Best of 2014: Miami-Dade County

Best Drag Queen
Tiffany Fantasia

For 11 years Tiffany Fantasia has been entertaining the LGBT community in Miami and nowadays she can be found at the iconic restaurant the Palace on South Beach three days a week.

And she’s ready to do more — a lot more.

“There’s so much I want to do with drag that I can’t wait to do in the near future,” she said. “I can’t wait for it to happen and everybody to see. I’m loving what I do.”

This is Tiffany’s second year in a row being voted Best Drag Queen.

“It is so awesome to win two years in a row! It brings me great joy to be loved by my community,” she said. “I think the readers chose me because I'm funny, professional, and free spirited, and will stand up against things that I believe are wrong in this community.”

While Tiffany may come across as free-spirited things haven’t always been so easy for the entertainer.

“It’s been a struggle and a journey, but it’s been well worth it,” she said. “This business is not easy at all. And I thank your readers and the audiences to being able to entertain them for so long.”

--Jason Parsley

Best Burger
Burger and Beer Joint
900 South Miami Ave. Suite 130 in Miami
305-523-2244
1766 Bay Road in Miami Beach
305-672-3287
BNBJoint.com

With two locations in South Beach, Mary Brickell Village and another in Pembroke Pines, it’s perfect for a happy hour meal or during a night out. But these aren’t your ordinary burgers -- using toppings like shrimp, wagyu beef, brie and foie gras, it’s burgers gone classy. However, don’t worry about donning your best suit at Burger and Beer Joint. It’s a totally laid back vibe to relax with friends and family, but without the sacrifice of quality food.

And this is the second year in a row Burger and Beer has won Best Burger in Miami-Dade.

“B&BJ is the best place in Miami Beach for Burgers and Fun. The burgers are off the charts and come in more varieties than you can imagine,” said one reviewer on Yelp. Another one commented: “Probably the best burgers in Miami Beach! They are just so good you will not go anywhere else for authentic burgers.”

One of customers’ favorites is the Mustang Sally, a half pound of wagyu beef topped with red onion marmalade, brie, and sliced prosciutto sandwiched between a brioche bun.

Best Dessert
Ice Box Café
1855 Purdy Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
305-538-8448
IceBoxCafe.com

In 2006 Oprah featured Ice Box Café on her show as a part of a Best Cakes in America series, so it’s no wonder they took home the award for Best Desserts in Miami for a second year in a row.

“Pastries and desserts have always been the backbone to our business,” said Owner Robert Siegmann. “We first started off with a small lunch place with a crazy line of desserts that I had created. The place really caught on and became a watering hole for all of the locals.”

If you visit, Siegmann recommends the Chocolate Delight cake, an “over the top chocolate explosion.” (It was once called the ‘Bomb,’ but apparently the airports didn’t like the name). If chocolate isn’t your thing try the Carrot Cake. “Hands down we have the best carrot cake out there, much lighter and easier to eat a lot of, than the Bomb.”

But really if you do visit Ice Box you can’t just have one dessert. Ordering the Icebox sampler is a must for any patron. It features either 3 or 5 half portions of any of their desserts. Oh yeah, they also serve food, but eat light because you’ll want to save a lot of room for the happy ending.

Siegmann said he’s thankful for the gay community’s patronage over the years.

“The attention and the persistent of the gay community, especially in the beginning, kept us afloat and I’ve always been very thankful for that.”

Best City to Live
Miami Beach

With over 80,000 residents packed into a 7 plus square mile area, the city of Miami Beach is not only jammed with people but boasts an equally robust cultural and recreational presence to its visitors and residents alike.

Defined by its trademark 20’s and 30’s themed architecture and immortalized as a bonafide LGBT watering hole in films like the Robin Williams/Nathan Lane classic, The Birdcage, Miami Beach is everything it’s “cracked up to be” and then some. It’s a place where being LGBT is to be just another face in the crowd.

On any given day, residents of this beachside haven can be seen soaking in the sun on miles of pristine, world-renowned beaches (complete with pride flags adorning the vintage lifeguard towers), indulge in a meal of nearly any ethnic derivation, and top it all off with a trip to one of the cities innumerable LGBT clubs such as Twist and Score among them.

Miami Beach is also home to the ever-growing Miami Beach Gay Pride event that’s going into its sixth year. In 2013 the event attracted more than 80,000 people and has quickly become one of the largest gay pride events in the state despite being much younger than the others.

Best Nightclub:
Score
1437 Washington Ave. in Miami Beach
305-535-1111
scorebar.net

What better present for Score’s Sweet 16 than being ranked the best nightclub in Miami -- again?

“Nowadays a lot of the nightclubs don’t last very long, so after 16 years, it feels really good to feel the love,” said Luis Morera, co-owner of Score.

For years, the club was nestled in the middle of happening Lincoln Road on Miami Beach. Then two years ago, Morera and his business partner, Billy Kemp, decided to move the popular spot to Washington Avenue into a larger space. Customers have been loyal and are still packing Score night after night, whether it’s for EDM, hip hop, live DJ sets, or Latin night, fit with drag queens and muscle boys flooding the dance floor.

“Since we’re open more than two nights a week, we want to give our guests a different experience,” Morera said.

And this coming year is going to be even better, with hot DJs and big-name artists already lined up for 2015. Morera’s keeping his lips sealed, for now, so keep your eyes open for announcements in the near future.

--Christiana Lilly

Best Beach
Haulover Park
10800 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach

The Best Beach in Miami-Dade County is also the Best Beach in the State of Florida for nudists and naturists.

Only the northern end of Haulover Beach Park is clothing-optional; and only the northern end of the clothing-optional section is gay. Nevertheless, this magic strip of beach is enough to attract residents and tourists of all ages, races, sexual orientations and gender identities.

Even “official” Miami-Dade County recognizes it as such, noting in its Web site (www.miamidate.gov/parks/haulover.asp) that “this family-friendly portion of the beach has been listed as one of the best in the nation to swim and sun-bathe without clothing.”

At its best, on a warm, sunny day Haulover Beach is what heaven would be like if God was a gay nudist: full of friendly naked men (and women); an almost-idyllic weather (except when it rains); a well-kept beach; and the reassuring presence of the folks from South Florida Free Beaches (who made it all possible). As if that is not enough, Haulover Beach is conveniently located and within short-driving distance of most anywhere in Miami-Dade or Broward counties.

--  Jesse Monteagudo

Best Drag Show AND Best Weekly Event
The Palace
1200 Ocean Dr.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
305-531-7234
PalaceSouthBeach.com

Ask any real estate agent — and God knows, there are plenty in South Florida — the secret to success for any business is location, location, location…..well, The Palace, South Beach’s Ocean Drive gay bar has got that!

Just across the street from the beach, The Palace offers the perfect sunny spot to see and be seen. But, that’s not enough for General Manager Nelson Cardona and his hardworking staff. Sunday brunch, dubbed Bunchic!, is one of the most popular events of the week and Breakfast Club Saturdays offer the same delicious eats if you prefer to sleep in on Sundays.

The divas of The Palace are second to none, providing gender-bending entertainment into the wee hours of the night. And, after a relaxing day on the beach, The Palace’s tea dances provide the perfect transition from sunny sojourn to midnight madness, courtesy of some of the Beach’s most popular DJs.

So it’s no surprise that The Palace has taken home the trophy for Best Drag Show for a second year in a row as well as winning Best Weekly Event for their Sunday brunches. Also be sure to catch Tiffany Fantasia, who has won Best Drag Queen in Miami-Dade two years in a row, regularly performing there.

Best Restaurant: TIE
11th Street Diner
1065 Washington Ave. in Miami Beach
305-534-6373
EleventhStreetDiner.com

South Beach might be all about the glitz and glamour, but sometimes you just need to kick back with a hot meal. That’s where 11th Street Diner comes in, whether it be to get a fix of breakfast for lunch or a late-night snack after a night of partying.

“We’re the only one of its kind on South Beach,” said Mark Grimsley, the manager of the 21-year-old restaurant.

