Miami is no stranger to Mediterranean food. From crowd-pleasing Greek restaurants to serviceable falafel joints and Middle Eastern markets, there is always a way to get your za’atar fix.
What we’re now seeing are ambitious chefs and restaurateurs nimbly adapting the ancient cuisines of the Middle East and the Mediterranean to cater to our city’s increasingly global palate.
Call it Middleterranean, if you will: Greek, Turkish, Persian, Lebanese, Israeli, Egyptian, Moroccan and everything in between. What makes it all exciting is that Miami diners can finally experience the splendor of these culinary heritages in upscale settings that are as regal as a sultan’s bachelor pad (if you’re lucky, the cocktails are great, too), or continue to seek out some of the best of the best at no-frills, folksy, affordable spots.
Here’s a closer look at five Middleterranean restaurants around Miami, plus a list of five others with similar cuisine that are worth checking out.
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▪ 1545 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. 305-604-5700; byblosmiami.com.
The freshest of the bunch, this dazzling newcomer peddles Middleterranean cooking via Toronto, where its polished sibling restaurants have already garnered a loyal following and critical nods.
For the Miami Beach outpost, the group’s first in the United States, Lebanon-born owner Charles Khabouth said he was excited about the fact they could install a wood-burning oven.
“It was a tremendous expense, but now we can make authentic pide bread. And you really need the right char and the right crust, which only this type of oven can provide,” he said.
At Byblos, Turkish pide bread gets topped with maitake mushrooms, spinach and dukkah seasoning, with black truffles and haloumi cheese for an indulgent Levantine mash-up.
Executive chef Stuart Cameron is Australian, but his kitchen is cranking out dishes of housemade Greek labneh, Persian barbari flatbread dusted with za’atar, and crispy eggplant with tahini aioli. The cocktails also play with Middle Eastern flavors: Drinks like the Gulab feature rose-infused vodka and pomegranate syrup, and the Arak Frappe is made with the anise-flavored liquor, orange-blossom water and honey.
Example dish: Sweet jeweled rice, a traditional Persian wedding dish fragrant with saffron and festooned with pistachios, marcona almonds, shredded carrots, pomegranates and barberries. The kitchen makes each pot to order, and it easily feeds four as a side dish.
▪ 749 NE 79th St., Miami. 786-391-0300; minasmiami.com.
Yasmine “Mina” Kobt opened this neighborhood spot just east of Biscayne Boulevard in August 2013, bringing her Egyptian heritage and world travels with her.
Aiming to deliver more than straight-up Greek food, Mina’s menu takes detours into North Africa (lamb merguez sausage), Egypt (vegan koshary rice and pasta), Israel (cucumber salad), Morocco (vegetable tagine), even France, Italy and Spain.
Shakshuka, a traditional Israeli breakfast dish of eggs simmered in a warmly spiced tomato sauce, is a highlight of Mina’s weekend brunch. As for drinks, you have the option of Mediterranean imports like Pils Hellas Greek lager, local craft brews, wines, cocktails or — a favorite during the summer — organic adult “slushes.”
Example dish: Baked kibby, a small, Middle Eastern-style meatloaf consisting of ground beef, pine nuts, onion and cracked wheat.
▪ 1776 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. 305-534-2536; theredbury.com/southbeach.
This contemporary Mediterranean haunt with stylish decor and clever cocktails has been a South Beach hit since it replaced Lorenzo’s on the ground floor of The Redbury boutique hotel late last year.
Moroccan-born executive chef Danny Elmaleh created a pan-Arab journey with focus on the food of North Africa, comprising a dizzying amount of small plates. And while his menu covers plenty of bases, it never strays far from its roots in dishes like carrots with harissa, lamb shawarma on mini-laffa buns, and duck bastilla.
The emphasis here is on shared plates at reasonable prices, and on fun — tons of it. Dishes come out fast, cocktail glasses are easily drained, and at some point in the evening, servers quiet everyone down so they can toss plates and cheer, “Opa!”
