Seven Seas Restaurant & Fish Market: Little Haiti's Hidden Gem

Don't let its proximity to the Design District fool you -- Seven Seas Restaurant & Fish Market is all about the food. More specific, this blink-and-you'll-miss-it gem in Little Haiti features inexpensive and expertly prepared Dominican and American dishes.

Owner Nicholas Paulino and his wife, Ana, are originally from San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Republic but moved to New York more than 25 years ago to be near family. With no formal training (unless you count a culinary video course and his mother's teachings), Paulino landed a chef's job at Joe Allen on West 46th Street. He then transferred to its Miami Beach location, where he worked for 16 years until it shuttered in 2011.

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Paulino's desire to have a small place of his own led him to open Seven Seas more than two years ago. His brother is the sous-chef, and his wife is the waitress, hostess, cashier, and bartender. It's a family business, and Paulino says he likes it that way.

Located in the Sabal Palm Shopping Center, the eatery has a simple decor that includes a few tables, a counter with stools, and Caribbean wall art in bold hues. The Paulinos greet repeat customers like old friends and inquire about everyone's meal with genuine interest.

To start, order a seafood empanada. Perfectly flaky dough envelops tasty crabmeat -- all for only $3. Other appetizers include fried calamari, fish and shrimp ceviche, and seafood rice soup. There are also plenty of sandwiches to choose from, and they range from ham and cheese to salmon with tartar sauce.

If you like seafood, the pan-roasted tilapia is a must (though you can order it deep-fried too). It's served in a zesty white wine and caper sauce with your choice of two sides. The entrée's simple elegance is impressive and makes the $10.50 price a steal.

The shrimp paella pairs well with sides of sautéed spinach and fried plantains, both of which are delectable. Paulino clearly understands fish, and the crustaceans are plump and not at all rubbery. Equal attention is paid to the well-seasoned rice.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Seven Seas always offers specials depending upon what's fresh that day. Beer and wine are the only alcoholic beverages available, and dessert is limited to either cheesecake or Ana's homemade flan in caramel sauce.

What Seven Seas lacks in appearance, it more than makes up for with its honest and comforting cuisine.

Seven Seas Restaurant & Fish Market

5205 NE Second Ave. Miami; 305-981-3571; Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Seafood empanada $3

Pan-roasted tilapia $10.50

Shrimp paella $12

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Valeria Nekhim was born in the Ukraine and raised in Montreal. She has lived in Manhattan and Miami. Her favorite part of food writing is learning the stories of chefs and restaurateurs.