Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant

Spartico

Spartico

The smell of garlic, tomatoes, and smoldering cheese accosts the senses inside Spartico at the Mayfair Hotel, located in Coconut Grove. Chef/restaurateur Jonathan Eismann consulted on the original launch, and chef Philippe Boutinet manages the kitchen, where "Roman pizza" is made in an "Ambrogi wood-burning oven from Milan" (do they not manufacture ovens in Rome?). In addition to turning out crisp, classic pies, the restaurant has a homestyle Italian menu of items ranging from overflowing antipasto platters ($15.95) to fritto misto ($10.95). Parmesan choices are organic chicken breast or eggplant — each doused in seasoned breading and then baked with a simple marinara sauce, fresh local mozzarella, and Grana Parmigiano cheese. You can get a modest plate of spaghetti pomodoro ($10.95) or an almost healthful "SoBe Vegetarian" pizza topped with roasted roma tomatoes, mozzarella, veggies, mixed olives, and mache lettuce ($13.95). Do not make the critical mistake of skipping the house garlic bread ($5.95), which might seem redundant before pizza and pasta. But trust us — it's perfect when pulled from that wood-burning oven. Bonus: Happy hour is 4 to 7 p.m. all week. For calming Italian cravings without breaking the bank, Spartico is a trattoria safe house.

Xixón Spanish Restaurant
Photo by Michael McElroy

There's nothing quite like a strapping young Spanish man with a chiseled body cooking delectable Spanish cuisine, moving about the kitchen like he designed it himself, wearing an apron — and nothing else. Ah, what we'd give to spend a week in Barcelona doing field research on this sort of thing. You know, for journalism. Well, you will find something close at Xixón. The people are good-looking, the place is cozy, and la comida is as good as it gets. Whether you're into almejas en salsa verde (steamed clams in green sauce, $11), empanadas de atún (tuna, $3.75), or Andaluz gazpacho ($5), Xixón brings northern Spanish fare right to our back yard. The market on the first floor of this two-story space offers all the wine, jamón serrano, and Manchego (and fine Spanish olive oils, spices, etc.) of your dreams. Go ahead and pick up a pound and a half of everything. The kids need sandwich fixings for the week anyway. And you need a bottle of delectably leggy Spanish wine. This place is big yet always packed, even during the week. Take it from us: Xixón is the real deal. We might even make T-shirts that say, "RealXixon." The fútbol fans would like that.

Area Code 55 Brazilian Steakhouse

If you are unfamiliar with the Brazilian restaurant style known as rodizio, you haven't lived the greatest joy of a carnivore. And if you haven't visited Area Code 55, you should hurry over there. Pay $19.99 for lunch or $29.99 for dinner and you will be treated to an all-you can-eat meal served by men circling the room with beautiful cuts of meat on skewers. There are chicken legs wrapped in bacon, top sirloin (picanha), top sirloin with garlic, flank steak, baby top sirloin, pork ribs, pork loin, pork sausage, and even roasted pineapple. It's all perfectly cooked — with crisp exteriors and juicy interiors. But that is not our favorite part. The all-you-can-eat salad bar includes soup, a half-dozen salads, all kinds of cold cuts, fresh bread, and many other delectables. This spread alone — without the beautiful meat — costs only $12.99 for lunch and $18.99 for dinner. Lunch prices apply Monday through Saturday before 4 p.m., so we encourage you to arrive early. You won't regret it. In fact, you'll leave saying, "Obrigado!"

Chef Creole

Wilkinson "Ken" Sejour's "seasoned kitchen" has grown into a mini-empire, with five restaurants across Miami's Haitian belt, from Little Haiti to North Miami to Miami Gardens. But it's not like most chains. Each Chef Creole outpost has a distinctive character. While most include some form of outdoor seating, the 54th Street flagship offers it in the greatest abundance — all under a tiki hut with a view of Little Haiti's busiest corner. It's also where you can stock up on bottles of made-to-order cremas — molasses-thick, eggnog-sweet Haitian rum cream — made by Sejour himself. But no matter which location you visit, you'll get the best griot (fried pork chunks) north of Port-de-Paix and some of the freshest fried seafood anywhere in the county. Sejour, whose parents are from Haiti, was born in the Bahamas and raised in Miami. His background is reflected on the menu in the form of perfectly crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside conch fritters and flavorful fried conch. And no Chef Creole meal is complete without some of Sejour's pikliz. The spicy pickled vegetable salad, made with vinegar, sour orange juice, and Scotch bonnet peppers, is so good you'll want to take home some extra — which you can, in a 16-ounce jar, for $5.

Makoto

Iron Chef Makoto

Trained with Morimoto

Award from James Beard-oto

Clean stream of tradition flows

Edomae sushi fresh like ocean:

Hotate, aoyagi, shime saba,

Kobe, cooks tableside on

hot river stone

Udon ramen

Black edamame

Kurobuta belly, Kurosawa rib eye

Branzino, wasabi, chimichurri

Chimichurri?

Tuna air bread, caesar foam

Frosted fried rice, foie gras

Main plates $14 to $24

Wagyu/Kobe steaks $20 to $90

Makoto Okuwa

Far from Nagoya, Japan

Bal Harbour oasis

Close to our heart.

