Mandolin Aegean Bistro emerged victorious as Best Greek Restaurant in this past years Best of Miami issue, and we're sticking with our decision. But that doesn't mean we never munch on moussaka elsewhere. What follows is the dope on opa -- five of our almost favorite Greek dining establishments.
5. The Greek Place
Think of this as a petite Greek diner, with wooden stools lining a bar and s short lineup of tables running along one wall. The menu includes tzatziki, stuffed grape leaves, grilled octopus salad, shish kebab, souvlaki, gyros, and horiatiki salad -- as well as hamburger, grilled chicken caesar salad, and grilled mahi mahi. Prices can't be beat -- everything, including NY strip steak, for under $20. The sliced lamb gyro is the signature item here; might be the best rendition in town.
4. Maria's Greek Restaurant
The recipes used at this 52-seater in Coral Gables come from Maria Sotiriou. Maria's family runs things now, and the restaurant has undergone other changes, including address, since debuting in 1973. But what we've always liked most, and still do, is the homespun nature of the ambiance and food. The place looks like the sort of nondescript yet intimate spot you might amble into while rambling the streets of Santorini, and the meals are similar to what you would find there. Go with char-broiled lamb chops or the lamb kebab, both specialties of the house. Pastitsio, moussaka, souvlaki and the like bring standard but consistent renditions -- which is what you go to Maria's for.
3. Anise Taverna
The quaint outdoor terrace by the Little River is a romantic spot to snack on saganaki, spanakopita, keftedes, grilled sausages, grilled sardines, grilled octopus, bacalao croquettes, imported white anchovies...and that's just the mezze to start. Classic Greek favorites like moussaka and lamb shank are on deck as entrees, but best bets are generally fresh Mediterranean seafood imports such as sea bream and sea bass. Owners Liza and "Gigi" Meoli opened this waterfront charmer in 2009; before that they operated Ouzo's Greek Taverna on Normandy Circle. Their sunny hospitality is still in tact. Baklava is one of the best, and Anise's chick pea fritters surprisingly copped our Best of Miami 2011 award for Best Falafel.
2. Egg & Dart
Part owner Costa Grillas is one of the members of the aforementioned family that owns Maria's Greek Restaurant, but this new Design District restaurant operates on a much more contemporary level. The dining room, for one, is a clean, white-and-taupe tapestry of lacquer tabletops and polished concrete floors. The cuisine leans more to the traditional end of things -- mezze include hummus, a garlic skordalia spread, tirokaftieri cheese spread, and bacalao croquettes. But lighter, more distinctive treats are likewise proffered, such as phyllo-wrapped feta with honey, and seafood dumplings in saffron broth. House specialty regarding entrees is imported Mediterranean fish assertively grilled and served with lemon and Greek olive oil. E&D is pricier than others on this list, but you're getting a more upscale experience.
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1. Pega Grill
Thanasios Barlos has been serving great Greek food to locals for a long time; first at Elia at Bal Harbour Shops, next at Ariston in Normandy Isles (our Best Greek Restaurant in 2009) and now at Pega Grill downtown. Like at the other spots, you can nab a platter of homemade gyros here (chicken, beef or lamb); a kebab platter with lemon potatoes; and daily specials like lamb shank imbued with cinnamon or beef casserole kokkinisto. The traditional horiatiki is so delicious we named it Best Salad in Best of Miami 2011. Outdoor tables amidst the downtown Miami action is one way to go; the clean, cool indoor room with free WiFi is the other. Either way, you'll be privy to fresh, authentic, carefully-crafted Greek food -- Hellenic gastronomic heaven.