Reminiscent of a blue-collar diner, in its original Art Deco architecture, the menu is far from simple. Try their famous roasted turkey dinner, or the apple- and raisin-reduced pork chops. Open 24 hours a day, they’ll always have the right drink or plate for whatever it is you’re craving.

City Hall Restaurant
2004 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137
305-764-3130
CityHallTheRestaurant.com

City Hall Restaurant is a two-story, 6,000 square foot eatery, featuring a chic ambiance, with lacquered concrete floors, floor to ceiling windows, an 80 ft. long light box mural across one wall, dark walnut and black-varnished wood tables and chairs, leather banquets, with original art and Art Deco accents complementing the decor. 

The restaurant opened up in 2011 and serves brunch, lunch and dinner.

“The food was great. Their legendary bread with sweet butter was delicious! I had their shrimp salad and ate every morsel,” said one yelp reviewer. Another one commented: “The food starting with the bread with the pecan butter, to the crab cakes and clams, were outstanding. Did I say the bread was to die for? Or was it the butter...simply wow.”

But their gospel brunch is a must attend event.

“Out of all the brunch options in Miami this one sets itself apart with a gospel sideshow featuring Maryel Epps.  She has an impressive voice, numerous costume changes but the volume is kept so you can still chat with your companions. 

Best Gay Event of the Year:
SAVE's Annual Halloween Event

In its 20th year of throwing the biggest Halloween bash year after year, there’s no better year for SAVE’s annual spooky fete to win the hearts of our readers.

Starting initially as a small house party in Belle Meade two decades ago, it’s since become the premier event of the year with top notch DJs and performers at exquisite locales.

“It’s not a circuit party,” said Tony Lima, executive director of SAVE. “It’s everybody. It’s men, women, older, younger -- it’s everybody coming together to celebrate and in a banner year for equality when we’re so close to marriage equality.”

This year, Once a Midnight Scary was hosted at the historic Alfred I. Dupont Building, with drinks flowing from bank vaults and the guests gussied up in their best costumes. It’s estimated more than 1,000 people attended the event this year.

“There’s a lot to celebrate,” Lima said. “We’ve made strides.”

-- Christiana Lilly

Best Bar
Twist
1057 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach
305-538-9478

Joel Stedman and Richard Trainor opened Twist in 1993 and the rest is history. South Beach’s longest running gay club is still a hot attraction in Miami and readers of the SFGN agree, voting Twist the best bar in Miami-Dade County.

Located in the heart of the National Art Deco Historic District, Twist is mere blocks from the neon lights of Ocean Drive, the waves of the Atlantic Ocean and high end shopping on Collins Avenue.

Seven themed rooms await you into this journey of a nightclub. Twist welcomes all walks of life, gay or straight and there is sure to be eye candy on a weekend night. Hard bodies dancing in the Bungalow Bar, friendly bartenders serving bottled beer and cocktails upstairs, Latin salsa mixes downstairs and outdoors showings of music videos on a big screen – Twist has it all.

And the best thing? No cover, just a groove. Twist is open daily from 1 p.m. to 5 a.m. and you must be ages 21 and older to enter.

— John McDonald

Best Pizza
Pizza Rustica
863 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach
305-674-8244
Pizza-Rustica.com

Pizza Rustica has several locations across the globe, but the original can be found on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. Inside a modest corner store is where the pizza is made fresh and served with sass.

Readers of the SFGN voted Pizza Rustica Best Pizza in Miami-Dade County. The franchise dethroned 2013 champion, Spris.

At the Washington Avenue & Ninth Street store, first opened in 1996, a customer can buy a slice or a whole pizza and choose from a variety of flavors from cheese, vegetable and meat. Complement your order with a cold beer, soda pop or caprese salad.

For those fueling up before a night at the clubs, Pizza Rustica is the perfect place to take in the local scenery. Grab a table on the sidewalk or sit on bar-like stools in front of large glass windows and watch the South Beach characters stroll by.

