First Bites

Miami Breeze Diner Adds a Bit of Americana to Biscayne Boulevard

The first time Zoila Castro sank her teeth into a cheeseburger, she was hooked. The year was 1991, and Castro and her family had just relocated from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to suburban Los Angeles. The burger was a double chili cheeser from Original Tommy's Hamburger, a West Coast chain that got its start in 1946 on the corner of Beverly and Rampart boulevards. "I don't know what it was — the cheese, the fat — I loved it," Castro says in Spanish translated by her daughter Candy Vita.

About five years later, the family relocated to Miami. For years, they ran downtown Miami's K.C. Café. The open-air walk-up joint (which is still open and run by her mother-in-law) was as eclectic as Miami itself. On any weekday, one table could be covered with cheeseburgers, lomo saltado, and rabo encendido. Last year, Castro decided it was time to sell it and move on. "It was always her dream to do a diner," Vita says. For years, they scrimped and saved, eyeing a large coral pink building on Biscayne Boulevard to house the project. In early March, they opened Miami Breeze Diner.
"We love eating meatloaf, and now my dad always asks the chef to make him lamb shank, pot roast, or beef roast," Vita says. 

Yet there's no meatloaf on the menu here, nor is there pot roast or a Thanksgiving platter most Jersey-style diners offer throughout the year. If you're from New Jersey (as I am), this could be a bitter pill to swallow, but I'm not angry. Most northerners demand their diners be overseen by a couple of gruff Greeks sporting healthy tans and glinting gold crosses. If you've ever spent time carousing the diners of northern New Jersey, you know one thing: They're not strict. They were one of the last places you were permitted to smoke indoors, and many are run by immigrants. That means each diner is a blend of its owners' native cuisine with a postcard of culinary Americana. 

That's what you get at Miami Breeze, and there's plenty more to be excited about: an extensive breakfast menu offering country fried steak and eggs ($14), biscuits and gravy ($7), and an omelet packed with grilled onions and Nova Scotia smoked salmon ($11). At lunchtime, find an extensive array of burgers and sandwiches. Think grilled cheese with sun-dried tomato aioli ($8) and a chili burger ($12) (in homage to Tommy's) slathered with the spicy stuff along with plenty of American cheese, chopped onions, and mustard.
There are ample Miami-centric options, such as skirt steak marinated in chimichurri ($17) and breakfast hash folded with lechón asado and sausage gravy ($9). Oh, and feel free to start a meal with chili cheese fries ($7) or plantain cups ($9) loaded with shrimp simmered in a tangy creole sauce. 

So perhaps Miami Breeze isn't a perfect Jersey diner. But it's a damn good example of what a Miami diner is. The only thing they need to do is serve their mashed potatoes with more butter and extend their hours to at least 3 a.m. That's when those chili cheese fries really come in handy.

Miami Breeze Diner is located at 3032 Biscayne Blvd. and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call 786-391-0697.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson