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Feb 14, 2007 11:54 AM

Cheap and Good Eats from Miama to Fl. Keys

My husband and I are very adventurous eaters and are looking for the casual, dive, off-the-beaten-path places that are all about the food and none of the bells and whistles. Could you help us with some recs? We love seafood but we'll try anything, as long as it's not cookie-cutter, touristy food. Please help!

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  1. Sorry I'm too lazy to retype them. . .but follow my driving directions to Alabama Jack's in Card Sound:

    1. My favorite place that fits this description, which I've sung the praises of many times on this board, is El Carajo, a little tapas place in the back of the Citgo gas station at US1 and 17th Avenue. As you go a little further south on US1 you'll go by Captain's Tavern, one of my favorite seafood places (though I haven't been for a long time). Not a dive, but an old-school seafood place.
      I haven't done a keys trip for a while and unfortunately don't remember the names of the places I've stopped at along the way down.

      1. Miami has tons of places that'll fulfill your criteria. But some places that my friends and I often frequent are:

        *Hy Vong (On Calle Ocho) for well done, sometimes stylized Vietnamese food cooked by the owner/chef who cooks all the meals herself. Hence, a very long wait. Oh, and they don't take reservations. But that place has been there for many years and the people keep coming back so that says a lot about the quality of food there.
        *El Chalan (On Washington Ave., Sobe) for affordable Peruvian.
        *El Totorito also for Peruvian. Branches include one in Doral and the other in Pembroke Pines.
        *Yakko San (On West Dixie Hwy, NMB) for off the beaten path Japanese food. No sushi here, just interesting tapas like dishes, ramens, and the likes.
        *Patacon (A1A in Sunny Isles) to have a Columbian Lunch. Dishes are cheap but well done.
        *Myung Ga (On Weston Rd., Weston) for really delicious Korean food in a small but traditionally decorated restaurant. If you're not interested in traveling that far west, then consider Kyung Ju (On 163rd St., NMB) for a pretty decent Korean meal as well.
        *Green Papaya (on 67th Ave, Miami Lakes) for homey, traditional Vietnamese meals. I know the owners there and they will treat you like family. Opt for the Pork Chop rice plate or any of the noodle soups for a sure bet.
        *King's Palace (163rd St., NMB) for homestyle Chinese food. They have roasted/BBQ meats hanging in the window as you walk through the front door. Good stuff. Extensive menu that covers about everything you can think of.
        *Bali Cafe (I believe somewhere in Downtown Miami, not too far from the Hyatt). Really tiny place but really good Indonesian food. The noodles there are fantastic.

        I know most of the places I mentioned are Asian ( I'm Vietnamese). These just stood out cuz there aren't as many good Asian restaurants down here (I'm a California Native). However, I do eat a lot of Latin food down here and I would say most I've tried are great. Definitely check out the Hialeah and Calle Ocho region for good Cuban restaurants, most of which are very affordable.

        As for the keys, I used to live down there for a period of time so I've scoured the area for good places to eat. However, it has been awhile since I've been back so I'm sure my recommendations may be a little out of date and so is my memory? :oP

        *I second Alabama Jacks on Sound Card for great Conch Fritters overlooking the Mangrove filled waters. Lovely view.
        *Keys Fisheries (Marathon Key...can't remember which MM). Known for the Lobster Reuben. A bit pricey for a sandwich but the thing is enormous with tons of lobster meat, so one order can be shared by two people.
        *Big Pine Diner (Big Pine Key) for an old fashion style diner Breakfast or Lunch. Simple but well done.
        *There's a health food store also on Big Pine Key (can't seem to so recall name) but it serves fabulous organic, healthy, home cooked items right in the store. Amazingly unique soups and pita sandwiches served right on the premises.
        *Finnegan's Wake (Key West) for Irish Pub style foods. Highly recommend the Chicken Wellington...really tasty. Of course you can't go wrong with their Corned Beef and Cabbage as well.
        *I love Bagels (White Street, Key West) for amazing bagel sandwiches or just the bagels on their own.
        *Abbondanza (if it's still there, Key West) for solid, affordable Italian food. I find traditional Italian food to be subpar in many restaurants but this place served one of the best Italian dishes I've had in Florida.
        *Antonia's (Duval, Key West) is one of the more upscale restaurants but you dont' necessarily haveta have a meal there. Go there for after dinner drinks and desserts. I hope their Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce is still on the menu. Have that with a Raspberry die for.
        *Louie's Backyard (Key West) is another high end restaurant. But perhaps just going there for a light appetizer meal just so you can enjoy the's well worth it.
        *Blue Heaven (Key West) is off the beaten path, but serves fabulous fish dishes for dinner. Not as cheap as you think it could be, but it's worth it for a good meal on a special occasion.
        *Bahama Mama (Bahamian Village, Key West). Caribbean style seafood dishes but my favorite there are the Shrimp Cakes.
        *El Siboney (Key West) is good Cuban in the keys. Set in a house, it's definitely homey and very affordable.

        There are lots more restaurants than what I've listed so far, many of which were mentioned by the folks above (didn't wanna be too repetitive). Hope you enjoy trying the restaurants out. Would love to hear what you thought of the restaurants. Have fun!

        1 Reply
        1. re: santorinii

          Hi Santorinii,
          Thanks so much for all the info! We did end up going to a couple of them..El Siboney was okay, a little disappointing. The salad that came with our entree was pretty lackluster and not that great. The dressing was like one you'd get at Wendy's or something. We ordered the roast chicken and it was just normal. Nothing really "Cuban" about it. There's a lot of positive review for this restaurant but I've had Cuban food in Orange County, California that was far superior and even less expensive. I liked the local feel it had but I definitely would not come back to this place. We also ate at Key's Fisheries in Marathon and I ordered the lobster reuben. Indeed, it was incredibly big. The lobster tasted flat without any real flavor. All I tasted was the greasy bread and cheese they slapped on it. The lobster was sort like a "hash" -- not the chunks of lobster meat I was hoping to find in the sandwich. If you love greasy bar food, this would be a great meal. I prefer fresher, lighter sandwiches so it wasn't for me. The conch fritters were very dough-y with little conch meat in them. They were also really greasy. The place had a nice ambiance being next to the water. Again, I'd say the place is more like going for the experience than really the great food.

          On a more positive note, we did find a good Haitian restaurant called Tap Tap in South Beach. It was very reasonably priced (My stewed hen with cashews was $8) and they served authentic pain epis (french bread shaped like a stalk of wheat) along with the meal. The interior is painted in colorful murals and tapestries. We felt like we were in Port au Prince - I would recommend this place for sure.

          Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to check out the Vietnamese restaurants. We will have to next time. Incidentally, I'm also Vietnamese and I grew up in Orange County, California. Don't you miss the great pho and bun shops?!

          Thanks again!

        2. See the posts on "driving to the keys" thread

          1. Another vote for Keys Fisheries in Marathon.