Japanese Market Sushi Deli

For a low-key sushi experience at rock-bottom pricing, the sushi bar at the Japanese Market can't be beat. It's a tiny Asian place nicknamed "Sushi Deli," as indicated by the neon sign displayed inside an otherwise nondescript storefront, located in a random strip mall on the 79th Street Causeway. Chef Michio Kushi's hands work quickly to mold rice, which he tops with an array of fresh fish from a countertop selection that is somehow of higher quality than many local high-end Japanese restaurants. Salmon, yellowtail, fluke, and eel ($1.50 each) are thinly sliced, as he prefers them; edges of the tuna sashimi are almost translucent. A piece of tako sashimi ($1.50) is faultless, and we are picky about our octopus (can't be too thick or it gets chewy). Ask for uni ($2.50) and hope there's some left. On occasion, it runs out early because the Japanese Market is the cheapest place in town to go crazy for urchin (it's easy to rack up quite a tab at most other places). We suggest a few nuggets of sweet shrimp, whose heads are removed and deep-fried. The raw tail flesh becomes pristine sushi, and the tentacles and eyes get nice and crunchy. Sushi Deli makes a few kinds of spicy tuna — the "Marie" roll ($4.75) boasts a roasted garlic topping, while "Captain Tuna" is the "rich and spicy" version ($5.95). The "regular combo" is a steal: six pieces of assorted nigiri and a California or tuna roll for $8.95. Head to the rear of the market, select a bottle of sake to go with your meal, and simply ask for it to be added to your tab. You have to eat early, though. Last call for sushi is 6:45 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, and 5:45 Sundays. The sushi bar is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Dynasty Buffet

It's lunchtime. You want to fill yourself with gobs of food without paying too much. And you don't want the same old thing. Chinese food is a nice alternative to the usual drive-thru fare, but you always seem to get hungry an hour after eating it. So what better way to go Asian than a Chinese buffet? And Dynasty has just what you're looking for: a great choice of steaming-hot Chinese goodness. You can feast on staples such as delectable sweet 'n' sour chicken and hardy pepper steak. General Tso's chicken has a nifty kick, and there are sushi rolls, crab legs, and pan-fried dumplings. And if you're looking for the best endless kung pao chicken in town, well, you've found it. Dynasty is clean and well lit, so you can sit contentedly in the comfy modern dining area as you happily stuff your face and then get up for more. There are also sweets such as ice cream and fresh fruit. The lunch special, which includes a drink, costs only $7.55 and runs Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The dinner special is available from 4:30 to 10 p.m. and costs $10.55. Weekend prices vary.

Confucio Express Chinese Gourmet Cuisine

Operating out of a remodeled gas station on the corner of Coral Way, Confucio Express serves "Chinese gourmet cuisine" created by a bunch of Colombians. Almost a half-century ago, owner José Choi's Chinese immigrant parents landed in Barranquilla, opened a fancy food spot called Jardines de Confucio, and taught their kid how to run a restaurant. He mastered the wok, the deep fryer, and the flat-top grill while shuttling back and forth between the States and Colombia. But for the past seven years, Choi has been a full-time South Florida guy, managing a local outpost of his parents' restaurant in Fontainebleau (10658 NW Seventh St., Miami 33172; 305-228-9272) while also working with the entire Confucio Express crew — including co-owner Carlos Visbal and a superfast kitchen staff — to bang out big batches of Latin-influenced Chinese take-out for Brickell's hungry masses. The ideal order starts with a massive serving of Choi's signature dish, Confucio special fried rice ($13.50), loaded with succulent chunks of sliced barbecued pork, two fistfuls of plump shrimp, and big, juicy cubes of seared ham. Then add some scorching Szechuan soup ($4), six honey-garlic chicken wings ($9.50), crunchy crab rangoon ($7), and a whole pound of spicy Mongolian chicken ($11.80). Of course, you'll have to invite ten friends over to help you finish it all off. These are family recipes — the helpings are huge. Do not eat alone.

Hong Kong House

Sometimes you don't want to cook, but you crave something hearty, surprising, and flavorful. And you have only $8.25 in your pocket. God bless the no-frills Chinese take-out joint. Hong Kong House boasts a superfriendly and quick staff, and has a quiet cult following in North Miami that troops there for the roast-pork fried rice, which features plump squares of meat and is delightfully free of grease. Or they — who are we fooling? — we stuff our faces with the beautifully addictive "krab" rangoon, fried goodness full of fake crab, cream cheese, and scallion-like spices. Dammit, there we go again, making ourselves hungry. If you'll excuse us, we're going to see how much money we have buried in our couch.

City+Hall%27s+pancake+accouterments
%3Ca+href%3D%22http%3A//billwisserphoto.com/%22%3Ebillwisserphoto.com%3C/a%3E
City+Hall%27s+pancake+accouterments

When it comes to flapjacks, you can't beat City Hall. The three-stack of steaming-hot plain pancakes ($11) is lusciously infused with sugar, vanilla, and enough butter to make a crêpe jealous. Real maple syrup is served. Other varieties of hotcakes include chocolate chip ($12.50), blueberry ($13), and banana pecan ($13). A great plate of pancakes deserves an equally worthy cup of coffee. And this bi-level American brasserie delivers a strong brew of Lavazza. As we say, you can't beat City Hall, but you can beat it over there and enjoy the breakfast.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®