On a brisk Miami evening, waiters weave around patio tables like dancers, delivering warm beef entrées and vibrant cocktails. The clatter of utensils and exchange of gossip fills the courtyard, while diners dip toasted bread into pools of olive oil. It's about 7 p.m., and dinner traffic begins to pick up, shuffling along the brick-paved corridor that runs through a hidden village of shops and eateries amid the boisterous sounds and pace of downtown Miami.
Once in the small alley, you're transported to a European plaza lined with café tables, colorful awnings, bistro lighting, and the smell of freshly cooked pasta.
Aptly named the Village Restaurant & Shops, it's akin to an upscale food court, offering a diverse yet cohesive set of eateries. From one end, you can hear the sizzle of flaming cheese emanating from Meraki, a quaint bistro specializing in traditional Greek fare and offering decor reminiscent of the Cycladic villages of the Greek Isles. Co-owners Alex Karavias and executive chef Giannis Kotsos opened the whitewashed space, dotted with blue and gold accents, in 2017. The two pride themselves on offering a menu that is strictly Greek. Making an adamant distinction between Greek and Mediterranean menus, they argue the two kinds of cuisine often fall under the same umbrella. Expect offerings such as tender crusted octopus drizzled with lemon and oregano, as well as honey-sesame cheese puffs that are nothing short of edible nirvana.
Karavias describes the Village as symbiotic. "We all offer different things here. Not one restaurant is alike, and we work together to support this venture." And it's that harmony that lends to the Village's success. The once-empty vein of defunct eateries and For Rent signs has undergone a drastic transformation since the closing of the Filling Station & Garage in 2015, marking a cultural shift in downtown. With the addition of Museum Park and the surrounding Brickell and Wynwood areas, downtown has become a destination for tourists and locals alike.
Across from Meraki is the neighboring Bar da Vila, a Brazilian joint that offers a thoughtful menu of classics such as picanha skewers and feijoada ($18). More notable, the restaurant has followed the Instagram trend by serving raclette — thick melted cheese served tableside over your choice of entrée ($15 to $17). If you love Nutella, order the dessert empanadas stuffed to capacity with the chocolate hazelnut spread, served alongside vanilla ice cream and fresh berries ($9).
During Friday-night happy hour, you can find Bar da Vila's owners, Jessica Malcomson and Marco Zug, behind a wood crested bar, where they muddle limes and berries for their signature sake caipirinhas in anticipation of the live Brazilian music that begins at 10 p.m. In true Brazilian fashion, the party goes well past 2 a.m., so don't forget to fuel up with two short-rib and pumpkin empanadas ($9).
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The Village is now home to more than six eateries, whose flavors range from Peruvian at Station 28 to French-Tunisian at Alloy Bistro. Settle into one spot for dinner or challenge yourself to try the whole lot.
Alloy Bistro Gourmet. 154 SE First Ave., Miami; 786-773-2742; alloybistro.com.
Bar da Vila. 152 SE First Ave., Miami; 786-942-2381; bardavilamiami.com.
Meraki Greek Bistro. 142 SE First Ave., Miami; 786-773-1535; merakigreekbistro.com
Station 28. 91 SE Second St., Miami; 305-905-0328; station28sandwiches.com.