How to Eat on South Beach For $10 a Day
We're Undercutting Rachel Ray by Half
UPDATED FEBRUARY 2013
From the Spring Break Visitors Guide.
So you showed up in Miami thinking the drinks would be just like they were last year in Cancun. You budgeted $50 a night for drinking, figuring that could score you a twelve pack of Natty Light plus cover at whatever all-you-could-drink establishment you decided to frequent. Yeah, it was going to be a little more than your typical night out in Starkevillle, but, hey, it’s Spring Break, right? Let’s splurge a little.
Fast forward to morning one as you wake up in South Beach at that dump three miles from the ocean your friend swore was “in the heart of everything.” And your wallet is somehow empty. Yes, it is quite possible you were robbed, but it is more than possible that the concept of the $18 Jaeger Bomb is just a little clearer to you now.
It’s all coming back. That is definitely last time you yell “Shots on me” at Mansion. As you desperately scour your luggage for any more cash, and briefly consider putting the rest of the week’s bar tabs on Mom and Dad’s credit card, a harrowing thought hits you: “Holy shit, I still have to eat.”
Yes, Spring Breakers, while it is possible to drink all of your calories during your week-long sex and booze fest here in Miami, at some point even the most tolerant body is going to require some sort of nourishment not obtained from a frosty mug. And while perusing the various eateries offered in South Beach, you may find it rather disheartening that even Burger King is gouging tourists to the tune of $5.89 a Whopper.
Don’t sweat it, kids. Having lived as a college student in South Beach, I am well versed in finding meals that cost roughly 25% of your average drink. You, my friend, are going to learn how to eat like all of the living-on-tips, service-industry trash that populate this beach, and you are going to like it.
WHAT THE $2.95 BREAKFAST AND SANTA CLAUS HAVE IN COMMONWhile there are a bevy of small restaurants that offer “cheap” breakfast specials for $2.95, you must remember that every price you see in South Beach is roughly one-eighth what you will actually be charged. That figure is typically for a plate and a fork with no actual food on it, so anything you order will be extra. That, of course, is before the City Tax, the State Tax, the Tourist Tax, the Ocean Drive Tax, the English Translation Fee and the Automatic Gratuity. Which will undoubtedly be distorted by your server with an imprint of your credit card. Your best bet for breakfast?
A wide array of SoBe hotels offer free continental breakfasts, and few if any bother checking to see if you are a guest. Just walk in looking like you know what you are doing, grab some muffins and OJ, sit on the patio, and leave when you are done. The Essex House on 10th and Collins offers a particularly nice atmosphere and lax security, not to mention some killer banana-nut muffins. The trick is getting to these buffets before 10 AM when they shut down. Call it motivation for an early start.
You can also try the sample some of Miami’s famous Pastelitos. Which will cover your stomach in the same lovely layer of grease a breakfast of bacon and eggs would, for only about $1.25. Check out La Playa on 2nd Street and Collins Ave. for a good early start. An added bonus: A Cuban Coffee - essentially Miami’s way of legalizing cocaine – is only 99 cents.
If that’s too adventurous for you, bagels are abundant in South Beach. The Brooklyn Water Bagel Company on 5th and Alton has bagels made with water they claim to be chemically identical to the water found in Brooklyn. No word on wheather over-consumption will immediately cause you to ramble on endlessly about how much cheaper your rent is, but if you’d prefer something that uses water that is chemically identical to the rest of the water found in Miami, there’s also an Einstein Brothers on 15th and Alton. Bagels at both places are just over a dollar.
LUNCH, OR AS I LIKE TO CALL IT, WHAT I’LL USE TO ABSORB THE ALCOHOL
This is the most important meal of the day. Why? Because assuming you have woken up at the crack of 2:30, it will most likely be the only food you consume before you delve into that cornucopia of deliciousness known as cheap domestic beer. And what better food to consume for it than Pizza? While locals will swear by Pizza Rustica, be advised: You will spend twice as much time excreting Pizza Rustica as you will eating it. And $3.50 a slice for something that will do the same number on your stomach as the water you drank last year in Cabo may not be the best investment. Groovy’s Pizza on 11th and Washington offers 2 Slices and a soda for $5 during the day. Vino’s Pizza on 7th and Washington offers the same deal for 5.25.
