When people have asked us for restaurant recommendations lately, we’ve been finding ourselves naming more and more restaurants from 79th street and the surrounding areas. With new spots like The Anderson, PINCH Kitchen and Antica Mare opening in the neighborhood, NOT bringing up MiMo/El Portal/Ironside/Upper East Side (or whatever you want to call it) in culinary conversation is a glaring omission.
But before all these new spots started coming in, there was Mina’s Mediterraneo. The restaurant, which specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine, has been serving up Turkish, Greek, Spanish, French and Italian flavors since 2013 — pretty good for a Miami restaurant. It wasn’t until just this year, however, that we discovered this local favorite. Shame on us because the food is exceptional.
Mina’s is run by Yasmine Kotb, a world traveler who gave up a career in music to bring her love of Mediterranean food to life. She’s fused international influences to develop a delicious menu that can please the pickiest eaters. When a restaurant tries to do too much, certain aspects excel and others fall short. That’s not the case with this huge menu. We enjoyed all of our picks, which spanned the selections, and we could see ourselves visiting for everything from a glass of wine and light bites to a heavy, hearty winter meal.
But let’s talk about the space first. Bright and open, the eatery has an expansive outdoor patio that’s great for parties and offers shade from South Florida’s overbearing sunlight. Most importantly, there’s a dedicated parking lot. In an area where parking is sparse, this is nothing short of a miracle; we get really excited about parking if you can’t tell.
It’s great that parking is a breeze because that means you’ll get to enjoy Mina’s food that much sooner. FYI: Dishes are served as they’re prepared here, so if you want a leisurely meal, don’t order everything at once or ask your server to course everything out. Start with the housemade dips and pita — the tzatziki dip (greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic and mint) is crack, and we kept it with us throughout the meal to dunk anything and everything in it. #noshame
We’re on a healthy kick, so we ordered the Israeli Salad to balance out the forthcoming calorie load; it was the perfect combo of crunchy vegetables, oil and greens (and more pita!). The Merguez — lamb sausage with harissa — were tasty but a little too spicy for our tastes. Dinner hack: dunk them into the tzaziki (or your dip of choice) to cut the spice and turn the flavor dial to 11.
The best starter, though, was the Spanakopita: spinach and feta phylo pie. We hadn’t actually ordered it, but the server said we had to try it. Never one to turn down food, we did. Incredibly flaky and creamy, these beautiful bites of joy are worth multiple repeat orders.
Make sure to visit Mina’s on an empty stomach because the entree portions are generous. Case in point: the Lamb Tagine, which is comprised of a cubed leg of lamb stewed with carrot, potato and garlic along with couscous and harissa. It sounds like a lot and it is — definitely share this with someone. The meat and potatoes are bomb, and we could definitely see ourselves enjoying this anytime but especially during winter (as we mentioned earlier). Word of advice: lay down the couscous first and add the stew. The couscous will soak up the juices and be extra flavorful.
As if we didn’t already have enough carbs, we ordered a pizza. The Egyptian pizza caught our eye because of its ingredients: basterma (tenderloin cured in garlic), tomato, tomato sauce, Egyptian rumi cheese, fried egg and extra virgin olive oil. Crispy thin crust, Mediterranean spices and a ridiculously tasty cheese made this a winner. Think of it as an Egyptian pepperoni pizza.
By the end of the meal, we only had room for bread pudding. Despite our impending food coma and general fullness, our waiter raved about the bread pudding. When we think of bread pudding, we think of something heavy and something that we’ll regret at the gym later. Not the case here: this was actually pretty light and non-guilt inducing. And it smells great, too; cinnamon gets us every time.
How it took us three years to finally visit Mina’s is beyond us. Don’t make the same mistake we did. Head to 749 NE 79th street, park in the giant lot and embark on a culinary journey through the Mediterranean. This is one trip you won’t want to miss.