Mina's Mediterraneo: Dine for Less Than $20 on the Upper Eastside
Mina's Mediterraneo opened a few months ago but feels like it's been around for years. You could credit the food, which features cozy dishes like mac 'n' cheese, coq au vin, and spaghetti Bolognese. Or perhaps it's the setting -- a refurbished Haitian church on the Upper Eastside's NE 79th Street, a road known more for traffic than remarkable cuisine.
billwisserphoto.com Paella at Mina's Mediterraneo
You've probably passed Mina's and thought it would be a nice place to try. But when Friday comes along, you forget about this discreet, narrow building and its boxy black-and-white sign. Nothing about Mina's begs for attention. This kind of restaurant waits around for you like a parent at a playground.
One day, though, you'll drive into the sweeping parking lot and greet the short, cheery Haitian guy who helps you find a spot even when the lot is empty. Before you know it, you'll tear into spanakopita, drink Moroccan beer from the bottle, and order extra servings of dip from the soft-spoken waiters in black. The besara is a grassy mash of fava beans, cilantro, and celery topped with fried onions and crammed with dill. Mina's baba ghanouj combines eggplant with chickpeas and tzatziki. It's smoky and pasty, and plays exceptionally well with others -- particularly the harissa-marinated feta cheese or tahini spiked heavily with cumin.
You can make a meal out of it with two or three servings of stuffed cabbage. Smothered in tomato sauce and filled with rice and meat, four chubby pieces arrive on each plate. And at only $6, it's worth requesting a few more. Add an order of grape leaves. They boast a similar stuffing, cooled by a bright tzatziki.