Cheap Eats

Cantina Lunches in South Florida: At $5 Per Day, It's Like a Meal Plan for Grownups

​Driving to work: around $10 in gas each day. Dry cleaning: at least $50 every few weeks. Getting restaurant-quality lunch for an entire workweek for just $25: PRICELESS.

Thanks to the "cantina" -- the Latin American solution to hungry working men and women across South Florida -- you may never have to lug leftovers or homemade lunch to work again in the name of saving a few dollars.

If it's one thing South Florida knows, it's Latin-inspired cuisine. Every city boasts a multitude of authentic restaurants where the staff speaks mostly Spanish, the fare is fresh, and the prices are dirt-cheap. Be it your basic Cuban deli, simple Peruvian eatery, or Colombian cafeteria, many of them carry on their homeland tradition of the cantina, a prepaid lunch program with a special menu for a set price.

When you buy a cantina (typically $20 to $30 for five to seven meals), you get the opportunity to make off with fresh, entrée-style lunches for around $5 a day.

"A lot of families and single people use the cantina," says Dina Rubio of the Cuban restaurant chain Don Ramon in West Palm Beach. "It's a good choice for people who don't want to -- or can't -- cook for themselves."

For $6 per day, Don Ramon's offers both a three- and five-day meal "plan" for people who want to eat out for lunch but don't want to spend much. (At Don Ramon's, you must participate in the cantina for a minimum of three days to receive the special pricing.)

"It's a lot cheaper than buying the ingredients you need to make lunch for the week, and it's easier -- no cooking or cleaning," adds Rubio. "And it's healthier for you than fast food."

No arguments there!

Here's how a typical cantina goes, Don Ramon style:

First, choose your sides. The Menu de Cantina at Don Ramon's offers three side selections per meal.
1. White, yellow, or moro "dirty" rice.
2. Black beans, salad, chicken soup, or caldo gallego (a Cuban-style "bean and sausage" soup).
3. Boiled yucca, French fries, plantains, or tostones (green plantain fritters).

Second, select your main course. The restaurant offers more than a dozen entrées made with chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Our favorites: The churrasco, beef fajitas with green and red pepper and onion; lechon asado, a platter of grilled, pulled pork with sautéed onions; and bistec de pollo, a breaded chicken breast with sautéed onions.

Ready to try a cantina? We've done the service of finding several restaurants across Broward and Palm Beach counties that offer cantinas. But that doesn't mean there aren't more out there. Next time you're at your favorite Mexican joint, ask them if they have a cantina. Chances are, they do -- and it sure beats the dollar menu at McDonald's.

Five days, $30 (three-day minimum)
7101 S. Dixie Highway
West Palm Beach 33405

Choice of 14 meals for five days, $29.99; seven days, $39.99
2845 N. Military Trail, Ste. C30
West Palm Beach 33417

Five and seven-day plans. Price available upon request.
701 N. Congress Ave.
Boynton Beach 33426

Four days, $20; five days, $25
948 NE 62nd St.
Fort Lauderdale 33334


Five days, $25
1518 S. State Road 7
Hollywood 33023

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna