Cheap Eats

Meraki Serves Affordable and Authentic Greek Fare in Downtown Miami

A taste of Greece in downtown Miami at Meraki.
A taste of Greece in downtown Miami at Meraki. Monica Alvarez Photography
"Meraki" is a term Greeks use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, and love. It entails putting a little of yourself into whatever you do, and that's precisely what owner Alex Karavias did with Meraki Greek Bistro (142 SE First Ave., Miami; 786-773-1535), which debuted several months ago. It's always been his dream to open an authentic Greek restaurant, so he and his wife renovated an intimate space in an alley hidden in downtown Miami.

"We want people to come here on any random day and be able to find exactly what they would in Greece," says Karavias, who was born in Greece. The restaurant's executive chef, Giannis Kotsos, is also a Greek native and helmed the kitchen at the now-defunct Kouzina in midtown. Prior to coming to Miami, the toque owned and operated eateries in his homeland for more than 20 years. His dishes are rooted in traditional Hellenic cuisine, and the accompanying wine list is also predominantly Greek.

Karavias believes Greek culture and cuisine are all about inclusivity, which is why main courses at Meraki don't exceed $17. The atmosphere is casual, with the requisite white-and-Aegean-blue decor and a charming taverna-style patio in an alleyway lined with other intimate eateries. A bonus is that Meraki offers three hours of parking at the adjacent Miami Tower for only $1.

New Times recently sampled a few dishes.
click to enlarge Cheese saganaki - MONICA ALVAREZ PHOTOGRAPHY
Cheese saganaki
Monica Alvarez Photography
Cheese sakanaki ($7.99) is a staple of Greek cuisine, and it's no wonder it's one of the most popular items at Meraki. The flambéed Gruyere cheese is truly mouthwatering.
click to enlarge Greek "nachos" - MONICA ALVAREZ PHOTOGRAPHY
Greek "nachos"
Monica Alvarez Photography
While pregnant, Karavias' wife was craving nachos and ventured to make her own version with ingredients from the couple's fridge. The Greek "nachos" ($4.99) consist of crisp pita triangles topped with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, kalamata olives, dill, and a creamy yogurt-feta sauce that's utterly delicious. Meraki's iteration of the famous appetizer is considerably lighter and healthier. It's kind of like a Greek salad, but the pita and feta sauce make this starter even more exciting.
click to enlarge Souvlaki platter - MONICA ALVAREZ PHOTOGRAPHY
Souvlaki platter
Monica Alvarez Photography
The souvlaki platter ($34.99) is something to behold. The main can easily feed four or five hungry people and features three types of meat on skewers: lamb, chicken, and pork. Some of the chicken is wrapped with bacon for an extra kick. There's also plenty of grilled and fresh vegetables, house-made Greek fries seasoned with salt and oregano, pita, and two dipping sauces. One is a classic tzatziki and the second is a richer, mayonnaise- based sauce. This sizable dish is the restaurant's signature, and it's sure to please any meat lover.

Meraki Greek Bistro is open daily for lunch and dinner.
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Valeria Nekhim was born in the Ukraine and raised in Montreal. She has lived in Manhattan and Miami. Her favorite part of food writing is learning the stories of chefs and restaurateurs.