If you want fine dining, try another neighborhood. For reasonably priced Latin American fare with a beach setting, head to North Beach. Between the trendiness and overpriced hotel restaurants of South Beach and ritzy Bal Harbour lies this unassuming neighborhood.
Others might scoff that North Beach is a dining dead zone, I have found wonderful carb-filled grub, secret patio dining, beer gardens, free buffets, and more that make this area tops. What follows are the official top ten reasons.
Note: Although North Bay Village's marvelous Sushi Deli isn't in North Beach, I am including Normandy Isle eateries because they are still part of the city of Miami Beach.
10. Pasta galore
Between the folks at Mr. Pasta who make fresh noodles every day, the lobster ravioli at George's, and all the pasta dishes at Café Prima Pasta, you can really carb-load in the neighborhood. Most locals will tell you one of the best deals in town is the early-bird special at Prima, where you can get half off your favorite dishes.
9. Worldly pastries
The newly opened Dolci di Sicilia on Normandy Isle serves the most delectable pistachio cannoli and ricotta doughnuts. It joins other delicious ethnic pastry shops in the neighborhood, including Buenos Aires Bakery and Moises Bakery.
8. Free buffet
One of the coolest dive bars in Miami Beach is Sandbar Lounge. It brings the beach to the bar by covering the floor in sand, but that's not all. Five nights a week, you can eat free. Simply purchase a drink, and you have an invitation to cruise the complimentary buffet.
7. Secret garden and poolside dining
There is nothing more romantic than eating French Moroccan food in a secret garden. Rouge offers the backdrop and the cuisine for a deliciously tender, love-filled repast. For a more laid-back meal or a good brew, head to Lou's Beer Garden. It is also somewhat hidden as you sit by the pool with your banana-bread beer and the most awesome crabcakes with "bitchin'" sauce.
6. Brazilian sausage and feijoada
Little Brazil serves one of the best salads, composed of shrimp, sausage, and palm hearts. It is covered in butter and white-wine sauce but is technically still a salad, so you can feel guilt-free. On weekends, they serve feijoada -- a black-bean stew with fresh and dried beef, salted and fresh pork, bacon, sausage, and ribs -- accompanied by collard greens, sliced oranges, and farofa. If you want more Brazilian meat, head up the block to Cypo Café.
5. Mimi's Frozen Yogurt
"Fro-yo life" is a good motto to live by. I consider frozen yogurt my BFF. After a bad day, I always turn to my low-calorie friend, Mimi, late at night. The watermelon sorbet and white chocolate frozen yogurt topped with lychee-filled boba balls, mochi squares, and rainbow sprinkles can cure any blues. Because you pay by weight, the price is often my barometer. When I go over $5, it's a really bad night.
Mi Colombia is my everything. The $5 pollo frito (fried chicken) that comes with beans and rice is my favorite dinner on a budget. The portion is huge, the rice is buttery, and the chicken is crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. Also, nothing beats the sancocho de gallina (hen soup), served Sunday for the ultimate Saturday-night hangover cure.
3. A good Publix that makes great subs
It's no secret that not all Publix locations are created equal. The one in North Beach is straight-up fancy. Ride the escalator to a beautiful grocery store where friendly employees will make you some of the best subs in the city.
2. Chivitos, fritas, churros, yoyos, and empanadas
The cuisine of most of Latin America is represented in a few-block radius. You can get an Uruguayan chivito at Chivitoteca, a Cuban frita from Sazon, a late-night churro from Manolo, a Venezuelan yoyo from Maracuya, and empanadas from Empanada House.
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1. Food trucks once a month
Sure, food trucks gather elsewhere, but nothing beats the beach. The one Wednesday a month when the trucks converge to serve delicious food while a live band plays at the North Beach Bandshell is worth it.
Follow Carina on Twitter @CarinaOst