December 3, 2015 | 8:48am
When the parents aren't in town and there's no date to impress, college kids just want some down-to-earth, good food that satisfies their appetites and budgets. From late-night munchies to study-break lunches, many meals are hard to find. Around the University of Miami, students don't have to turn to McDonald's or chain diners — there are plenty of fast-casual eateries that offer high-quality, low-cost dishes. Here are some of the standouts in Coral Gables.
Taco Rico offers staples of Tex-Mex cuisine at low prices in a casual environment.
Photo courtesy of Taco Rico
6. Taco Rico
By the time freshman year comes to a close, most students have had their fair share of Chipotle and start seeking something fresh. Enter Taco Rico. The Tex-Mex restaurant offers all the crunchy, cheesy, spicy flavors college kids crave just a few blocks from campus. It’s the best place for no-frills Mexican cuisine in the area, and local favorites like enchiladas suizas ($8.59) and the chimichanga platter ($7.99) are a refreshing change of pace from the same-old burrito bowl. If you’re stuck cramming at Richter Library, don’t worry — Taco Rico delivers orders over $10.
Swensen's also serves the Nica burger as sliders.
Photo courtesy Swensen's
In the age of complicated culinary concepts and unpronounceable menu items, it’s refreshing to dine at a simple all-American eatery like Swensen’s. Yes, it’s old-fashioned and maybe even a bit cliché, but this grill and ice-cream parlor is a comforting reminder of the simple times. Though Swensen’s is an international chain, the Gables location has been around since 1971 and is one of the oldest restaurants in the area. This summer, the eatery brought in a new executive chef — Alex Parra of A&G Burger joint — and rolled out a new, pleasantly surprising menu. Items like the Nica burger ($15) — topped with chimichurri sauce, fried cheese, sweet plantains, vinegar slaw, and jalapeño cream sauce — are redefining casual sit-down cuisine.
The brisket ($15) at Buns & Buns is served with a freshly baked brioche bun.
4. Buns & Buns
Bread is the name of the game at this self-described “gastro-fast” spot. For less than $15, you can savor warm sandwiches with a wide range of global influences, from tempura thai shrimp with spicy aioli on steamed buns ($13) to spicy chicken with harissa on ciabatta ($12). Even the salads and large plates are served with toast or a bun on the side; all are made fresh daily. Buns & Buns is ideal for a sit-down lunch that’s hearty and satisfying without sacrificing flavor or breaking the bank. It’s also a great group study spot or place to take family, with shareable sides such as corn fritters ($5) and spinach poofs ($5).
Whip N Dip is the go-to place for ice cream in Coral Gables.
Photo courtesy Whip N Dip
3. Whip N Dip
It’s time to forget the fro-yo frenzy and return to good ol’ ice cream. A student’s go-to choice for desserts since 1985, Whip N Dip makes all of its ice cream in-store. The essentials like vanilla, chocolate, and coffee are rich renditions with deep flavors, but the real fun is in the more playful stuff that appears on the menu from time to time. Day at the Fair (vanilla base with cotton candy bites and frosting-covered animal crackers) and Hazed & Confused (chocolate base with Nutella swirl and brownie bites) are just two of the crazy combinations you might find. Whip N Dip uses locally sourced ingredients and seasonal flavors, so the menu constantly changes, giving you the perfect excuse for more ice-cream runs. Plus, UM grads get a 10 percent discount with a valid alumni ID.
Shake Shack serves up a high-quality version of the classic burger meal.
Photo by Jacquelynn D. Powers
2. Shake Shack
Don’t underestimate Shake Shack. This chain is taking over the world one burger at a time, shaking up counter service with expectation-exceeding menu items like the killer cheese-stuffed shroom burger ($6.99). When dining-hall meals just aren’t cutting it, students can stroll across U.S. 1 and indulge at this fast-growing food empire. The burgers are anything but skimpy, but be sure to save room for cheese fries and dessert. The “U” malt ($4.50) is a signature Coral Gables item, with dense chocolate custard, fudge sauce, chocolate truffle cookie dough, and malt all blended into an ultra-thick concoction the Shack calls a “concrete.” That counts as brain food, right?
Bagel Emporium has all the classic breakfast dishes, including nova platters.
Photo by John Zur
1. Bagel Emporium
At this strip-mall deli directly across from campus, you’ll find a pretty even split of groggy, sweatpants-clad college kids nursing their hangovers and elderly ladies out to lunch. But even if you’re perfectly sober and under the age of 80, Bagel Emporium is a solid option for hefty breakfast platters at student-budget prices. For less than nine bucks, you can get two eggs any style with your choice of meat, a side, a bagel, and a cup of joe. The deli also offers sandwiches, salads, and lunch platters — and the tuna melt is a delicious way to take advantage of the homemade bagels. In an area that lacks a family-owned, homestyle diner that’s so often found near college campuses, Bagel Emporium is the casually comforting spot Coral Gables needs.