out spot for brown stew chicken, fried Jamaican dumplings, conch stew and jerk everything. Its lavish and sleek new sit-down restaurant with a full bar and live music is one of the most beautiful in the city. The one thing that hasn’t changed is Lorna Westmoreland in the kitchen. Read more


Lucali

4 - Pizza
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It can be hard to justify paying $24 for a pizza, so if you want to move on to the next recommendation, I can’t stop you. But at least hear me out: This offshoot of the original Brooklyn spot really is something special. You’ll be hard pressed to find better pizza in Miami than Lucali’s, making pies that are doughy inside, perfectly charred outside (from a cold fermentation process), and with such fresh, simple toppings. All the ingredients are imported from Italy, including the San Marzano tomatoes. But, yeah, I hear you: $24. It’s pretty big, though.


Macchialina

4 - Italian
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Going on nine years, Macchialina has become a Miami Beach staple with locals and visitors in the know. This is the way I love to eat Italian. You can certainly settle in for a bowl of ziti Bolognese or share a veal Milanese. But the move is to order small plates and share or take a wine-paired tasting flight to experience the spirit of the restaurant that chef Michael Pirolo created with his sister, sommelier Jacqueline Pirolo. The restaurant never stays stale as Michael continues to create and Jacqueline continue to search for new and interesting wines.


Madruga Bakery

2 - Bakery
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Naomi Harris makes one of my favorite croissants in Miami. (I went straight there the day after returning from Belgium, where I subsisted on a diet of croissants.) It’s a combination of the classically laminated French pastry made with organic wheat flour flown in from Arizona that gives them a unique whole grain flavor and consistency. Wake up early on Sunday, get her killer croissant and a pain au chocolat and bring them home to have with your morning café con leche. You won’t regret it. If you want something heartier, the bacon quiche is fluffy, flavorful, and the crust buttery and delicate. They mill their own flour here, and all that means to you is fresher, delicious bread. Read more


Malakor Thai Isaan

2 - Thai
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Malakor became arguably Palm Beach County’s best Thai restaurant almost instantly when it opened in 2012, and it was one of my favorites. I was delighted to see them open this second location on Miracle Mile in 2020, because now they instantly become one of the county’s top Thai spots. Heavily influenced by Laotian cuisine, Malakor doesn’t hold back showing the best of the Isaan region: garlicky sai krog pork sausage with ginger slivers, fried fermented nam pork ribs, crispy fried “money bag” dumplings with a sweet and sour curry tang, curries that don’t rely on coconut milk and a pad Thai redolent in umami fish sauce. It's a great choice for a weekday dinner or a special occasion. Read more


Mi Rinconcito Mexicano

2 - Mexican
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You don’t have to drive to the Redland to find a Mexican place worth its salt. Rinconcito Mexicano is as authentic as Mexican cuisine gets in Miami, including the weekend-only pozole soup and cochinita pibil roast. A Mexican-Cuban friend of mine doesn’t love that they don’t heat up their tortillas, but I don’t mind. The meats — especially the carnitas and carne asada — are beautifully seasoned and roasted. And there’s no better way to start a Sunday morning than with an order of chilaquiles (smothered in salsa roja, verde or combo of both). And in October, they are one of the few spots where you can buy homemade bread for Día de los Muertos.


Mignonette

4 - Seafood
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Mignonette is the kind of restaurant where you can celebrate a big night or enjoy a quiet Tuesday. You can order high-end items like caviar and blini or seafood towers of oysters, clams, snow crabs, all the way down to comfort dishes, like a bouillabaisse that warrants extra bread to sop up every last saucy drop. No matter the day, share some super-fresh oysters ($3 a piece), an app (shrimp cocktail), a main dish (seared red fish in a brandy sauce) and a dessert (the same butterscotch bread pudding chef Danny Serfer serves at Blue Collar up the street), and you can make it out for under 100 bucks and have a fantastic meal.


Mister O1 Extraordinary Pizza

2 - Pizza
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This pizza is so good the U.S. government granted the pizzaiolo Renato Viola an O-1 visa for “individuals with extraordinary ability,” to bring his pizza-making skills stateside. He’s an actual pizza genius. For $13, you get a thin-crusted, Neapolitan-style pie made to serve one (two if you’re not so hungry) all to yourself. My favorite is the Carlos (not named for me) with spicy chorizo. Even the “exceptional” pies, shaped into stars where each peak is stuffed with delicious ricotta cheese, cost less than $18. Neapolitan pies are best fresh out of the oven to your mouth, so I say do order up and find a park nearby where you can feast. The original, where Viola regularly shows up to bake himself, is set in a teeny-tiny eight-seat restaurant inside a nondescript office building on Miami Beach (though they have opened other locations). Read more


Morro Castle

1 - Cuban
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I’ll have a soft spot for this Cuban restaurant in Hialeah because it’s the first place where I had fresh-made churros and creamy hot chocolate on one of those freezing (sub-60 degree!) Miami nights. To this day, they’re still my favorite. But that doesn’t mean they don’t crank out some of the most flavorful Cuban food in Miami, from a killer frita (priced at $3.05, of course) and a fat, meaty Cuban sandwich to a humongous bistec milanesa (a breaded, fried thin steak, covered in a layer of sliced ham and melted Swiss cheese) that hangs off the plate.


Niu Kitchen

4 - Tapas
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It’s no longer new to downtown, but the location is for this husband-and-wife spot that is still a hit with Spanish-style tapas and great wines. They moved Niu to their larger restaurant space 100 feet south at Arson and combined the menus, now offering the dishes fired in the Josper oven along with Niu’s spirit. The menu skews toward Deme Lomas’ Catalan cuisine, and he’s always tweaking and experimenting. You might find Arros Sec, paella-style rice with butifarra sausage, pan-seared foie with minced apples and raspberries or charbroiled duck two ways. It’s always a culinary adventure.


Plaza Seafood Market

1 - Seafood
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Allapattah is ground zero for new interest from Miami’s developers but it has long been a vibrant enclave for South Florida’s Dominican population. And one of the food favorites is Plaza Seafood Market. The sign out front touts their seafood soup and fried fish — and you should definitely get both. The seafood soup is rich with fresh fish chunks and crab. And when the hog snapper fillet is the special, that’s the go-to lunch dish. (But I'll also applaud the whole fried snapper as a lunch flex.) Don’t forget an order of tostones on the side.


Pollos y Jarras

3 - Peruvian
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This hidden spot on a downtown backstreet where my cousin Felipe first took me is often overshadowed by its fancier sister restaurant next door, Cvi.Che 105 (pronounced “ceviche” but inexplicably spelled like computer code). That means you can always get a table for rustic country Peruvian, where rows of chickens are roasting on spits, every meal starts with a cup of aguadito de pollo soup you drink like a shot and ceviches are served at more approachable prices. Go with a group of four, split two ceviches and their special parrillas of grilled meats (a full rotisserie chicken, filet mignon, chicken hearts, skirt steak and two sides), and you’ll get out of there for about 100 bucks total, with leftovers to fight over.


Red Rooster Overtown

4 - Southern
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Marcus Samuelsson aimed for his restaurant to bring life to this southeast corner of Overtown — and it is fulfilling its promise. More than four years have passed since Samuelsson and partners bought this spot, the former Clyde Killens Pool Hall, where the country’s biggest Black artists, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, once performed. Now it’s where men in ties and women in high heels fill every socially distant table and seat at the bar. Incandescent globe lights warm a tropical blue-and-gold dining room, while a DJ spins a bumping mix. What’s true of the items we tried during a recent review — fried yardbird, sour orange pork ribs, cauliflower “burnt ends,” mac and cheese — is true of Samuelsson’s new restaurant: It makes you want to return. Read more


Rosie’s at Copper Door Bed & Breakfast

2 - Southern
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Akino West is a true talent who dreamed of opening a full-scale restaurant with pastas and risottos as well as Southern comfort classics at the Copper Door Bed & Breakfast he and his partner, Jamila West, own in Overtown. When the pandemic swept in, he focused his talents on simple, delicious soul food and Rosie’s pop-up kept the couple afloat in the months their hotel was forced to stay closed to control the spread of the virus. West (a Michael Schwartz alum) is making unbelievable fried chicken and biscuits that are flaky, buttery, toasty and unforgettable with their apricot-lemon jam. It’s a gateway to all the food he’s quietly trying out on the menu (orecchiette with smoked sausage, wild mushroom and Southern polenta). Open for takeout, delivery through Uber Eats or outside seating, 9 a.m.-3 p.m Thursday-Sunday. Read more


