Created 15 years ago by gourmands from Peru and Costa Rica, El Gran Inka's only three US locations serve up a menu of fresh Peruvian cuisine featuring influences from Spain, Japan, and Italy. Since its inception, the restaurants have charmed diners across Central America and the United States with an impressive culinary and cultural celebration of Peru. The menu presents a contemporary twist on traditional cuisine, plating tangy ceviches, flavorful seafood stews, and tender cuts of sauce-draped meat on elegant plates. As guests sip cocktails made from exotic South American fruits and spirits or mingle over plates of succulent sea bass, the classy saxophone wails of jazz riffs and the ancient dead language of scat singing serenade audiences on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays.
From its perch inside Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Lighthouse Cafe's wooden patio overlooks a mile of Atlantic shoreline. In the distance stands the Cape Florida Lighthouse, Dade County's oldest manmade structure. The landscape and salty sea breezes complement the open-air restaurant's seafood-stocked lunch menu, which is served until sundown. Dishes range from salmon burgers and fish fingers to fried cuts of red snapper or hog snapper, which often leap out of the water to attack passing piglets.
The catch that gets the most attention in the Lighthouse Cafe kitchen is shrimp, which is tossed in asopado, spiced up creole style, served in ceviche, or, for breakfast, stuffed into an omelet. Breakfasts at Lighthouse Cafe include traditional items like ham and cheese omelets and french toast, as well as cups of café con leche and cuban coffee.
The breadth of the Atlantic Ocean doesn't impact the reach of Alfredo Patino. As the chef and owner of Bin No. 18, the Miami-based chef draws inspiration from the casual cuisine of European bistros while using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and contemporary technique to lend a bit of New World flair to the ever-changing menus. French, Italian, and Latin American flavors appear throughout Chef Patino's cuisine, adding a global scope to the regionally rooted dishes.
Shareable platters of imported European cheeses and cured meats are served alongside Latin staples, including octopus salad, as well as classic Italian entrees made with homemade pastas. But recreating time-honored classics isn't the only thing that Chef Patino does. He also demonstrates a willingness to experiment by fusing New and Old World influences. This culinary whimsy is evident in the kitchen's modern interpretation of a Cuban sandwich—complete with slow-roasted pork, brie, and fig sauce—which earned a spot on Food & Wine magazine's list of the Best Sandwiches in the U.S.
And much like the European bistros that originally inspired Chef Patino, Bin No. 18 features an extensive wine list. Like his menu, the wine list takes a global approach by including bottles from Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Hungary, Greece, and Austria, as well as Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, Washington State, California, and Oregon. This variety of options ensures that numerous pairing options are available for diners looking to enjoy a glass with their meal or collection of small plates. CBS Miami was also impressed by the selection, placing Bin No. 18 on its 2011 list of the Best Wine Bars In South Florida.
The Old World inspiration shines through a bit more clearly in the restaurant's décor, which skews more toward a rustic, yet refined ambiance as opposed to a nouveau vibe. Wooden wine barrels sit beside tables with avocado-green chairs, occasionally doubling as small side tables. At the same time, the collection of crystal chandeliers dangling from the ceiling adds a bit of classical elegance to the space.
For brothers Rino and Luciano Balzano, cooking is in their blood. They grew up near Naples, Italy, in a small town by the sea, and their grandparents and parents cooked professionally. "Between my mother and my father, they used to cook like angels," Luciano says. The love of food the brothers both discovered as children has since blossomed, taking them around the world. After culinary school, they spent a decade cooking on Italian cruise ships, then traveled to Florida where they opened restaurants including the much-lauded Il Porcino. Their cooking earned them the attention of the James Beard Foundation, as well as that of Hollywood stars including Demi Moore and Robert De Niro, who ended up hiring the pair several times. Pictures of their past successes hang in their office—but today, they're looking forward with La Canzone Ristorante & Lounge, a waterfront eatery whose floor-to-ceiling windows let diners drink in stunning views of the bay.
As beautiful as the views are, it's the food people come for. "Our Italian food is actually real, authentic Italian food," Luciano says, noting many places make the same claim but fail to deliver. The seafood dishes, including what he proudly claims is "the best calamari in town," pay tribute to their coastal childhood, and the homemade pastas include ricotta gnocchi and fresh fettuccine with pork veal. Braised short ribs in a chianti-infused sauce, meanwhile, cook for five hours and arrive so tender that they fall apart at the mere mention of a Hank Williams ballad.
The restaurant is serious about its music, and though Luciano says he and his brothers "love to sing to the customers," they also bring in professionals—including live bands, as well as guest DJs who spin tunes in the lounge every Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. During weekdays, the tunes veer toward classic Italian, mirroring the vision Rino and Luciano have for La Canzone. "We tried to put together something nice and comfortable and very much Italian," Luciano says.
For John Offerdahl, the aroma of meat sizzling on the grill stirs memories of his family's barbecues in rural Wisconsin. Even when John grew up and became a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, he couldn't escape that enticing smell—it would waft into the stadium from fans tailgating outside and the mascots who secretly stuffed their costumes with cheeseburgers. So it was only natural that, after retiring from football, John would once again find himself at the grill when he and his wife Lynn opened Offerdahl's Cafe Grill in 2000. The couple were no strangers to the restaurant business; they had previously owned a chain of bagel shops. This venture, however, would prove more ambitious—they devised menus of classic American cuisine that could be served up fast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a focus on fresh-grilled fare.
Today, Offerdahl's Cafe Grill has expanded to seven locations, but its flavorful, no-frills meals remain the same. "Johnny O's Famous Bagels" still take the starring roles during breakfast, waking diners up with flavors like cinnamon crumb, pumpernickel, and fruit-and-nut. But once breakfast turns to lunch and dinner, the grill takes over. Chefs swiftly cook up steak, chicken, and salmon, serving the proteins over rice, pasta, or salad with homemade dressings. They also grill chicken sandwiches and burgers, in a nod to the café's backyard barbecue roots.
Sweetness Bake Shop & Cafe's cupcake list is overwhelming in the best possible way. The treats are made from scratch everyday, the buttercream a slight yellow due to the use of real butter, and the vanilla bean cake rich with Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. But the careful, delicious craftsmanship aside, the sheer number of cupcake options on the menu is enough to floor even the most mild of cupcake enthusiasts. The menu divides into several categories. These include house flavors, such as red velvet, and classic flavors such as maple bacon. Then there are even more whimsical categories such as "candy jar", which includes Twix- and Snickers-flavored cupcakes, "top shelf", which has mojito and tequila sunrise cakes, and "global a go-go" which includes flavors such as tiramisu and churro con chocolate but excludes the flavor of passport stamp.
But Sweetness doesn't stop there. Their menu expands to cover more treats such as ice cream, cake balls and donuts, and cakes. They also cater to the non-sweet tooth with sandwiches and salads for lunch and eggs and pancakes for brunch.