Gourmet Grunge

The Souper Incredible at The Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin in North Miami Beach. Clockwise on plate: Caribbean Garden Salad, steamed cabbage with carrots and bell peppers, seasoned rice with vegetables and spinach, herb tofu, and veggie fish. In the background is the spinach patty and garden soup. Photo: Charlotte Southern.

Not everyone is wild about spending $22 for lunch (even if it has three courses). And $35 is a full tank of gas, so dinner at Bond Street Lounge is out, too. What’s a Miami Spice reject to do? Meet our gourmet grunge dining guide – you’ll be amazed at what you can find around town for $20 or less.

Twenty dollars goes a long way at French Bakery, a tiny, Parisian-style hideaway in a North Miami plaza. The smoked ham and leek quiche ($5) is a puffy, buttery cloud. Scoop chunky, creamy, earthy chicken liver pate ($4.50) into a warm white baguette ($1.50) or choose from flavored demi- like walnut raisin ($4.50). Specials include the slow roasted toothsome lamb shoulder served with a vegetable stew stocked with zucchini, turnips and carrots ($14). Penny-friendly dessert options range from a slice of banana-chocolate-chip coffee cake ($1.50) to petit fours doubling as chocolate coconut shots ($1.50). Tea-and-cake lovers can order delicious hot sage tea and the small rain forest, an addictive light, chocolate cake drenched in high quality kirsch and lathered with a fresh, sugar-infused whipped cream ($14). French Bakery: 12591 Biscayne Blvd, North Miami; 305-899-7064; Hours: 8am-7pm Monday-Saturday

Recycled restaurant Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin features recycled bamboo stalks, burlap, black cherry bar stools, vegetable crates and flower vases made from empty, raw agave nectar bottles. While clients watch a rotation of food-conscious documentaries, they feast on The Souper Incredible, a three-course meal including a smooth, red pea soup jeweled with naked thyme sprigs and whole-wheat flour patties filled with corn, carrots and ackee  ($9.99). Though it changes, the huge main course includes spinach rice, sautéed cabbage and a tasty, Trinidadian curry-style seitan fish steak. Drinks include homemade pineapple and passion fruit juices ($4.99) and refreshing cucumber, ginger and passion fruit juices ($3.99). Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin, 73 NE 167th St, North Miami Beach; 305-405-6346; Hours: 7:30am-9pm Monday-Thursday, 7:30am-3 pm Friday, 7:30am-5pm Sunday

From Area 31’s 16th-floor balcony, Biscayne Boulevard blisters with traffic during happy hour (5-7 p.m.). You don’t care, lost in the sour sop, watermelon and licorice flavors in the 2007 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc ($5 a glass). With foie gras-colored wicker chairs, poolside view, wooden menus and members-only vibe, this seems like the last place you’d find a bargain. Cocktails, wines and beers are $5, and the $6 Bar Bites menu includes buttery Serrano ham slices wrapped around salty manchego and a fritto misto featuring elegantly fried mahi mahi, calamari and shrimp brightened by fried lime and caper. Localovores will appreciate executive chef John Critchley’s commitment to sustainable seafood. Area 31 Happy Hour at the Epic Hotel: 270 Biscayne Blvd, 16th floor, Miami; 305-424-5234; Hours: 5-7pm Monday-Friday

With its syrah-colored walls, white tablecloths and streetside café charm, Specchio is Surfside’s little trattoria with warm regulars and engaging waitstaff. Lunch specials ($13.95) are usually two courses that come with a simple tomato-and-mixed-green salad and bread. Options can range from caper-smothered chicken to penne pasta with prosciutto and sweet green peas in a light cream sauce. If you miss the specials, a pasta standout is the Farfalle al Salmone ($15.95), a pasta dish made with a light, tomato cream sauce and sweet peas. The grilled calamari is smoky and tender ($12.95). Warning – the wine and bread occasionally taste stale, but portions are huge, and when they get it right, they get it right. Specchio Italian Café: 9485 Harding Ave, Surfside; 305-865-5653; Hours: 11am-3pm, 5-11pm Tuesday-Saturday, 5-11pm Sunday

Bangkok City Moon O Sushi’s weathered carpets, bustling aromas and chatter take me to a scene in No Reservations … Thailand. For lunch, deep fried, crispy duck pieces arrive in a bath of ginger, garlic and chili sauce, green and red pepper chunks and drunken basil leaves (ask for super spicy to balance the sweetness). And the $10.95 portion is huge. Dessert includes small, deceivingly light Thai doughnuts served with condensed milk ($4).  The restaurant has a warm, lived-in vibe highlighted by colorful, Asian charm. Bangkok City Moon O Sushi: 7378 Bird Rd., Miami; 305-261-4171; Hours: lunch 11:30am-2:45pm Monday-Saturday, dinner 5-9:45pm Monday-Thursday; 5-10:45pm Friday-Saturday; 5-10pm Sunday


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