Royal Castle

1 - Burgers
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The employee who integrated Royal Castle’s once-vast chain became the sole owner of the last remaining of this burger slider spot. Now James N. Brimberry has handed over the reins to his grandson, also named James, to be the caretaker of this Miami gem. (Mahersala Ali delivered an award-winning performance in the film “Moonlight” while sitting in one of the booths.) Order a six-pack of sliders on pillowy, toasted bread for $8.75 ($9.50 with cheese) with honest-to-goodness birch beer (imagine a mix between root beer and cherry Coke) for 2 bucks. It’s a Miami classic. Read more


Sweet Melody Ice Cream

2 - Ice Cream
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After selling his ice cream only in pints out of the Mojo Donuts in Westchester, Mike Romeu opened an ice cream ventanita at his very own creamery in west Kendall. And just in time, so he could sell his ice cream to go (though they also have a wide service range on the delivery apps). At the creamery, Romeu has the room and the range to experiment with flavors for his luxurious, premium ice cream. For years, I was devoted to his Hella Nutella (and still am), but when I needed a pint of comfort, I discovered The Goat: The Greatest Of All Time. With lemon-scented goat cheese ice cream and a homemade honey-strawberry jam, it lives up to the name. A new location just opened in Palmetto Bay to bring his terrific ice cream a little farther east. Read more


Taqueria los Potrillos

1 - Mexican
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I must have ordered every taco on the menu and each one has come bursting with flavors, from take-a-chance lengua and tripa to the American-palate-friendly carnitas, carne asada and al pastor. Their salsas are fresh and spicy. Oh, and a note to my Mexican-Cuban buddy Juan: Their double-tortilla tacos are served hot off the griddle. It’s the best version of traditional tacos you can get in Miami without making the trek to Homestead. I can’t get enough of this place.


Taquiza

2 - Mexican
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La “Casa de Masa” started as a hidden taco spot tucked inside a South Beach hostel, but I became a fan when it opened its North Beach location. Computer coder-turned-tortilla master Steve Santana alkaline-soaks the corn for his blue tortillas in the traditional fashion, mills the grain and creates the backbone for some truly delicious tacos. Go for the braised carnitas, lengua or cochinita pibil. His flash-fried totopos chips, both crispy and doughy in the center, are the perfect pairing for fresh guacamole. When it’s Miami-cold, go for the sugary churros. Hot? Order the sweet, refreshing horchata. Read more


Taste Rite Bakery

1 - Jamaican
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Miami Gardens is blessed with several Caribbean cultures and Jamaican patties are plentiful in strip malls throughout. The ones at Taste Rite were “so good I spent my light bill money,” blogger Starex Smith wrote for the Miami Herald. The ackee and salt fish patty is their specialty, with all the dough and fillings made in-house daily. But you can’t go wrong with the traditional beef patty. Eat it like a local: Buy a piece of pillowy soft coco bread bun and wedge the flaky, buttery Jamaican patty inside for a perfect bite. Read more


Tinta y Café

2 - Sandwiches
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This is a perfect spot for fluffy egg breakfasts and incredible sandwiches. Their café con leche is sweet and creamy, maybe the best I’ve had that doesn’t come out of my kitchen. But I’m also a sandwich guy, and I love several of their creations. The $10 Bori — prosciutto and eggs on a toasted baguette — is my go-to breakfast favorite. My recent obsession is a massive $13 sammie they call the Madurito, stuffed with roasted pork, caramelized onions, cantimpalo chorizo, Swiss cheese, garlic aioli and diced sweet plantains for savory-sweet punch. Originally in Coral Gables, they also just opened a Miami Shores location. Read more


True Loaf Bakery

2 - Bakery
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Tomas Strulovic, who gave up a life in finance to attend the San Francisco Institute of Baking, makes an exceptional range of baked goods. I was already addicted to True Loaf’s fudgy brownies. I went out of my way for their flaky, buttery croissants. Then I discovered their lemon meringue pies: perfectly balanced, not too sweet or tart, silky smooth and with a toasted meringue top you’ll gladly lick off your fingertips. Start shopping for larger yoga pants; it’s the worst thing to happen to Sunset Harbour’s fit crowd. Read more


