Neighborhood Joints

Souvlaki Wars: Eat Greek, Mandolin, and Kouzina Face Off

Miami isn't overflowing with Greek restaurants, but their presence is certainly on the rise. Just three months ago, Montreal-born Dimotakis Vasilios opened his second Eat Greek eatery in Edgewater, the first is on Alton Road in South Beach. His casual and affordable spot is now neighbors with two-year-old Kouzina in Midtown and four-year-old Mandolin Aegean Bistro in the Design District. All three are less than a five-minute drive apart and are open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner. Sure, they differ in various ways, but there's definitely some overlap.

Thus I've decided to compare apples to apples, the apples in this case being the beloved and ubiquitous Greek staple: chicken souvlaki. C'mon, who doesn't love small pieces of grilled poultry on a skewer? I was curious as to whether Mandolin's $23 kebab platter was superior to the one at Eat Greek for $14.99 or at Kouzina where it costs $16. So I put them to the test. Here's what was discovered:

Eat Greek
This restaurant immediately gets points for friendly service and a wonderfully kitschy kiosk in the back that's a replica of the ones you'll see in Greece. There you can buy treats imported from Greece such as Vikos water, Kalas sea salt, lots of chocolates and honey. They also offer delivery in the area for $3-$5 which is always welcome when you want your meal with a side of Netflix.

There are plenty of Greek seafood and meat classics to choose from, but we're dealing with strictly chicken souvlaki platters, so I must focus. Here, the entree is served with pita bread and two choices of sides. I select brown rice and add $4 to get a Greek salad as my second accompaniment.

The verdict: Portions are far from stingy, meaning there's plenty of protein, as well as a generous hunk of delicious feta cheese atop the tasty salad. However, the brown rice is simply meh, and the chicken is on the dry side. Something's amiss with the meat, making the whole dish fall flat. We do like the prices, the welcoming vibe, and the salad, so I'll be back to give some of the seafood items a try. 

Modeled after a typical Greek taverna, as expected it's oh so charming and intimate. Who wouldn't enjoy sitting in the twinkly light exterior and watching the handsome crowd? The main course features five pieces of chicken breast meat, mixed greens, roasted red peppers and orzo. 

The verdict:
 Looks can be deceiving because the chicken is rubbery and the orzo tastes like mush. Meanwhile, the salad is overdressed in a balsamic dressing and the vegetables are overcooked. Given how badly they've managed to interpret such a simple staple, Kouzina will not get a repeat visit from this diner. 

Mandolin Aegean Bistro
This charming bistro actually serves Greek and Turkish cuisine as the husband and wife owners are of Greek and Turkish descent, respectively. Most of the seating is outdoors in the restaurant's beautiful and romantic garden. It's designed to make you feel as though you're eating at your best friend's home on the island of Crete. 

At Mandolin, the chicken kebab dish pairs five large pieces of poultry with an orzo pilaff, tzatziki, and maroulosalata. The last one being a salad of shredded romaine lettuce dressed with olive oil, white wine vinegar, feta cheese, and dill. 

The verdict: Finally meat that's tender, juicy, and perfectly seasoned. It's scrumptious and even better when dipped into the creamy tzatziki sauce. The orzo is well-cooked and flavorful, and the refreshing salad adds a welcome crunch to the filling main. Yes, at $23 it's not a cheap dish, but I have leftovers for lunch the next day. Besides, a trip to Greece would be a lot more expensive. Ladies and gents, we have a winner! 

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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.