Crazy Mexican Taco Bar – While the name might imply a taco stand run by the Mexican version of the Soup Nazi, CMTB is actually one of your best options for fresh, non-nauseating cheap food. Fresh beef, chicken or pork tacos are only $1.25 . And while you’ll need to order three or four to tide you over until night drinking begins, the fresh salsa bar might be the closest thing you come all of Spring Break to eating an actual vegetable. Check out either location on Washington Ave., on 11th or 15th street.
Go Go is a tucked away locals’ favorite in a nondescript shopping center on 9th and Alton Road. Home to hands-down the most intreaging collection of empanadas on the Beach, two pies at $2.50 each is enough to fill up most people not named Lattimer. Flavors range from Spicy Thai Chicken to Barbecue Beef to Dulce de Leche and Blackberries. A marked step up from the small pies you find in the window of many Washington Avenue “supermarkets” that the lady at the counter describes as “just meat.”.
100 Montaditos, as the name might imply, is home to over 100 different sandwiches. While that array of choices might be a little too much for your grain-liquor soaked brain, the Wednesday special is worth the unwanted mental effort. A selection of several sandwiches are available for only $1. Much like the tacos at Crazy Mexican you’ll need to order a few. But that makes the “thinking” part of the endeavor that much easier.
YOU CALL IT NAUSEA, I CALL IT A CULTURAL EXPERIENCE
My first suggestion for dinner would be to eat whichever of the lunch options you did not have before. But even the most iron-stomached of college students can not survive on pizza alone. So, in order for you to get what little of a Miami Cultural experience you can on South Beach (no, Mango’s does not count) might I suggest a little trip to one of the many lovely Laitn Markets on South Beach.
IF YOU’RE ONLY EATING ONE MEAL…
If your plan is to only consume one meal a day – giving it the dual utility of soaking up last night’s Call-a-Cabs and tonight’s Miami Vices – you won’t find more bang for your buck than you will at Pollo Tropical. This chicken joint is a local favorite and gives you the authentic Miami feel of waiting in line for half an hour behind old Cuban ladies as they discuss their grandchildren with the girl behind the register. Once you finally brave the sea of abuelitas, you can load up for the day with a large Tropi-Chop for $7.19. Or get the small for $2 less if you’re not as hungry. Sounds like a lot if you’re budgeting only one meal, but the Tropi-Chop will leave even your gym-obsessed frat lifting friends stuffed for hours.
It starts out with enough rice to feed a small Central Ameican country, then is slathered with a massive ladel of black beans. Throw in about half a chicken diced on top and some salsa and you won’t be hungry again until you’ve yacked at the end of the night.
You might also check out the $8.95 All You Can Eat buffet at David’s Cuban Café on 10th street and Collins. While it’s one of the more authentic Cuban joints on the Beach, and always the top recommendation among locals, remember our stomachs have had a chance to adjust. And even if you’ve been reared on dorm food for the last few years, nothing can prepare you for the onslaught of lard and spices that an all you can eat Cuban buffet will throw your way. Delicious? Sure. The cause of an entire day of your Spring Break spent examining your bathroom floor? Possibly.
BEACH CHICKEN AND THE ONLY THING MORE OVERPRICED THAN A HOOKER
And now 2 South Beach cheap dining DON’TS
DON’T eat Beach Chicken. Beach Chicken is any alleged poultry product sitting in the counter of a deli, convenience store, auto mechanic or dry cleaner. As a matter of fact, the only businesses in South Beach that do NOT sell Beach Chicken are the actual restaurants. You may be tempted by the prospect of an entire chicken breast for $1.49, but do not, under ANY circumstances, eat it. A fraternity at University of Miami had some pledges do it one year and was summarily thrown off campus the following semester. Apparently the administration looked down on giving incoming freshmen cholera.
Also, DON’T ever drink anything but water with your meal. Fountain sodas on the Beach are the only thing more overpriced than the hookers. They range anywhere from $2 to $5 and you would be better off asking for someone’s extra kidney than a free refill. Surprisingly, Miami has some of the best tap water of any major city, and even if it didn’t any bacteria will more than likely be killed by that shot of 151 you’re going to do before you go out.
So don’t stress, Spring breakers, you can actually eat in South Beach without taking out a second set of Student Loans. All it takes is a little bit of guile, a strong stomach and a light wallet. And when you get back, you can tell all your friends what a great time you had in Miami, even after you blew more in the first night on alcohol than you did all of freshmen year. Enjoy your stay, Kids, and remember me when you’re throwing up more food than you are stomach acid.
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