Despite the number of Northeastern transplants in Miami, the choice in Miami diners is slim. They are places to get a pizza burger, super crispy French fries hidden under a mound of greasy industrial cheese, or a solid plate of hash browns and over-easy eggs. A few are sprinkled across town, though in many ways they play second fiddle to the cafeterias, fritangas, and endless ventanitas that are nestled into nearly every strip mall.
In some cases, ethnic places are Miami's version of the greasy spoon with similarly comforting, cheap, and hearty food based on a slightly different basket of ingredients. Nevertheless, it is those places where waitresses with wide smiles slam plates of glistening patty melts onto the table. Here are the best.
This Key Biscayne standby comes courtesy of Acela and Benjamin Zambrano, two Cuban immigrants who met while working in New York and moved to Miami in 1971 to open this nearly hidden, breakfast-anytime spot. Today it's run by son Nelson and his immediate family, who turn out stainless steel diner classics like corned beef hash ($6), patty melts ($7) and BLTs with scrambled eggs and cheese on rye bread ($6.75).
Nestled inside the funky Lost Weekend bar on Española Way, The Alibi is the place to get chicken tenders ($8.25), fried mozzarella ($8.25) and tater tots ($5.50) while drunk at 4 a.m. Opened in 2009 by owner Bill Sisca and chef John Ross, it's become the savior of the hard partying crowd. The cheese steak is certified (wit Whiz), thanks to Philly native Sisca while the shrimp po' boy ($10.08) and pulled pork sandwich, with vinegar in place of the usual cloying barbecue sauce, on a fluffy brioche ($10.08) will call you back night after night.
This unassuming spot in ritzy Pinecrest does double duty. By day it's a reliable barbecue joint with classics like ribs and brisket, but it also has the area's best no-frills, cup-o-joe breakfast with banana nut pancakes ($7.45) and crab cake benedict ($10.25) from morning until night. Pair eggs with country fried steak, skirt steak or a New York strip. Pop a couple of Tums, take a nap and get ready to return that afternoon for some 'cue.
This Old Florida meets soul food spot in Miami Springs is famous for its bacon jam. The sweet, smoky, salty stuff comes as an appetizer with some crispy bread for smearing ($6.95), spread onto the jamburger ($7.95) or a crispy as hell fried chicken breast on a fluffy cornmeal Kaiser roll. Did we mention the fried okra, the fried catfish, or the fried black-eyed peas? Because they've got that too.
This barn-looking breakfast spot is easy to miss flying toward the Dolphin Expressway and La Saguesera. But if you slow down a minute and look carefully in between the exotic pet stores (nothing to see here), you'll find a rare offering for Miami breakfast: Georgia Sausage and Kentucky, what some might call country, Ham. Georgia sausage is a red, smoked variety with the smooth saltiness of a hot dog and just the slightest bit of spices reminiscent of chorizo. Kentucky ham, of course, has secured its place as the prosciutto of America and slices of this blue collar, salt preserved pork are now a staple on southern, and southern-leaning menus.
Can one of Miami's most beloved Cuban cafeterias be considered a diner? The pan con bistec and the fried-to-order croquetas say no, but the desayuno especial ($4.99 before 11 a.m.) says yes. The two eggs, choice of breakfast meat, coffee, toast and orange juice are just as worthy of a following as a similar offering in any American-style diner. Plus if a BLT ($5.75) or a chicken soup ($3.50/$6) doesn't convince you can always fall back on the croquet-stuffed Cuban sandwich ($7.50).
This bright red barn festooned with tchotchkes has been cranking out American classics for nearly a half century. Here you'll also find eggs atop smoked kielbasa ($8.99), creamed chipped beef ($7.99) and pancakes layered with bacon or sausage patties topped by a lone egg ($6.99). Grab a seat at one of the vinyl barstools bolted to the floor and try and get one of the waitresses talking. Many have been there for more than a decade, and they've seen all kinds of characters saunter in and out of this North Miami institution.
If frita a caballo, a delicious, spice-and-grease sodden Frita Cubana topped with a fried egg and fresh fried potato strings aren't enough to convince you Ortelio Cardenas's Flagami spot is on par with the most comforting of American style diners, stop in one Saturday morning. The white clad cook, who closely guards his recipes, fries up an angry vat of chicharrones for the lucky few each week. Such a treat could match up against a sizzling griddle of bacon and sausage and take the cake any day.
This is the place to be every morning of the week on the increasingly hopping MiMo section of Biscayne Boulevard. As the area slowly changes, Jimmy's stays the same, right down to the paper placemats celebrating Greece, the progenitor of many beloved tri-state area diners. There are few better places to sip on a bottomless cup of coffee, eavesdrop on cops taking breakfast. On weekends, snicker at the unkempt hipsters trying to chase away a hangover.
Ever since it appeared in the movie Last Night at S&S Diner, this distinctly Back To The Future-looking spot that straddles downtown, Wynwood and Edgewater has been exalted territory. If you're feeling nostalgic the time to visit is now. The area is slated to be shaded by high rises in the coming years, and that could mean thousands of new friends gunning for your 2-2-2-2 (eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes, potatoes and coffee for $8.99) every day of the week.
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