If you feel funny about plunking down big bucks for oxtail and plantains gussied up in the guise of Nuevo Latino, here are a couple of viejo Latino spots to consider:
285 NW 27th Ave., Miami; 305-649-0440; $15 to $25 per person, excluding tip and alcohol
This tiny space is packed with hungry patrons who know what Cuban food is all about. It might take three people to finish the bistec uruguayo, a breaded palomilla steak filled with Swiss cheese and ham. All the daily specials are wonderful and are gone quickly. Suggestions: half chicken with mojo, pigs' feet la andaluza, oxtail stew, and fried whole snapper. If there's room, try the deceitfully delicate tocino del cielo, a flan made with egg yolks and cinnamon syrup — sublime.
1643 SW First St., Miami; 305-649-0203; up to $15 per person, excluding tip and alcohol
It's a hopping, bopping, colorful Nicaraguan joint in a funky neighborhood. Yambo offers one of those "out-of-country" experiences that alone is worth a visit. Outdoors are tables and scads of Nicaraguan knickknacks. There's so much going on visually that you hardly notice the phone booth, CD jukebox, kiddie horse ride, and gumball dispensers (this isn't so much a restaurant as a very tiny village). Then there's the food counter flanked by juice stands that also sell sodas, wines, beers, and espressos. There are roughly 30 típico Nicaragüense snacks and main courses, including tacos de pollo, crackly fried corn tortillas rolled around savory ground chicken; fried knishlike potato balls brimming with chayote and cheese (pescazones); well-seasoned wedges of grilled pork (puerco asado); beefsteak stewed in light tomato sauce with sautéed onions; and fried whole snapper. All cost less than $5 and come with shredded cabbage as well as various couplings of rice, red beans, plantains, yuca, and so forth.
San Pocho Restaurant
901 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-854-5954Up to $15 per person, excluding tip and alcohol
In true Florida fashion, this Colombian restaurant is nestled in a strip mall. Locals stop here for familiar tastes of home cooking at unusually inexpensive prices. There are only 14 tables, so lunch gets busy. Start with an extra-crisp Colombian empanada garnished with spicy aji and lime (75 cents). For hearty appetites, order the bandeja paísa; it's the unofficial national dish. Sample the staples, served in three huge plates: grilled (or ground) steak, white rice, red kidney beans, sweet fried plantains, chicharrones (Spanish for pork rinds), and a cornmeal patty for $8.95. The palomilla steak, mondongo or tripe soup, and daily specials ($6.95) are equally substantial. Order Postobon Kola, a popular cream soda, to wash it all down. Aside from doting Colombian servers, much of San Pocho's charm comes from colorful indigenous art and regional souvenirs on the walls.