Back in the day, a South Floridian could get some seafood and a beer while enjoying a water view without breaking the bank. It made sense, given that we're surrounded by water, from the ocean to the bay to the Glades.
But those good old days -- which ended in 2004 or so -- have almost entirely disappeared. Waterside restaurants and bars are so often the stomping grounds of wealthy patrons who don't mind paying $6 for a Red Stripe, or tourists too sunburned to know better. But don't move to North Carolina just yet: Miami still has a few tricks up her sleeve. Here, some fine seaside shacks and shanties where the sound of lapping waves won't double your tab.
Alabama Jack's: This waterside shack proudly welcomes bikers and caters to locals and adventurous travelers who take the Card Sound Road route from the mainland to the Keys. Basic fried seafood dishes comprise the bulk of the menu, and the view -- estuarine waters hemmed in by mangroves and populated by wading birds, fish, and the occasional Osprey -- goes perfectly with a plate of conch fritters and a bottle of Sunset Ale.
1500 Card Sound Road, Key Largo; 305-248-8741.
Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish Market: A few blocks from downtown Miami, Garcia's offers a citified take on waterside dining. The casual eatery perches on the edge of the Miami River, and diners enjoying stone crabs or a mahi sandwich can watch barges, yachts and cargo ships chug by. Lucky visitors may even spot concentric ripples and a surfacing snout -- a surefire sign of manatees.
398 NW North River Drive; 305-375-0765.
Shuckers Bar & Grill: Yeah, it's in a Best Western. So what? This North Bay Village chain motel is a fitting place for a ramshackle dive like Shuckers. Cheap pitchers of beer, endless drink specials, greasy fried seafood and Van Halen on the stereo system make this one of the best low-key, low-rent seaside joints in South Florida. The large, open deck here rules for nighttime or sunset lounging, but if you visit during the rainy season, you might want to ask for a table under the awning.
1819 79th St. Cswy; 305-866-1570.
Bayside Hut: Sunburned live-aboards and other crafty locals saunter to Bayside Hut for cheap eats just off the Rickenbacker Causeway. While it can't beat Shuckers' million-dollar view -- diners have to glance across the parking lot to see the water -- the Hut's breezy nonchalance reflects a sensibility that's more Key Largo than Key Biscayne. Outside diners should bring bug spray. For a cheap treat, try the Mahi wrap.
3501 Rickenbacker Cswy.; 305-361-0808.
The Commons: Hours -- and even days -- of operation vary at this slouchy bar and student cantina at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key, but the uncertainty is more than made up for by the unobstructed view of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and the student-friendly drink prices. Budding and actual marine biologists who work and study at Rosenstiel comprise most of the crowd (you will know them by their beards and Birkenstocks), but the occasional outsider can wander in for a pint and a gander at the rolling waves. Show up early, generally before 7p.m., to guarantee that you'll get in through the school gates. Because of the changing hours, it's a good idea to call before showing up.
3600 Rickenbacker Cswy.; 305-361-6010.
Scotty's Landing: A good number of Scotty's Landing patrons arrive by boat, a testament to the Old Florida roots of this Coconut Grove cathedral of beer and fried seafood. A large, open dining area bounded by picnic tables looks out into Biscayne Bay, and customers slurp raw oysters and nibble soda crackers while watching the circling gulls. The Landing is behind Grove Key Marina, and may be hard to find, so call for directions if you're a first-timer.
3381 Pan American Dr.; 305-854-2626.
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Watch the freighters slide through the Miami River at Garcia's.