South Florida is known for its extravagant restaurants and cuisine: think Gekkō in Brickell, Sexy Fish in downtown Miami, Toscana Divino in Miami and many more. Scattered among the area’s fine-dining locales are the not-so-fancy hole-in-the walls, greasy spoons and dingy hideaways where ambiance may be lacking but the food is superb. These restaurants may not have Michelin ratings, but their satisfied customers don’t seem to mind. Tired of fast-food fare, campus cuisine and boxed-pizza deliveries? Here are a few lesser-known and affordable locations we discovered.
LoKal Restaurant & Bar
3190 Commodore Plaza, Coconut Grove, (305) 442-3377, kushhospitality.com/locations/lokal, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Sunday–Tuesday; 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Wednesday–Saturday,
For decades, University of Miami students have enjoyed nearby Coconut Grove as an off-campus playground of shops, restaurants, movies and parks, but it is possible that LoKal, located on Commodore Plaza, might get overlooked. Opened in 2011, LoKal is the first restaurant in Miami-Dade County to use 100 percent clean, renewable energy sourced from wind and solar power. The restaurant is committed to using ingredients available from locals in the area. The ambiance is fun and relaxed, with indoor and outdoor seating.
“The Classic” burger for $18 and all menu burgers are ground fresh daily in house by hand, and the award-winning LoKal Key Lime Pie for $11 also is made in house. The staff also suggests the “Frita By Kush” burger for $19, which includes guava jelly, potato stix, bacon, Swiss cheese and LoKal sauce; and the “Grilled Cheese on Sopa De Tomate” for $15, which comes with Swiss cheese, tomato, rye bread served with homemade hot tomato soup for dipping.
“I really enjoy this place because they make common items taste so much more upscale and different,” said UM sophomore and finance major Cade Dalton. “It’s a great lunch experience; I had the classic burger, and it was totally worth the price.”
5759 Bird Rd., Miami, (305) 663-1615, matsurimiami.com/home, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; 5:30–10 p.m. Tuesday–Friday; 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Monday closed.
Matsuri is an authentic Japanese restaurant serving popular iconic cuisine staples of sushi, sashimi and noodles. Many internet reviewers say it is the best sushi they have ever had. The restaurant, not far from the Coral Gables campus, has been in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. Matsuri is in the Red Bird Shopping Center, a strip mall of 30 stores that include Ace Hardware, Walgreens and an AT&T Store.
The restaurant seems constantly busy with both takeout orders and dining in. Affordable prices, good food and free parking may account for long customer lines. Customers say they often get a non-stop busy signal when trying to make a reservation.
Some of Matsuri’s most popular dishes include the Matsuri House Salad for $3, a blend of fresh garden vegetables with house dressing; the Nigiri Special for $22, nine pieces of assorted sushi and tuna roll; and the pork dumplings for $4, served deep fried or steamed.
“I love Matsuri so much; I think I go at least twice a week,” said Bria White, a junior entrepreneurship major.
8736 SW 72nd St., Miami, (305) 596-2585, jamaicakitchen.com/home, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Closed Sunday.
Jamaican Kitchen has been a staple in the Kendall area for nearly 46 years. Its unique Jamaican-Chinese and traditional Jamaican food is what some would say is the best Jamaican food they’ve ever had. The restaurant has been using the same family recipes for as long it has been in business. Jamaican Kitchen has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri.
Despite the show helping with its popularity, the restaurant, which opened in 1976, still sits in its small original location in a strip mall with LED signs in the front window giving the hole-in-wall feel. Inside there are only a few places to sit and a small counter in the middle where you place your orders.
“The jerk chicken [$12–$22], ox-tail [$22–$38], curry goat [$18–$33] and jerk pork fried rice [$13] are our hottest sellers, but all come with a Jamaican kick,” said co-owner Cheryl Chin.
El Taquito Mexican Restaurant
3410 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove, (305) 446-2303, eltaquitomexicanrestaurant.com, 12–10 p.m. Sunday and Monday; 12 p.m.–12 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 12 p.m.–2 a.m. Thursday–Saturday,
El Taquito is a family-owned Mexican restaurant located in the heart of Coconut Grove. The original of four stores in South Florida, the Grove location is about the size of an airport kiosk restaurant and only has one small table inside for customers who want to eat in. Even though it’s a small restaurant, the food is off the charts.
A popular item is the chicken fajitas for $9 with intense smoky flavors. Other favorites are tacos for $3.50, quesadillas starting at $9, fajitas starting at $9 and burritos starting at $9.
“It’s one of my favorite spots to eat in Miami,” said Kyle Snyder, a sophomore international business major. “Not many people know about it,” Snyder added. “I always introduce it to my friends, and they are all shocked at how good it is and wish they knew it existed sooner.”
Tacos El Carnal
6888 W. Flagler St., Miami, (786) 287-8950, tacoselcarnal2.com, 5 p.m.–2:30 a.m. Monday–Thursday; 5 p.m.–4:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 p.m.–3:30 a.m. Sunday,
Tacos El Carnal is a delicious Mexican restaurant in Miami’s Flagami neighborhood. The restaurant — which has been open for under two years — has late hours, a plus for students who need a bite following a late night of partying or cramming for exams. The casual atmosphere features Mexican décor with streamers, flags, photographs and Mexican music.
For an appetizer, you can enjoy the crispy chips and guacamole for $10 or queso fundido for $15, which is a blend of melted cheeses accompanied by chips and four flour tortillas. The manager recommends the pollo tacos for $10, which is the best seller on the menu. There are fish, steak and shrimp tacos starting at $10 as well. But don’t leave without trying the popular churros $4.
“The food has the perfect amount of flavors to make me want to always come back,” said Christina Materdomini, a bartender at the Fontainebleau and a Broward College student. “I travel from Fort Lauderdale to eat here because it is one of my favorite places.”
Asian Thai Kitchen
3135 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove, (305) 323-9294, asianthaikitchenmiami.com, 12–10 p.m. Monday–Friday; 12–10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Closed 3 p.m.–4 p.m. every day.
You wouldn’t usually think to go to a Kwik Stop to get proper Thai food, but that is exactly where you will find Asian Thai Kitchen, which produces some of the most delicious Thai food around. Asian Thai Kitchen has been located inside the corner Coconut Grove Kwik Stop for more than a decade. Nothing from this place will disappoint. The chicken pad Thai for $13 is a crowd favorite. You could also get it with shrimp, pork, beef or tofu.
Other top sellers are the special fried rice for $15, drunken noodles for $13 and the Panang curry for $13, which is made with coconut milk and fish sauce with carrots, bell peppers and roasted ground peanuts. Although the restaurant is located close to the UM, not many students order from here. However, the staff say some students order through the Grubhub App.
“I remember the first time when I walked into that Kwik Stop, and I thought it was typical, awful gas station food,” said Matt Meltzer, a South Florida contributor to Thrillist. “But this is actually better than any other Thai food I’ve had in Miami.”
words_angela cifone, nellie johnson & cj maz. design_micheal cervantes & lizzie kristal. photo_isabelle fitzpatrick.
This article was published in Distraction’s Summer 2023 print issue.