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A Handy Guide to Inexpensive Restaurants in South Beach

October 01, 2007 By Doug in Miami: Local News  | 15 Comments

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Despite is glammy reputation, South Beach has a surprisingly diverse array of enjoyable bargain eateries.  Unfortunately, however, they’re often craftily sandwiched between tourist traps, well-hidden along alleyways and less-trafficked streets—and discernment between the real deals and the nefarious impostors can only come with experience and word-of-mouth recommendations. 

So, for those seeking a balance of budget and cuisine that really satisfies, here are some ideas.

BEST FISH ON THE FLY: IRON SUSHI

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Iron Sushi (840 Washington, South Beach, 305-532-6500), similar to its cousin, Hiro’s Sushi Express, which formerly occupied the space (and continues to thrive in various other locations throughout the area), may not offer the largest sushi in town—but the good news is that it’s fresh, tasty and hits the spot, both in the stomach and the pocketbook.  At Iron Sushi, you can stay in or dine out, while you leaf through their various books lining the shelves, or join your dining partner in a match of Rock’em Sock’em Robots.  The true secret to enjoying this place to the fullest of its bargain potential is to request a few of their take-out menus as you’re heading out the door.  There you’ll find coupons for $2-$3 off your next meal.  When Dave and I eat there, our favorite thing to get is two Six Senses ($4.95 each), which is simply six pieces of salmon (or 12, in our case).  If I’m feeling particularly daring, I’ll also spring for an order of tuna tataki ($5.25), which, though rather thinly cut, is really tasty with its garlic garnish.  Dave often indulges in a cup of seaweed salad ($3.50) to go with his salmon, and between this and our two bottles of iced green tea, we usually get out of there for about $30.  Open 7 days a week, 11 am - 11 pm. (additional photos and discussion on South Beach sushi options here.)

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MOST LIKELY SPOT FOR A HULK HOGAN SIGHTING: SAN LOCO MEXICAN RESTAURANT

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Bargain-priced San Loco Taqueria (235 14th St., between Washington and Collins, Miami Beach, 305-538-3009) is ideally situated near a tattoo parlor, facing Club Deuce.  This alone should confirm that the clientele is going to be varied and somewhat eccentric.  The menu offers traditional Tex-Mex fare, ranging from tacos to burritos and the like, but unlike many other places, the ingredients are all freshly cooked to order.  Contributing to its loco character is the late night hours it keeps.  Second only to Pizza Rustica in its status of late night must-do, it attracts clubbers, street walkers and insomniacs galore.  With chicken tacos at $2.95 a piece, Mexican beers at $4.50, and the much-coveted apple loco coming in at $3.50, this place manages to stimulate the senses without overextending the finances. (see additional photos here.)

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BEST ARGENTINE WITHOUT THE “ARGENT”: CAFE CHARLOTTE

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Argent, of course, is French for money, and you’ll save a lot of it when you eat at this family-owned Argentine cafe located at 1497 Washington Ave. in South Beach.  Try the deliciously tender skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, cooked to order, with a mixed green salad (all for $7.95) and a glass of Mendoza wine ($3.99), and you’ll be dancing the tango in no time! For the red-meat challenged, there is also an array of other specialities to choose from, including tilapia with lime sauce, chicken milanese, chicken and mushrooms, and much, much more.  Prices are the same for lunch and dinner, and rarely exceed $7.95 per entree.  Enjoy an entire bottle of wine for only $14.95! Though most associate South Beach with all things Cuban, Argentine culture is garnering an ever-increasing presence here—and this inexpensive cafe will initiate you into all its culinary delights for a fraction of what you’ll pay in others of its kind. (see additional photos and information here.)

LIKE MAMA USED TO MAKE: BELLA NAPOLI

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Speaking of home-cooked meals, if you’re craving a little something-something from the old country, you won’t have to travel any further than Alton Road—1443 Alton, to be precise.  At Bella Napoli (305-672-1558), you can order the finest in traditional Italian cooking, including lasagna, ravioli, chicken parmigiana, marsala and cacciatore at very reasonable fare.  The friendly, down-home establishment is tucked away in a mini-mall just a stone’s throw from tourist-heavy Lincoln Road, but thankfully escapes their radar.  If you don’t feel like going out, they have a thriving delivery business.  (Additional photos and description here.)

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BEST CHICKEN ON THE CHEAP: THE WING ZONE

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Though eateries who serve chicken wings are a dime a dozen in any town, there’s something special about the way they do them here at the Wing Zone (729B Washington Ave., South Beach, 305-673-2644).  Every order is freshly made in this heat-lamp free establishment, and you can enjoy your chicken in 25 different flavors: there’s hot garlic, honey barbecue, teriyaki, Thai chili, mild, hot and nuclear.  I tried nuclear and was glowing for about a week.  In addition to chicken wings, you can order packs of foil-wrapped celery sticks for 49 cents a piece, as well as salads, buffalo shrimp, potato wedges, onion rings….the list is endless.  Needless to say, if Elvis still walks among us, this would be a good place to start looking.  (additional discussion here.)