Two can easily eat here for $15 dollars (tip included). Supporting Pizza Rustica allows the company to continue its generous giving to charitable organizations such as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Winter Party Festival, AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Best Buddies International.

— John McDonald

Best Place to Shop
Perfect Gifts South Beach
1516 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach
Facebook.com/PerfectGiftsSouthBeach
305-397-8097

For those shopping in Miami Beach, Perfect Gifts South Beach is the place to find that special present for loved ones and friends. Voted best gift shop in Miami-Dade County for the second year in a row by readers of SFGN, the store is known for its colorful greeting cards, novelties and pet accessories, but also has a concept says owner Perry Martino.

“Get a gift, get it wrapped and go on to your party,” Martino explained.

Perfect Gifts South Beach has a beautiful selection of candles and fragrances and their greeting cards, Martino notes, range from naughty to nice. The shop also contains books, holiday decorations and the work of Brazilian-born artist Romero Britto.

Formerly the Pink Palm on Lincoln Road, Perfect Gifts South Beach is open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Best Shopping Destination
Lincoln Road

With art, entertainment, fashion, food and hospitality, Lincoln Road is the shopping destination in Miami-Dade County for readers of the SFGN.

Located in Miami Beach between West and Washington Avenues, Lincoln Road is a pedestrian-only promenade that is renowned for its people watching and sidewalk cafes. There is 10 blocks of shopping and something for everyone.

Tech geeks can update their gadgets at the Apple Store and pretty boys and girls can pick out their apparel at several top of the line stores such as LaCoste, Zara, Armani, Penguin, H&M, American Eagle, Banana Republic, Gap and J. Crew.

Looking for a bite to eat, grab a table at one of the 30 plus restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating available.

Visiting Lincoln Road is an experience into the work of Miami Beach architect Morris Lapidus, of the Fountainebleau fame, who was commissioned to develop the space in the 1950s. Lincoln Road’s thoroughfare was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 and is home to the recently restored Colony Theatre.

— John McDonald

Best Nonprofit
SAVE
4500 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami
305-751-7283
savedade.org

This year, the mission of SAVE (formerly SAVE Dade) has come close to full circle. Serving Miami-Dade’s LGBT community for 21 years, one of the agency’s original projects was creating a human rights ordinance for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Two decades later in 2014, they’re working to add additional protections for the transgender and non-gender conforming communities to that very same ordinance.

“It’s a very exciting time that everyone in Miami-Dade will have the same freedoms and protections,” said Tony Lima, executive director.

SAVE is extremely active in politics, recognizing and endorsing candidates from the local to state level and educating the public about LGBT issues. Besides the human rights ordinance at home, another one of SAVE’s missions is to see marriage equality in Florida and across the country -- something that might be happening very soon.

“We’re educating people why it’s important for everyone to have the same rights,” Lima said.

Gay travelers may want to book a night at Hotel Gaythering near the mall’s bayside for an extended shopping stay.

--Mike d'Oliviera

Best Gym – Miami
Equinox
520 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach
305-673-1172

Anything South Beach screams gay so it’s no wonder why readers voted Equinox Best Gym in Miami.

According to their website: “Located at the epicenter of Miami Beach's trendiest shops and restaurants, just one block from the sand and surf, this sexy, social club is more than a fitness center — it's a SoBe destination. Tropical hues meld with sleek materials to create a hip yet timeless space. See, be seen, and work up a sweat along the way.”

And that’s just the location. As for the actual gym there’s so much to love about the place.

One reviewer on Yelp couldn’t stop writing about the…bathrooms.

“Best gym bathroom I've ever been in. They have fresh towels for you, private mirrors stations with outlets, blow dryers and gel. Premium shower stalls, soft floors no cheap wall tiles and scum soap. Natural Kiehls products that you can use for your hair, face and body.”

The lockers rooms: “The locker room (as with the rest of the gym) is always immaculately clean.” The staff: “This is my one year anniverary at Equinox and the best part of the gym is the staff. They are very friendly and supportive.” The clientele: “Eye candy is abundant and a selling point.”

But at close to $150 a month it’s quite the exclusive club.


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