Best Diner 2009 | Jimmy's Eastside Diner | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo by Aran S. Graham

A diner doesn't have to serve sausage gravy poured over a hot, open-faced biscuit with scrambled eggs and a side of buttered rye toast. It doesn't have to provide bottomless cups of coffee, warmed up with a smile by waitresses who remember your name and always seem to know exactly when you're ready to order, need more ketchup, or would like that frittata wrapped, please. It doesn't have to look like the old Hawthorne Grill, the diner, tragically torn down in 1999, that Quentin Tarantino used as a set in Pulp Fiction. It doesn't have to have a counter nearly as long as the building itself and lined with swiveling stools that are always occupied by neighborhood regulars who don't need a menu and don't even need to verbalize their order because everyone, including the person on either side, already knows it. It doesn't have to hang a sign that reads, "Only a Greek can make Greek salad." It doesn't have to line up all the cereals in those plastic containers made famous by Jason Siegel's character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall on a shelf above the coffeemaker. It doesn't have to be devoid of all pretense, focused solely on serving well-made food at affordable prices to a local clientele. It doesn't have to be open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. It doesn't have to be conveniently located on Biscayne Boulevard in the middle of the Upper Eastside's MiMo District, and you don't have to go there. There's a Denny's right down the street.

Warning: If your idea of a perfect farmers' market includes patchouli-scented homemade candles and organic hypoallergenic honey, Laurenzo's is probably not the place for you. Laurenzo's is not hip, it's not outdoors, and it has all the new-age, hipsy-dipsy ambiance of Big Lots. But if you're looking for the freshest fruits and vegetables at straight-from-the-farm prices — which is what farmers' markets should be all about — you can't miss out on Laurenzo's. Tucked into an unassuming building just west of U.S. 1 in North Miami Beach, the place is lined with shelves that overflow with bright Honeybell oranges, pears, and fresh Florida grapefruit. Caribbean delicacies such as Costa Rican mangos, Dominican boniatos, and Jamaican yellow yams are as fresh as the heaps of fresh cilantro, basil, mint, and dill. The avocados are soft, green, and as big as a peewee football. And if that's not enough enticement, you don't even have to wait for weekends to roll around. Laurenzo's brings the fresh produce seven days a week.

Photo by Ana Adams

Sung to the tune of "What a Wonderful World":

I see grilled langoustines, veal Milanese,

Twenty-five years in the Gables, no empty tables,

And I slip a bill to the host,

"Can you get us in please?"

I see fried Scarmoza cheese, mozzarella Caprese,

Owner Nino Pernetti, knows great spaghetti,

And I think to myself,

I could use more Parmesan cheese.

The room is seeped in richness, the service so divine

The sea bass comes with truffles, the duck breast in red wine.

I see pasta e fagioli, very old-school,

Expensive as well, but hey, what the hell,

And I think to myself,

What a wonderful world.

Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant


Simon Hare

The little man felt very bad,

One meatball was all he had.

And in his dreams, he hears that call:

"You gets no bread with one meatball."

Owing to this damn recession, it's appropriate to drag out Depression-era ditties like the one popularized by Josh White in 1944. And it has also reached the point when one meatball for $15 just doesn't cut it anymore. Joey's, a quaint 70-seat Wynwood café, solves this Italian-food-in-tough-times dilemma. For one thing, it doesn't serve meatballs. But it does dish Venetian chef Ivo Mazzon's freshly made pastas — such as spaghetti pomodoro, which reminds us of the pure, simple aromatic appeal of perfectly cooked semolina with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and a hint of garlic and olive oil. And try putting this in your red sauce: A hefty half-order can be relished for $5, and a larger portion is $7. Add a small house salad splashed with fresh orange juice-olive oil dressing for $3. Or splurge and try a grilled sirloin steak with softly braised spinach, fennel, and Swiss chard ($16). A great bottle of wine from a boutique Italian vintner for less than $40? Not a problem, nor is a glass of it for under $10. Honest food, fantastic value, an outdoor patio wrapped in foliage, and convenient hours — open for lunch and dinner till 10 p.m. weekdays and 11:30 p.m. weekends. Depression? Joey's is the perfect place to fuhgeddaboutit.

