Beloved Miami chef José Mendín surprises and delights with his latest venture, Casa Isola, which promises anything but typical South Beach fare. Eschewing standard SoBe flash, the intimate osteria charms with a European hole-in-the-wall style design, recalling coastal Italy through white-and-blue decor. Within these cozy quarters, Mendín and Sicilian-born partner, chef Santo Agnello, dole out hearty Italian cuisine that’s at once elevated and simple while remaining affordable.
Begin with the pane al prosciutto, a just-baked loaf of prosciutto bread, accompanied by eggplant caponata and Parmesan honey butter. Next, go for the impeccably balanced, zesty-and-smooth burrata panzanella salad, followed by the divine raviolini ai funghi with porcini mushrooms and pine nut gremolata. Alternatively, feed into the Beach’s rigatoni alla vodka craze—it’s currently on just about every menu—or go light with the branzino acqua pazza, prepared in white wine with parsley, tomato, and littleneck clams. End with one (or both) of Isola’s timeless desserts: tiramisu in a jar or the Cartocci Siciliani, soft-shelled cannoli stuffed with creamy ricotta goodness.