A NW Passage into Old World Dining

Charcuterie at El Pimiento.
Charcuterie at El Pimiento.

The northwest suburbs of Miami-Dade offer any number of Latin American restaurants, but cuisines from the other side of the Atlantic are a bit harder to find. Here are three restaurants that offer diners international experiences– on a budget of $50 or less.

  • As its name promises, 14-table Spanish El Pimiento restaurant provides a bit of spice in the heart of Miami Lakes. You’ll find traditional dishes and some twists. Caldo gallego, thick white bean stew, is an antidote for anything that ails you and El Pimiento’s version, though light on potatoes, doesn’t disappoint. On the tapas menu, solomillo al whisky delights with thin slices of pork tenderloin wrapped around a chunk of sweet plantain and sautéed in garlic butter with a splash of whiskey. Red snapper in creamy saffron sauce with shaved almonds is moist and well-prepared but chicken breast in a Canary Islands picona sauce is the star. The thinnest of seasoned batters provides a satisfying crunch and the perfect counterpoint to the creamy, pepper-laced sauce. Between its wine-centric décor (cork-covered menus, glass-covered tabletops resting on wine corks) and extensive wine menu, it’s clear El Pimiento is all about tapas y tintos.
  • Another hidden Miami Lakes gem, the Italian white-tablecloth Trattoria Pampered Chef sits in the far corner of the Cypress Village shopping center. A basket of warm rolls with herb butter arrive with the menus, and the courses follow like clockwork. A seafood antipasto … plump mussels, calamari rings and three shrimp perched on a mound of marinated peppers, onions, carrots, cucumbers and a bed of lettuce … is big enough to share, with plenty left to take home. Chicken piccata is a perfect marriage of tangy lemon sauce with piquant capers, but the grouper was a tad too salty. Both dishes are served with sides of sautéed vegetables and rigatoni.
  • Our budget stretched the farthest at Doral’s Rice House of Kabob, a casual, faimly-style Persian grill with locations in Kendall and South Beach. Pick up your drinks (beer and wine are available) and appetizers from a case near the cashier, place your order, take a beeper and wait. Main courses are made-to-order, and you might want to fortify with appetizers or lavash bread and hummus – entrees took nearly 40 minutes to come off the grill. Six stuffed grape leaves with three hefty olives are a bargain starter at $3.95. Platters of grilled tilapia and joojeh (braised marinated chicken) arrived atop a mountain of Greek salad with sides of saffron-infused basmati rice and a yogurt sauce.