Example dish: Spicy Moroccan “cigars.” Finger food of the Maghreb, these are composed of spiced ground beef rolled up in phyllo sheets and fried. Cleo serves them in a bowl of thick labneh, which tempers the meat’s cumin-allspice-and-cayenne heat.
Mandolin at Soho Beach House
▪ 4385 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. 786-507-7900; sohobeachhouse.com.
Mandolin Aegean Bistro, a favorite for the past five years on Northeast Second Avenue in Miami, has expanded to the Soho Beach House. Locals are calling it “Mandolin Beach,” and according to owner Anastasia Koutsioukis, it’s a homecoming of sorts.
“This is how we always dreamed Mandolin would be,” said Koutsioukis, who runs the restaurants with her husband, Ahmet Erkaya. “Something by the seaside and rustic. When Soho House approached us to do this, it was the right fit and the right time.”
Located in the former Tiki Bar space at the members-only club and hotel (you have to be invited by a guest or member to access Mandolin), the al fresco 60-seater conjures the coastal fish shacks of Mykonos. Vintage wood tables, antique metal fans, blue “evil eye” medallions and a color palette of blond wood, blues and whites give the place a meticulously scuffed feel.
Like the original Mandolin, the food at its beach spot is a comely pairing of Greek and Turkish dishes, with grilled seafood taking center stage. Tender octopus, tiger prawns and Mediterranean sea bass are all grilled in the outdoor kitchen and served up with a pretty watermelon and heirloom tomato salad garnished with feta, hand-cut shoestring fries with garlic yogurt and roasted vegetables. For dessert, there’s thick Greek yogurt and fresh berries, and large chunks of chilled melon served with rosewater syrup.
Koutsioukis and Erkaya compare their comfort food to humble home cooking, but their contemporary interpretation of the genre and their design touch propel the Mandolin experience somewhere beyond ordinary.
“This spot is very typical for us,” Koutsioukis said. “But unique for Miami.”
Example dish: Whole roasted Mediterranean sea bass, a quintessential Greek taverna dish brightened by olive oil and lemon. Pair it with one of the bar’s ouzo cocktails and you might just forget you’re in Miami.
▪ 1628 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. 786-717-7174; facebook.com/9beachmiami.
While the feeling here is more post-millennial rock temple on steroids than Tel Aviv beach bistro, this new, cavernous spot hails straight from the holy land, where founder Itay Sacish has eight sister properties along with a London outpost called Gilgamesh.
Executive chef Tal Aboav hails from the original 9beach in Tel Aviv. Prior to this, Chef Tal was also part of the team at Balaboosta in New York. There’s a huge outdoor lounge and plenty of circular banquettes for all-day carousing.
Expect DJ-fueled parties to commence soon (how South Beach). The menu is more modern Mediterranean than traditional, but several standouts include the black grouper with black lentils and pistachios and a whole branzino stuffed with shrimp and black mussels.
Example dish: Braised beef tortellini with scallops, corn, chestnuts, spinach purée and a sunny-side-up quail egg. A lot going on, but the various textures work together, and the richness of the egg and beef pair well with the sweet roasted corn.
More Miami Mediterranean
Eat Greek: 2917 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, and 1570 Alton Rd., Miami Beach; 786-536-9334 and 305-534-0042.
Estiatorio Milos: 730 First St., Miami Beach; 305-604-6800.
BarMeli: 725 NE 79th St., Miami; 305-754-5558.
Maroosh: 223 Valencia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-476-9800.
Etzel Itzik (Itzik’s Deli): 18757 W. Dixie Hwy., Ojus; 305-937-1546.
Laffa Mediterranean Kitchen: (opening August 2015), 1250 S. Miami Ave, Brickell, 305-960-7825
Fooq’s: 1035 N. Miami Ave., 786-536-2749