Beyond Best of Miami 2011: Top Five Inexpensive Italian Restaurants

Last week, we told you what Italian spots are worth the splurge, but today’s roundup is the list we really love — outstanding cuisine at a more reasonable price. Our winner for the absolute Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant in New Times’ Best of Miami 2011 issue was downtowner Fratelli Milano. Here we name our other favorites that missed the mark by only a few noodles.

Affordable basic Italian comfort food seems like it should be one of our inalienable rights in the constitution of restaurant patrons. Yet Miami is not known for friendly food pricing in this arena. So we stipulate that these are inexpensive restaurants in relation to others, but by no means are any of them particularly cheap (especially when you factor in the wine, paramount to any good Italian meal). You’ll have to go to Rome in order to get handmade gnocchi and a drinkable house red for eight euros.

5. Joey’s does more than make great pizza. Chef Ivo Mazzon hails from the Veneto region, and he brings a simple translation of Italian dishes served Wynwood-café style. We love the rigatoni with radicchio in a “4-formaggi” sauce ($8/$12) and the baked pappardelle with bolognese and béchamel sauce ($15), a creamy, cheesy, wonderful lasagna. Blackboard specials change daily depending on what’s fresh and available. Favorites include prawns flambéed in brandy and served on soft polenta ($24) or veal scaloppine in a creamy mushroom sauce ($20).

4. Anacapri in Pinecrest was chosen Best Restaurant in South Miami-Dade this year, and it wins big here too by matching affordable prices and family-style portions perfect for sharing. You won’t find any caviar or experimental squid ragu on top of the pasta here. Instead, there’s all the names you know and love — cacciatore, parmigiana, Marsala, primavera. The pastas are incredibly well priced ($12.99 to $25.99, and that’s for a lobster tail topping); classic baked ziti and lasagna are cheesy and satisfying. Chicken and veal can be prepared saltimbocca or piccata style ($16.99 to $22.99), but save room for Anacapri’s classic tiramisu for dessert.

3. The winner of last year’s Best Inexpensive Italian Restaurant, Spiga continues to be a solid destination for tasty, nonastronomical fare in South Beach. Traditional offerings are served simply. The gnocchi with just tomato and fresh basil ($17) is always fulfilling, as is the spaghetti carbonara ($17), one of the rare nearly authentic renditions in Miami. Veal saltimboca ($24) and bistecca ($26) are reliable dishes that arrive just as tasty as the time before, making Spiga a longstanding survivor in the restaurant turnover game. You should know that the place is relatively famous for its ricotta cheesecake ($8) — silky and worth every calorie.

2. The limited seats are always full at La Locanda, where the spaghetti is cheap ($7.95) and the ravioli special is handmade every day ($16.95) at this little Washington Avenue spot. The “grilled rack of veal” ($27.95) is immersed in a “velvet porcini sauce” that’s indeed smooth and lush, and it’s reasonably priced compared to other restaurants offering a hunk of veal in the $40 range. What’s great is the wide range of costs and that you get what you pay for — chicken piccata is appropriately set at $15.95, while linguine alla puttanesca comes in at $12.95. A nice break from the SoBe expense insanity.

1. Sardinia in SoBe’s Sunset Harbour area has it all — ambiance (you’ll feel like you’re eating in someone’s wine cellar), affordability, and really good, authentic food. The lights are low — all the better to encourage sipping a bottle from the collection of Italian regional wines — while that steady pace of antipasti, zuppe, insalate, paste, pesce, and carne recalls a meal you had in Chianti. The pastas can be delivered in primi or secondi portion sizes and are all delicious, from the orecchiette with boar sausage and rapini pesto ($12/$18) to the Malloreddos, a type of Sardinian “teardrop pasta,” served with baby lamb ragu ($13/$19). The bistecca ($40) is one tasty traditional rib eye, but the braised rabbit with wild mushrooms and creamy polenta ($30) wows every time.

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