Miami’s Low-Key, Low-Cost Latin Restaurants

by  Chanize Thorpe | May 19, 2014
Miami Beach skyline
Miami Beach skyline / Lady-Photo/iStock

There's no shortage of dining options in Miami. You’ll find trendy, see-and-be-seen hot spots that are more about hype than haute cuisine. And then there are the celebrity chef restaurants that have endless wait lists and hefty prices. Sure, you might want to splurge on one of these places, but if eating like the locals is more your style, these tiny-but-authentic Miami restaurants should be on your radar. Not only will you get a true taste of cucina Latina, but your wallet will thank you.

Breakfast: Abuelas Cuban Kitchen, just off Lincoln Road was formerly known as David’s Cafe. It now offers quick service focusing on pastelitos and assorted Cuban coffees, all sold from an open-air counter. Though it's supposed to be a grab-and-go operation (you'll likely encounter a line from 7:00 - 11:00 a.m.), you'll find folks mingling and chatting, from laborers on break to neighborhood characters looking for their daily dose of gossip. A pastelito filled with guava and cream cheese will cost $1.80 and a cortadito (espresso topped with steamed milk) is $2.00 when ordered at the window.

Lunch: Ceviche at a bookstore cafe? You bet. In a tiny side alley on Lincoln Road is the Cafe at Books & Books. After you're finished perusing the store's literary offerings in the back, sit at one of the tables and order the specialty of the house: the tart mahi mahi ceviche with smashed avocado salsa and fresh black bean hummus for two ($14.95).

Happy Hour: If you're in search of arepas, La Latina, a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the city's fast-growing Wynwood (located between the city’s Midtown and Design Districts), has gone beyond the usual corn and cheese variety. There are 20 versions of Venezuelan arepas on offer in fun combos like asada negro and pork with plantains. There are also plenty of options for both vegetarians and vegans such as the cheese and tomato caprese, and the black bean with avocado. The big bites begin at $5.50 each, but during happy hour from 5pm to 8 p.m., you can wash down 2-for-1 snacks with half-priced beer, wine, and mojitos.

Dinner: If you want to compare and contrast ceviches, head to Chalan on the Beach, a Peruvian eatery on Washington Avenue.  You'll likely have to wait for a table alongside locals who come for two main dishes – the lomo saltado ($9.95), a hearty helping of beef topped with onions and peppers and served with a heap of rice, and the Peruvian-style ceviche, consisting of several types of fish and accompanied by hunks of sweet potato and crunchy corn ($9.95).

Dessert: Despite the perception that Miamians spend every waking hour in the gym, sweets are big in town, and ice cream is a favorite. There are more than 40 flavors (think: caramel flan, cuatro leches, sweet plantain, and red sangria) at Azucar Ice Cream in Little Havana’s Calle Ocho. This family-owned business utilizes grandma’s old recipe as well as clever new creations. Azucar uses fruit from a local grocery store and sources from other South Florida farmers, and their handmade sorbets and ice creams are always crafted from seasonal ingredients. Visit on the weekend and you'll also enjoy a live salsa band playing outside. Cones begin at $3.50.

Tip: You can hit several of these spots in one shot by taking the South Beach Tour des Forks, a 1.5-mile guided excursion through the Art Deco district. The $53 per person ticket price includes tastings at six locations, a full lunch, and city tour.

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