As much fun as it was to eat and drink my way from Key West to Jacksonville for one of my first professional writing jobs — Frommer’s — it was tough to compile the budget guides, especially for a city like Miami Beach. Here are a few favorite finds — places where you can eat and drink your way through the day for less than the cost of a couple of designer cocktails, along with a value-priced dinner option that’s a little more. They’re all reachable on foot within minutes of the sand.
Down-home: A few blocks north of the Art Deco District, you can’t beat the morning repast at Nermar Market. For just $3.95 (occasionally marked down to $1.99), you can get two eggs any style, strips of crisp bacon or a slab of fried ham, potatoes or buttery pressed toast and a café con leche at this modest bodega. An optional squeezed-when-you-order orange juice is under $3.
Nermar Market, 2830 Collins Ave; 305-531-0157
Upscale: Enjoy million-dollar views and pocket-change breakfasts from 8 to 11 a.m. weekdays at Balans, the dependable British import on Lincoln Road. You get $2 off your meal, which means nutty granola with cranberries and orange honey yogurt or two eggs, crispy hash browns and sourdough toast for under $4. Add a coffee and a nice tip, and you’re still talking about prime people-watching seats for less than the price of a movie ticket. (The $2-off deal also applies to lunch and dinner ordered between 4 and 7 p.m. weekdays, holiday excluded.)
Balans, 1022 Lincoln Rd; 305-534-9191
Fun Fusion: Italians cringe when you say it but swoon when they taste the Italian tacos at The 4th P, tucked in a tortilla-size store front on Washington Avenue. Bolognese owner Manuel Iaccomeli invented the little critters and sells them like hotcakes. Staffers from elegant Escopazzo have been known to grab a dozen after a long shift. At a dollar apiece, you can’t go wrong. Stuffed with fresh arugula, lettuce, tomato and cheese plus prosciutto, beef or chicken, these soft, warm corn shells make for a tasty and filling midday meal.
The 4th P, 1251 Washington Ave; 305-535-4727
Burger Bargain: I’m not so sure about its claim to being world famous, but the much-loved Cheeseburger Baby on Washington Avenue is worth a visit — especially from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, when the $7 lunch special gets you a juicy half-pound burger loaded with fresh lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and cheese (I like Cheddar) plus thick-cut fries and a soda. The joint’s studied seediness is part of the experience.
Cheeseburger Baby, 1505 Washington Ave; 305-531-7300
So(Be) Cool: At much-touted Blissberry on Alton Road, the cute, tank-topped server will happily swirl free samples of the tangy-tart frozen yogurt. If that’s not enough, $2.50 will get you a 4-ounce cup of original Blissberry or chocolate. For 95 cents more, top it with fresh-cut fruit like mango or strawberry. If you don’t mind undoing whatever good these fat-free, fructose-sweetened treats have done your body, make it a scoop of Cap’n Crunch or chocolate cookies instead. (The earthy green tea and other signature flavors are a dollar more.)
Blissberry, 1650 Alton Rd; 786-623-5660, blissberryyogurtbar.com
Say Cheese: If you prefer a savory snack, you can get some lovely little free nibbles next door at Epicure Market — especially on demo days (Friday and Saturday), when the sampling lady might be passing out gourmet cheese, dips, salsas or crackers. At other times, grab a number from the deli counter and wait your turn for a taste of classic chopped chicken liver, unbeatable tuna salad or roasted vegetables.
In need of a real nosh? Pull out your wallet and mine the fridge case across from the meat counter for a frill-free, $4.50 deli sandwich. No pickles, lettuce or tomato, but you can’t beat the rare roast beef or maple-smoked turkey on a roll. Dress it up with mayo, mustard, salt and pepper from the café.
Epicure Market, 1656 Alton Rd; 305-672-1861
Draft Pick: The Chinese food is clean and tasty (if a little salty and saucy), and the deal is unbeatable for beer drinkers: So long as each diner spends at least $12.95 on food, Sum Yum Gai offers all-you-can-drink Miller Lite. (OK, not exactly a great beer, but free is free.) Try the garlicky tulip-angel special cooked in oil. The special is advertised for Sunday, Monday and Thursday, but owner Kin Li says he’ll honor it any night if you ask.
Sum Yum Gai, 1403 Washington Ave; 305-604-8889
Fancier Food: Early or late, the venerable Osteria del Teatro puts on a good show, and its twilight/after-theater special is one of the best fine-dining deals on South Beach. Between 6 and 7 p.m. or after 10 p.m., $20 buys you a soup or salad, entree pasta and glass of house wine. Choices include agnolotti with pesto, spaghetti puttanesca, linguine with fresh clams and a peppery fettucine carbonara. The lively scene is free.
Osteria del Teatro, 1443 Washington Ave; 305-538-7850, osteriadelteatromiami.com