Best Middleterranean Restaurant 2015 | Cleo | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Best Middleterranean Restaurant


In case you're unsure, "Middleterranean" is a relatively new term used to describe the dining trend of combining foods from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. Think Mediterranean staples such as vegetables, olive oil, and fish but with the addition of exotic spices and flavors. In Miami, Danny Elmaleh's fun and affordable Cleo flawlessly executes this type of cuisine. The mezzes (small plates) are intended for sharing, but when the merguez ($7) comes out, you may want to steal the spicy beef and lamb sausage from your friends. His labneh ($8), a yogurt-based dip with feta, tastes like velvet. It's perfect with a warm piece of za'atar-seasoned laffa bread. Chef Elmaleh is half-Japanese and half-Moroccan, and the Israeli-born toque's enthusiasm for his heritage shows in his dishes. The Moroccan-inspired decor with touches of Hollywood glamor is the ideal backdrop for another crowd favorite: chicken cooked in a ceramic pot known as a tagine ($16). Kudos for taking a chance on Miami, Cleo.

If you order the pho ($10.95) at Miss Saigon, they deliver it properly, with the toppings on the side, the beef medium-rare, and the broth piping-hot. If you want to play beat-the-clock, ask for the beef raw on the side so you can race to heat the meat before that anise-and-cinnamon-flavored broth gets too cool. You cook the beef shabu-shabu style with chopsticks, turning the meat from red to brown with each twirl. It transforms into that magical synergy stuff known as pho. You continue to create your bowl of heaven by adding bits from the topping plate: jalapeño slices for heat, lemon wedges to squeeze for acidity, basil to tear for something herbal, and bean sprouts for crunch. Need to turn up the heat? There's sriracha for that. Another dish that can't be missed is the Miss Saigon rice noodles ($12.95). It's mixed tableside — a delicious combo of cool rice noodles with cut-up spring rolls, lettuce, carrots, shrimp, and chicken. If you get it to go, you can play chef for the evening by adding the contents of the multiple containers. Not only is the food at Miss Saigon delectable, but you also get to accessorize it to your palate's preferences.

Aran S Graham

At Miami Juice in Sunny Isles Beach, you can get whatever you want — that is, provided it's on this side of healthful. Eating well is the name of the game at this casual eatery and minimarket. The menu is extra-large, featuring myriad anything-but-bland compositions. A popular item is the baked butternut squash. It comes stuffed with your choice of tuna or chicken salad ($14.95) or veggies and melted cheese ($12.95). The chicken here is organic, and for $2 extra, you can even get a kosher bird. Try the organic red kidney beans with Rosemary grilled chicken ($15.95). Crisp falafel is the perfect add-on to MJ's special salad loaded with veggies and feta cheese ($12.95). Freshly made fruit and vegetable juices are always excellent, and the servers are pros at working a crowded room. Since 1992, Miami Juice has been proving that healthful food can taste great and even be comforting. To that, we raise our kale juice.

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What do you get when Blue Collar chef/owner Daniel Serfer and lawyer/blogger Ryan Roman open an oyster bar and seafood eatery together? A glimmering pearl adjacent to a cemetery. In this borderline-sketchy area in Edgewater, servers wear T-shirts with bow ties printed on them, deviled eggs are topped with Maine lobster, and clams swim in bacon broth. You can go the fancy route and order Kaluga caviar ($110), or you can eat sea-creature popcorn (think oysters, clam, conch, and shrimp) fried to golden perfection as if it were finger food ($14). It's this juxtaposition of swank and blasé that makes Mignonette dazzle. And though bivalves are the undisputed stars of the show (check the vintage marquee for the day's rotating East and West Coast attractions), everything on the seafood-heavy menu plays a part in this real-life rendition of "Under the Sea." Get your hands dirty with the peel-and-eat wild Florida shrimp ($13) or the buttery and impeccably succulent lobster roll ($22). And don't forget your veggies! Think wilted rainbow chard with preserved lemon or roasted cauliflower and smoked trout roe mayo — y'know, just in case you didn't get enough fish with your fish.

Zachary Fagenson

Many restaurants try to tell a story through food. Liberty City's Esther's spins the tale of Miami. Opened as a catering kitchen for newly arrived Cuban immigrants in the '60s, it survived the race riots of the '80s to become the neighborhood's soul-food favorite. Guiding impressive growth was Pablo Suarez Jr., whose father bought the place in 1965. Come here for a $3.97 breakfast of grits, eggs, and a biscuit. Later in the day, swing by for a $5.47 catfish fillet with okra, rice, and peas. Really, though, the options seem limitless. Turkey wings ($5.59) with mac 'n' cheese and candied yams are one possibility. A half-rack of baby-back ribs ($9.99) or two hefty slices of meatloaf ($5.49) can be served with anything from stewed okra and tomatoes to sweet cornbread muffins to pigeon peas and rice. Rest assured the steam-table selection is always hot and vast. And don't be surprised when the customer standing next to you fishes out some change if you're a few cents short.