MOST MASTERFUL HAND-TOSSED PIZZA: MASTERS PIZZA

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You can find cheap pizza all up and down Washington Avenue in South Beach, but if you want to get your inner gourmet on and stay in your budget, Masters Pizza (1720 Alton Road, Miami Beach, 305-672-2763) is in a class by itself.  Like Iron Sushi, the secret to enjoying this place on the cheap is to clip their coupons.  Their extensive menu reads like War & Peace: with over 30 varieties of pizza alone, there is enough to choose from here to satisfy a small army.  In addition to their made-to-order entrees, they also have a daily $5.99 lunch buffet.  (for additional pictures and information, check here.)

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CHEAPEST THRILL IN A SOUTH BEACH ALLEY: LA SANDWICHERIE

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This little sandwich stand/juice bar looks like it should occupy a beachside hut in the Caribbean, rather than its discreet, back alley location behind the Amoco Station.  And the offerings taste more like something you’d expect from a Left Bank cafe in Paris.  Though appearances can be deceiving, La Sandwicherie (229 14th St, Miami Beach, 305-532-8934) has been a local favorite for over a decade.  Their gourmet sandwiches are fresh and fancy, ranging from $5.20 to $7.50, and are prepared by their friendly staff in mere seconds.  For a little tropical adventure, try one of their exotic shakes and smoothies; with names like Miami Sunset and Bora Bora, you’ll think you’re at a Tiki bar, without the hangover.  (For more information and pictures, click here.)

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THE HOTTEST SPOT NORTH OF HAVANA: PUERTO SAGUA

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One of the oldest and most popular restaurants on the Beach, Puerto Sagua (700 Collins Ave., South Beach, 305-673-1115) was Cuban when Cuban wasn’t cool.  This place is so authentic, it looks like they brought it over stone by stone during the Cuban missile crisis, and shipped the waiters over in mothballs.  Fortunately, the prices are also nostalgic, and you can sample what South Beach was like before its chic gentrification drove the prices up.  Choose from savory ropa vieja, roasted pork and many other home-style meals, served with the traditional black beans, rice and maduros (ripened bananas), a staple of Cuban cooking.  Their homemade sangria makes a perfect companion to your meal.  On the side wall, a mural provides a three-dimensional view of the restaurant’s namesake, a Havana cafe popular in the pre-Castro days.  (For more information and pictures, click here.)

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WHO KNEW MEXICAN FOOD COULD BE HIP: LIME

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Most monosyllabic restaurant names in these parts invariably feature multisyllabic prices.  A notable exception is Lime (1439 Alton Rd, South Beach, 305-532-5463), which, with its freshly cooked Mexican fare and tasty salsas, takes me back to carefree days in the San Fernando Valley, where Mexican restaurants of this type popped up on every corner.  Here in Miami, despite its predominant Latin culture, there is a surprising disparity of Mexican food options, which makes places like Lime and its sister, San Loco, all the more appetizing.  Like San Loco, Lime offers the traditional tacos, burritos and the like, all generously prepared with fresh ingredients.  But what sets Lime apart, aside from its ability to combine cheap and hip, is its salsa selection. (More information here.)

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD GROCERY/DELI: FERNANDEZ FRUIT MARKET

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This is South Beach at its most entertaining: the Fernandez Fruit Market (1407 Washington Ave, South Beach, 305-531-2973) could be a weigh station between the US and the Caribbean.  Old ladies scramble for lotto tickets, while refugees discuss politics with European backpackers amid cafes con leche and empanadas.  The clerks mutter in Bengali and Spanish as the colorful clients come and go, enjoying their freshly-made sandwiches, exotic fruit juices, and rice dishes.  The sandwiches are tasty, and a bargain at only $5.75 for a 12” sub prepared with fresh Cuban bread which is pressed on an iron, but what really makes this place stand out is the extensive juice selection.  They’ve got mango, guava, papaya, tamarind, orange, watermelon, carrot, sugar cane, mango, coconut water, pina colada, and the list goes on.  You can mix and match them as you please, without incurring the clerk’s wrath.  Just so you know, Abu (wasn’t he a character on the Simpsons?) is rather straight-forward and humorless, but then he has to be in order to deal with the street theatre occurring around him all day long.  (For more information and pictures, click here)

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BLACK BEAN WISHES AND CAVIAR DREAMS

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These are but 10 of the best choices for frugal dining, but there are plenty more to be found, especially along Washington Blvd. and around its corners.  But remember, cheapness is only part of the equation.  Truly good bargains must include a certain epicurean appeal, as well.  In our contemporary landscape riddled with McDonalds, Burger Kings and Subways, inexpensive, assembly line food removes our hunger pangs with all the romance of a diet pill.  In other words, given the choice of a locale where the pizza is hand-tossed, or one where it sits around for ages under heat lamps, the former offers more value for your buck.  South Beach is a culture that delights in extremes, and the food options here reflect that; they either tend to come on plastic trays or under glass.  It is the mid-range options that are hardest to find: those restaurants, which offer a little more than counter service, where two can comfortably dine for $50-$60.  Maybe that’s why God made Broward County.
Do you know of any good, cheap places to eat? Please share your favorites in the comments below.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

See more articles by Doug

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15 Comments on

"A Handy Guide to Inexpensive Restaurants in South Beach"

Romell says:

My wife and I went to Puerto Sagua last Tuesday. It was also our first trip to South Beach.  The food was very good, authentic, and inexpensive!  Service was nice, and the place was packed with all types of people.  The Half-Chicken meal could feed a family of four!!  Will go back during my next trip.

