Martini 28: Three-Course Lunch for $9.99

In the summer of '09, the husband/wife team of chef Martin and pastry chef Charo Villacorta fulfilled a lifelong dream by opening Martini 28. For their location, they chose what is called "the Village," a quaint outdoor minimall of restaurants across the street from the Miami Tower in downtown Miami.

The number 28 was chosen because on the day the couple first met, Martin had that number on the shirt he was wearing. The two were married on the 28th, and their daughter was born the 28th. So much for numerology -- the main point this post is trying to make is that the cool little restaurant offers full, hearty, home-cooked meals at lunchtime for just $9.99.

This includes choice of soup or salad. The day we visited, this translated to a bowl of lobster bisque or caesar salad. Both were straightforwardly prepared: The bisque possessed a strong lobster flavor (although it could use more of a lift with brandy or perhaps a finish of crème fraîche); the caesar lettuce was crisp and lightly coated with dressing. Good start.

There are generally nine entrées to choose from. We sampled the grilled pork chop -- two skinny bone-in steaks with assertive Peruvian spicing (the owners are from that country) and a sauce that tasted as though spiked with teriyaki. "Yeah, I put a little touch of it in," Martin said. "It depends how I feel. I changed the pork chop today, a different style, so people don't get bored eating the same thing." In fact, he changes the whole menu every day. Atop the chops were sautéed tomatoes and red onions; below, a mound of fluffy mashed potatoes; alongside, a thatch of mixed sautéed vegetables.

​Blackened tilapia proved worthy as well -- moist fish coated with Cajun spicing and a sprinkling of cilantro. Spaghetti on the side was tossed with huancaína sauce, although a weak version of it. Still, it's a nice plate of food for the money.

Other main courses include lemon chicken; crunchy grouper with butterflied shrimp; mahi-mahi and shrimp with orange sauce; sesame tuna with pineapple chutney; and chicken filled with a Florentine mix of spinach and cheese. It's a fusion menu with a strong Peruvian influence.

Filet mignon with lobster legs is available too, although for that one you have to pay an extra $2.

Amazingly, the dessert included in the meal is often homemade -- as we mentioned, Charo is a pastry chef. Sadly, the treat we tried was one of those she did not prepare -- it was the only option offered -- but it was a creamy cake laced with chocolate and caramel, with chocolate crust, and it was delicious. Seems we just missed out on Charo's vanilla cake with strawberries. Martin says her best dessert is flan de queso.

There are about seven tables outdoors, and six inside (about 12 to 14 indoor seats). You might, considering the price, picture this as some sort of dive, but it is anything but. With plush white banquet seating, the petite charmer is posher-looking than many restaurants that charge a whole lot more. You might also want to come here after work on Friday for the two-for-one beer and wine happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. Try the Peruvian Cusquena beer -- it's supposed to be an aphrodisiac.

Bottom line: This three-course meal, for just $9.99, has to rank as among the very best lunch deals in town. Martini 28 is open Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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