We get the same feeling walking into Mandolin as we do stepping off a plane on vacation. Almost immediately, a mental switch flips from “everything matters” to “who cares” and that email notification that just buzzed in your pocket feels as insignificant as a baby mosquito. Something similar happens when you come here, which is why we try to spend as many long afternoons at Mandolin as we can - especially if we’re running low on PTO.
Mandolin is located in a converted 1940s bungalow right on the edge of the Design District and the whole place feels like a cross between Greece and old Florida. The blue and white color scheme is perfectly Aegean, but the hanging plants and trees jutting up between tables are a reminder that you’re sitting in what used to be a swamp.
There’s nothing about this place that makes you feel like you’re in Miami though. It doesn’t have the palm tree personality you see over at the Broken Shaker or the waterfront views that drive people to fight for an outdoor table at La Mar. Instead, Mandolin looks like it got sucked up by a tornado in Santorini and dropped into South Florida, Wizard of Oz-style. It’s one of the city’s prettiest spots to eat outside, and it’s become one of the most cliched photo ops in town - which is why you’ll probably have to weave between a few people posing outside the restaurant’s bright blue door as you look for the host.
About 80 percent of the seating here is outside and it’s almost always crowded (even throughout the summer) thanks to a lot of shade and enough fans to give you a blowout before the check comes. There are people having a lazy lunch in flip-flops, big groups celebrating a birthday, and plenty of people drinking white wine at 2pm, pretending like they just landed in Mykonos.
This place could still do very well by serving stale pita and overcooked lamb, but Mandolin’s food is consistently wonderful. Even if you couldn’t care less that this place has its very own lifestyle retail shop right next door, you’ll still be very into the watermelon salad with feta and mint. The various kebabs deserve your attention just as much as the bundle of pink flowers that float above the entrance like a balloon. And the Greek or Turkish sampler, grilled halloumi, and fried calamari should all be present if you’re here with a big group - which is who you’ll see passing around food at a lot of the tables. Most of the food here is easy to share with meze plates taking up the bulk of the menu. Not only is all of the food very tasty, but it also helps maintain the illusion that you’re an ocean away from your daily routine rather than walking distance from a Target.
Mandolin would be a great restaurant anywhere in the world, but here it’s an antidote for those inevitable moments when you find yourself just a little sick of South Beach or Wynwood or, well, the city in general. It’s a garlicky detox everyone should take advantage of every few weeks, and for at least one meal, you can easily trick yourself into thinking you’re not in Miami anymore.
This halloumi has very satisfying grill marks and a char you can really taste. There are some nice cherry tomatoes on the side too. Combine it all with the bread on the table for some excellent DIY toast.
A simple but tasty tentacle that’s as perfectly cooked as you can ask for. If you love octopus, get it. But there are more complex and exciting starters to order.
You get three little portions of tzatziki, tapenade, and tirokafteri, which are a good combination to start a meal with here. You can add on some dipping veggies for an extra $6, but the complimentary bread is more than enough.
These grilled sirloin meatballs have the consistency and look of little hamburgers minus the bread, and they come with some tzatziki for dipping. They’re tasty, but we think you should go with a kebab if you’re looking for a meat option.
If you aren’t yet a convert to the art of the watermelon salad, this will persuade you. If you’re already well aware of how good watermelon can be when it’s covered in cheese and mint, then you know this is exactly what you want when it’s 90 degrees out for the 43rd day in a row.
This could be a little spicer, but the meat is tender and comes wrapped in a pita too, with your pick of fries or maroulosalata on the side. If you just order this for yourself, you’ll be all set.
This steamy bowl of eggplant, ground beef, potatoes, and bechamel is super hearty and will fill you up. It’s very heavy, so maybe skip it for a date, on a hot day, or if you want to keep the night going after dinner.
These beef dumplings are super creamy and very good. You should probably split them with someone, though, because it’s rich and something you’ll really only want a few bites of.