Racks Italian Market & Bistro has taken the stage at North Dade's Intracoastal Mall and is rocking with an incredibly ambitious agenda of providing Italian food in almost every conceivable format. Open seven days for all three meal periods (until 2 a.m. every night but Sunday), the 4,000-square-foot location includes a 204-seat restaurant serving coal oven pizzas, salads, cheeses, pastas, antipasti, and small plates of regional fare for under $20. There's also a Venetian-style bar boasting a wide array of Italian wines from boutique vintners, a 20-seat communal table, outdoor trattoria patio, and waterfront terrace. An espresso bar serves Segafredo coffee. Gary Rack, of Boca Raton's Coal Mine Pizza, is the impresario. Executive chef Matthew Danaher, formerly of Vic & Angelo's, conducts.

Aran S Graham

It's tough to take artery-clogging fare like pizza and turn it into an eco-friendly, health-conscious option, but North Miami's outpost of Pizza Fusion does so with a casual confidence that belies its high-concept pies. Luckily, those pies are damn tasty, whether it's the whole-wheat organic crust with soy cheese and hormone-free chicken or the gluten-free crust with feta and organic eggplant. This gourmet pizza satisfies on all the right levels — salty, carby, and belly-filling. Pizzas prices range from $7 to $23. Wash it all down with a gluten-free beer and you have a guilt-free feast.

Michael Vasilas approaches a group of four patrons sitting at a table on the outdoor wood deck of his University Restaurant & Patio. The handsome Greek-American holds a heavy metal plate in one hand and a small torch in the other. He squeezes a lemon wedge over the white kasseri cheese square on the plate. Then he sprinkles a little pepper on it. He fires up the torch and flambées the queso, which forms a goldish, crinkly exterior. Vasilas places the plate on the table and everyone digs into the saganaki, one of several deliciously sinful Greek dishes served at this little spot near Jackson Memorial Hospital. In addition to the $7.50 saganaki, you can indulge yourself with $9.95 charbroiled octopus, $6 homemade hummus, and $5.95 melitzanosalata — a fresh-roasted eggplant blended with garlic, olive oil, and potatoes. Vasilas, along with his brother and business partner Steve, took over the restaurant two years ago after moving to the Magic City from the Windy City. In addition to the quaint wood deck, the brothers put in a fully stocked oakwood bar inside the main dining room, where doctors and nurses finishing their rounds can enjoy happy hour. "We wanted to create a place where the neighborhood could feel at home," Steve explains, "and where the people who work around here can get something fresh to eat." University Restaurant & Patio is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

This quirky, wallet-friendly spot in a Biscayne strip mall touts itself as the home of Latin soul food, and indeed there's plenty of soul in the epic menu of small-plate delights. Order a pitcher of sangria and start off with fried garbanzo beans with chorizo, a Spanish omelet, and crisp patatas bravas. The vegetarian-friendly options include a respectable paella and innovative plates such as tostones "Caprese" with mozzarella and green plantains. The atmosphere is laid-back and artsy, as is the crowd, so settle in for a leisurely dinner (open till 10:30 most nights, 11:30 Fridays and Saturdays).

Locavores rejoiced when news that Marc and Blue Solomon opened an organic tapas bar around the corner from Sardinia. And for good reason — the quirkily named Barbu is the latest incarnation from the husband-and-wife team behind the beloved but shuttered organic A in the Design District. Pull up a stool at this new spot on the corner of West Avenue and 20th Street, and feast on small plates of French-Caribbean fare such as roasted pear with honey and Roquefort ($8), broiled escargots with cilantro ($9), and chili and chicken Creole with key lime and papaya purée ($15). Most or almost all of the ingredients are locally sourced or organic, making for a belly-filling guilt-free night of gourmet eats. Feel free to bring along your own beer or wine — the corkage fee is just $5.

First, close your eyes. Now say it aloud: "arepa." Next, take the images of the nacho-yellow cheese-oozing grease pancakes you bought at the street festival last week and banish them from your brain. Then head over to Caballo Viejo for your arepa re-education. It's a tiny storefront eatery in a nondescript West Miami-Dade strip mall. Look for the faded sign with the Venezuelan colors. Watch some telenovelas, pick up the latest copy of El Nacional, and behold the real deal — a steaming roll of slightly sweet cornbread, grilled to a crunchy husk on the outside and stuffed with barely melted, savory queso blanco, just like they make it in Caracas. Education is delicious, yes?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®