Readers' choice: Ms. Cheezious

Courtesy of Purple PR

The bar starts the seduction with lubrication from libations. Ready to get more intimate? Enter the Matador Room, where mood lighting emanates from a vintage chandelier suspended over a sunken circular dining room with plush seating. A wave of ambiance crashes over the cape of temptation. If you need some fresh air, head to the terrace for pool and ocean views, candlelight, and hanging plants laced into the pergola overhead. When your appetite has been thoroughly whetted, delve into the menu. World-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has melded his signature style with the flair of Latin cuisine. The menu has titillating touches such as sweet pea guacamole ($10); then it gets down and dirty with arroz con pollo ($18), studded with sizzling, crackling skin and lemon zest. This is not your abuela's chicken and rice; the fanciful flavors and textures dance in your mouth. The roasted red snapper, playful with a tamarind glaze, bites back. For dessert, get your churro sticky with an assertive dunk in orange cajeta, a thick dulce de leche-like syrup with a squeeze of orange to enliven it. After this intimate dining experience, you're ready to take the bull by the horns or give the ferocious beast your sword.


Nothing is more romantic than a candle-lit dinner overlooking Biscayne Bay. The warm ambiance and sleek decor of Crazy About You set the tone for an intimate night out. But the real romance factor of this Brickell hot spot is the food. Entrées such as the I'm Crazy About You margherita pizza and I Can't Believe It's Not Pasta chicken carbonara made with zucchini ($17.99 to $32.99) include an appetizer of your choice. Try the serrano ham croquette — the same melt-in-your-mouth fritter served at the nearby restaurant Dolores, but You Can Call Me Lolita. When it comes to vino, the lounge offers house selections starting at $5 per glass and $15 per bottle. After you've satisfied your appetite and fulfilled your wine cravings, end the night on a sweet note with A Message in a Bottle ($6), an interactive dessert experience. You can design your own brownie and, well, leave a message in a bottle. This handwritten note will be entered in a raffle for a free dinner for two. Who knows? Maybe you'll be coming back for more.

Just a block from the bright lights and bustling traffic of South Beach's Collins Avenue hides a secret little villa. If you're looking for it from the street, it's best to search with your nose and ears, not your eyes. An eight-foot-tall wall of greenery shields Casa Tua from view, but you can hear the gentle tinkle of glassware and the soft laughter of couples enjoying a wonderful meal before you even get a glimpse. Once inside, you're transported to the Amalfi Coast, perhaps Positano or maybe Sorrento. Step to the right and you'll find a seaside-chic dining room, where wicker chairs with cushions invite you to sit for a relaxing dinner. The open kitchen offers a chef's table that seats 20, perfect for watching your pasta being made from scratch as you enjoy a second bottle of wine. But the showstopper is the garden patio. Mature trees sway with myriad lanterns, each glowing with the soft radiance of a daydream. The effect is mesmerizing, festive, unfussy, and magical.

The 305 is known for its crystal-blue waters and miles of white sandy beach. Yet there's an alarming shortage of restaurants where you can breathe in the salt air and feel the balmy trade winds on your sun-kissed skin. Enter Fresh American Bistro at Sole on the Ocean. The restaurant is on the second floor of the property, up a glass staircase that makes you feel like it was made for Cinderella's perfect feet. The dining room is reminiscent of a tony Newport beach house — perhaps someplace where a Kennedy vacationed. But you'll want to sit on the wrap-around terrace. That's where you'll get the full effect of the ocean. In the daytime, sun rays bounce off the Atlantic, turning the waves into a cluster of sparkling sapphires. At dinnertime, moonlight dances on the ocean. Chef Philippe Ruiz, the former executive chef at the Biltmore's Palme d'Or, makes food inspired by this view. It's the perfect place to enjoy a seared Florida hog snapper while watching the surf, knowing that your meal came from below the surface just that morning. That's what Miami Beach is all about.

We wouldn't blame you for choosing to forgo alfresco dining during Miami's sweltering summer months. There's nothing worse than eating a hot plate of food while perspiring half your water weight. But during the moderate winter season, it should be illegal to dine with a duct blasting cold air in your face. Instead, take advantage of the bright sun and cool temperatures at Mandolin Aegean Bistro, whose dining area is mostly outside. Grab a table on a Saturday afternoon and order the Turkish sampler (hummus, tomato-walnut dip, and fava bean purée, $16); tell the waiter to keep the pitchers of white-wine sangria ($36) coming. If you're hungrier than usual, opt for a sandwich such as the grilled halloumi cheese ($14) or the Greek gyro ($14), and just sit and take in the view. Mandolin is an oasis along busy NE Second Avenue. Once you enter the space, it feels like you're dining in someone's backyard along the Mediterranean coast. The rustic decor combines unfinished materials and lots of greenery. Although dining, even for lunch, can be a bit pricey ($20 to $30 per person), it's still cheaper — and more convenient — than booking a trip to Greece. Plus, remember that great Miami weather.

Readers' choice: Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish Market

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®