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Texaco Transformation

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The building at 9851 Kendall Drive used to be just another gas station, contending with the Shell station across the street and the Chevron on the corner.

But intrepid entrepreneur Michael Touma saw opportunity when the skyrocketing gasoline prices and glut of competition overwhelmed the Texaco station. He removed the pumps, repaved the asphalt with attractive, rose-pink cobblestones, and opened Michael's Cafe, a cool, only-in-Miami Mediterranean cuisine joint that is quickly turning into a neighborhood hotspot.

"I own the convenience store next door, so I decided to buy this property here and provide some healthy food for the neighborhood," Touma explains. "Everyone who comes in loves the food, they love the idea, they love the ambiance... I wanted it to be a fast food place at first, but everyone wants to sit down for a meal."

When my husband and I dined there recently, we were impressed by the converted decor — al fresco dining with pretty pillars and greenery on Kendall Drive was hitherto unheard of. The food was good (the beef shawarma served over lentil rice was delicious), and my husband Steve was astounded by the beer selection. The interior of the establishment remains rather gas-station like, with a vast glass refrigerator from which patrons can choose their own drinks. Steve was more than happy with a 16 oz Tucher that set him back a mere three bucks.

Every night is hookah night, and the cafe provides a beautifully colorful selection of glass hookahs for customers to enjoy after dining. "We've got every kind of shisha you can think of. Some hookahs come from Pakistan, some from Egypt," Touma adds. The smoke-sucking crowd lingered until 11:30 p.m. Michael's ingenuity is turning into an increasingly popular dining experience for Kendallites. "The people around this neighborhood, some of them never knew this food existed! They are loving it," Touma brags. Call 786-497-0841. -Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik

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