Whenever we walk into Cafe Roval’s backyard, we always pause for a few seconds to silently take the whole thing in. It’s a moment of quiet appreciation usually only reserved for mountain peaks or a perfectly ripe avocado. But Cafe Roval demands that reaction, no matter if it’s your first or 50th visit.
Their outdoor space is lush and dense with dozens of different plants and trees all bordering a man-made lagoon. It looks like the home of an alligator that won the lottery, or if the Everglades had a baby with a tiki bar. There is truly no other restaurant in Miami quite like this. And even though the food is just OK and even a little boring at times, that’s really why you should come here.
Cafe Roval is a Mediterranean spot on the border of Mimo and Little Haiti, and its original limestone building has been standing since 1923, which makes it quite a relic in an area where anything from the ’50s is considered historic. The restaurant features some perfectly fine indoor seating, but as far as we’re concerned, the only excuse for not sitting outside is a plague of locusts or if birds have started attacking people like in that Alfred Hitchcock movie.
The menu is a slightly chaotic mix of Mediterranean staples and seafood, with everything from lamb ribs and gnocchi to tuna crudo. And while none of it is bad, there isn’t anything that’s particularly memorable either. This place is so damn gorgeous that it’s best just to take your time with some snacks, have some riesling, and see how many different species of plants your table can identify.
Get the crudo, which comes with some tempura crisps for scooping and a little quail egg you can mix into everything. The beef shawarma is really tender and is served DIY-style, so everyone can make their own little pita with their ideal mix of tahini and tomato. And the crispy squash blossoms are tasty, thanks mostly to the very good tamarind chutney you will probably end up dipping everything else you ordered into.
But drinks and food are just background players at Cafe Roval, which we know is a strange thing to say about a restaurant. But even a great menu or a perfect avocado or the very top of a reasonably tall mountain would have trouble outshining a space like this.
You know that slow-motion footage of tender meat falling off the bone that plays in your head when you hear the words “ribs?” That doesn’t happen with these. Each bite is either too dry or pure fat.
Fried flowers is not only a great name for a high school garage band, but it happens to be one of the best dishes here. The blossoms are crispy and come in a tamarind chutney, which is a little heavy but good.
This is a tasty crudo and it comes with tempura crisps and a decapitated quail egg so you can plop the yolk down yourself. But the bed of arugula underneath is a little unnecessary and tags along like an annoying little brother when you try to scoop up the tuna.
These are pretty underwhelming, mostly because they’re not charred at all. This is obvious even underneath all the bland spiced greek yogurt sauce.
This is the best starter here. The beef is well-seasoned and sliced thin, but the real winner is the pita: three warm, soft little triangles with a healthy sprinkle of za’atar. There is also hummus under the beef, which isn’t on the menu but we rarely get mad at surprise hummus.
If you needed to calibrate a scallop scale, you could use these to find the perfect middle. There are three of them (with some boring lentils) and they are, indeed, scallops - nothing more and nothing less. Only get them if you woke up this morning and said, “I must have scallops today or else I will explode.”
It’s a good piece of fish but won’t blow you away. The skin could be crispier and the farro tabbouleh underneath feels like the Mother’s Day card you buy at CVS when you wake up and realize that today is Mother’s Day.
When you read the menu, the most exciting part of this dish sounds like the Maine lobster and black truffle, but the lobster is placed in unsexy chunks around the side of the plate like someone remembered about it at the last second and the truffle is really nowhere to be tasted. Even the pretty good gnocchi can’t make up for shattered expectations.