If there’s one thing we love about Mediterranean food (besides its vibrant flavors), it’s that it’s ideal for sharing. We’ve had some of our best conversations with close friends while scarfing down mezzes, flatbreads, rice and other signature cuisine. The fare just inspires conversation and camaraderie, and Cleo takes it to the next level with not just good food but a homey ambiance to boot.
Don’t let its size fool you. While the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant can easily fit 300 guests, it’s far more intimate than it lets on. Attentive service makes it seem as if you’re the only table in the place, and the staff’s ability to rattle off menu details without a hitch is impressive. The menu features an extensive array of shareable plates, so let your server guide you; we thoroughly enjoyed their recommendations.
If you’re hungry and want something fast, opt for the dips. We thank our waiter for introducing us to lebaneh/labnah/insert your preferred spelling here. The dip, which we can only describe as “yogurt cheese,” isn’t your usual creamy dip but one with texture and grit. It’s ridiculous how good it was; it costs $9 but we’d pay more (don’t tell Cleo). Equally noteworthy was the laffa bread — super fragrant and a paleo diet’s worst nightmare. In other words, it.is.addicting.
Brussels sprouts are always a must, and Cleo’s rendition have a nice crunchiness to them. In fact, you could potentially eat them as chips (we did). They also have a little bit of spice, which we haven’t really encountered before in Brussels sprouts; it was a much-welcomed surprise.
Ever since the Avengers post-credit scene about shawarma, we make it a point to try the dish whenever it’s on the menu. The fact that our server recommended it was even more reason for us to order it. The thinly sliced lamb, the crispy bread — we love you, laffa — and the lebanah was the perfect flavor combo. Another recommendation was the octopus with a lemon vinaigrette that really made the dish pop. It’s a bright, simple dish but satisfying; the portion is sizable.
When having dessert at Cleo, patience pays off. There’s a flourless chocolate cake that takes 15-20 minutes to make (shorter if the restaurant isn’t too slammed). Dark chocolate with a creamy chocolate center, it’s a beauty. Your best bet is to order it when dinner is winding down instead of waiting until the end. If you must have your sweets sooner than later, though, try the apple almond tarte: flaky, crispy pastry with vanilla gelato. Decadent but …
If you’ve got a hankering for Middle Eastern cuisine, check out Cleo for quality fare that won’t break your budget. You get a lot of food for your dollar plus exceptional service and a lovely ambiance. That’s becoming harder to find in South Beach, let alone Miami. You’re in good hands here.