Posted on 05/02/2008 at 11:50 AM

Jason says:

I found a really great and affordable place to eat and order for delivery from.It’s on 6640 Collins ave Miami Beach, FL 33141. 305.868.8282. Right next to Venezia Pizzaria.

Posted on 10/28/2008 at 5:34 PM

Judy says:

One of the best places we’ve discovered for atmosphere, value and an outstanding menu is the Turkish Grill between 10th and 11th and Alton Road. Everything is delicious, but we especially recommend the lamb shanks.  Belly dancing on Saturday nights.

Posted on 12/26/2008 at 4:57 PM

Doug says:

mmm….Turkish sounds good! We need more Middle-Eastern food on the Beach!

Posted on 12/26/2008 at 5:21 PM

Julie Bryant-Marshall Michigan says:

We discovered South Beach a year ago- we spent five days there and then went on a cruise- well we are going on another cruise and we had to go back to South Beach to San Loco Taqueria! They had the best Mexican food for the money and their sauces were outstanding, the staff was also very friendly and helpful- I wouldn’t go back to SouthBeach with out planning to eat at this establishment!

Posted on 03/21/2009 at 12:43 PM

Brandy Ryder says:

I can’t wait to try out these great places now that I’ve moved to Miami Beach.  I’ve already discovered a favorite of my own: Lombardy Cafe at 6300 Collins.  The chef makes amazing food, and the espressos and coladas are the best I’ve ever tasted.  They also deliver check it out!

Posted on 09/15/2009 at 10:49 AM

Jason says:

Is that Lombardy cafe ever opened?

Posted on 09/15/2009 at 10:55 AM

Brandy says:

7am to 4 pm, 3pm on sunday

Posted on 09/16/2009 at 1:49 PM

Jason says:

Oh, I can never catch it open.. It’s like Rocky’s over on 73 Collins. I always order from this place over on 6640 Colllins. They do the greatest burgers I have ever had .And the wings are slammin. http://www.eatatmuncheez.com

Posted on 09/16/2009 at 11:46 PM

MICHAEL says:

WOW!!! THATS ALL I CAN SAY AFTER EATING AT THIS LITTLE AUTHENTIC MEXICAN TAQUERIA ON LINCOLN ROAD. THE FOOD WAS EXCELLENT AND CHEAP. THEY ALSO SERVE LIQUOR AT THEIR OUTDOOR SEATING.
CANT WAIT TO GO BACK!!!

Posted on 11/09/2009 at 12:36 AM

MICHAEL says:

CHISMOSA TAQUERIA
330 LINCOLN ROAD

Posted on 11/09/2009 at 12:38 AM

Mark says:

Skip Cafe Charlotte. My wife (from Buenos AIres) and myself stopped by this week based on the reccomendation here and it ranks with the worst food either of us have ever eaten. The skirt steak was soaked in grill grease and resembled a frozen steak-um from the grocery store but worse. The food truly bordered on inedible. The Baires Grill at the Lincoln Mall is a far better choice for real Argentine, albeit costing twice the price. $70 for dinner for two with an appetizer and desert and very, very good service and atmosphere.
I know the idea here was inexpensive meals but you would be better off eating at McDonalds than cafe Charlotte. I can’t see how anyone could reccomend that place, truly horrible.

Posted on 04/20/2010 at 7:13 PM

Doug says:

Hi Mark, sorry you didn’t like my recommendation (note spelling).  I stand by it, though, and have continued to enjoy visiting Cafe Charlotte whenever I’m on the beach.  I suppose everyone has different opinions, which is good, because we wouldn’t want to all have to vie for seating in the same restaurants!

Posted on 04/20/2010 at 10:53 PM

Kathy says:

Wow, Doug.  You really had to correct Mark’s spelling mistake? How big of you..

Posted on 10/20/2010 at 3:04 PM

Chris Harmon says:

Ok folks you gotta know that Taco Rico blows “LIME” outta the water $10 steak fajitas and a single order is enough for two. Real good tap beer for $2.99. The salsa island is awesome, this place just RAWKS! without all the pretentention miami beach is famous for. Free delivery and its on Alton and 16th. Tell Claudia, Chris and Angela sent you! we eat there alot. oh and the fish tacos are F.O.B

Posted on 05/10/2011 at 4:19 PM

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