Union

2 - Bar & Brewery
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Craft beer bars come and go, but this spot in the heart of Little Havana is the real deal. Great beers locally and from around the country are the reason it’s my actual local bar. And recently they have added a selection of low-intervention, natural wines to their menu. Bartender Adrian Castro, who goes by the Scarface character Manolo at the pro-wrestling themed bar, makes a we’re-not-worthy take on a steak sandwich. It’s an homage to the late-night one at Mary’s Coin Laundry, another Miami institution. His version is heightened with garlic-mayo, and the Que Eso includes a slab of salty Nicaraguan queso frito and crispy papitas (that are actually hash browns). Pair an $11 panolo (or a Que Eso for $12.50) with a $6 beer to go and you have a combo that’s tough to beat. Available Thursday and Friday at Union Beer Store. It is becoming an incubator for other pop ups, like Haochi’s dumplings and Peacock Ramen. Read more


Unseen Creatures

2 - Bar & Brewery
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Craft beer lovers have been patiently waiting for years for Unseen Creatures, a new brewery in the Bird Road Art District that focuses on wild ales, beers that use local yeasts and cultures for uniquely Miami flavors. Marco Leyte-Vidal cultivated everything from anonymous little white flowers on his street to the fig tree in his backyard to create his beers. His brewing style bends to embrace new flavors, including tart sour IPAs, refreshing Kolsches and crisp dry-hopped saisons. Take your pick, sit facing the windows overlooking the Palmetto and toast to not being in traffic. Read more


USBS: United States Burger Service

2 - Burgers
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I hate burgers you have to eat with a knife and fork — food designed for Instagram rather than human mouths. And that’s why I love the burgers that Mikey Mayta and his wife, Keily Vasquez, create at USBS, which stands for United States Burger Service, a play on the Postal Service, because this is fast food done right. You’d expect nothing less from a couple of Michelle Bernstein alums. Their unassuming little burgers are presented simply, but there is a lifetime of talent and technique in their creation. They use a special beef blend ground in house, topped with their own Priority Sauce (a mayo-mustard base with a French onion soup flavor), a fontina-cheddar Government Cheese, and serve them on poppy seed buns they bake themselves. Pair a $7.50 burger with “Insurance” — house-made fries that require four days’ preparation to fry up crispy, yet meaty on the inside for $3.50. Consider paying the $1 “Southern Tariff” for seasoned fries that come with Green Goddess dipping sauce. Read more


Versailles (ventanita)

1 - Bakery
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Tourist trap or local icon? Both things can be true. Versailles remains the ambassador to the world for Cuban cuisine in Miami, although there are better pure Cuban restaurants in South Florida. (I prefer the kitchen across the street at sister restaurant La Carreta for vaca frita or a heaping bistec empanizado that falls off the plate.) But Versailles’ ventanita — one of our walk up windows where Miami meets for Cuban coffee and chisme — remains my favorite anywhere in South Florida. The croquetas come finger-searing out of the fryer. The pastelitos de guayaba are constantly baked fresh. And the cortadito — half Cuban coffee, half steamed milk — remains my favorite in the city. (Always ask for leche evaporada in place of whole milk.) Order all three for under 5 bucks. Plus for entertainment, you can still watch the viejos talk politics and flirt with the window waitresses. It's ventanita excellence. Read more


Via Emilia 9

3 - Italian
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I never tire of recommending this spot to folks headed to South Beach. A chef born in Bologna with several family restaurants there opened this regional northern Italian restaurant where pasta is handmade in the window every morning. He takes so much pride in his work, you can see it in the perfectly folded tortellini. The taste reflects it in dishes such as the aforementioned stuffed tortellini in cream sauce and a luscious lasagna. Read more


Zak the Baker

2 - Bakery
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Zak Stern went from secular Jewish kid deciphering the “sawesera” accent to the kosher king of Miami, offering artisanal sourdough bread at his Wynwood bakery. He started Miami’s surge of local, fresh baked bread (beyond our Cuban bread culture), and now his breads can be found in Whole Foods as far as Palm Beach. But a visit to his bakery is a must, for everything from a loaf of raisin challah to his take on a Cuban guava pastelito. Or splurge on one of his hearty sandwiches, like a “B”LT made with salmon “bacon” and heirloom tomatoes. His bagels are second in town only to El Bagel (also on this list). Read more


This story was originally published March 24, 2021 12:45 PM.

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