Motek is a term of endearment in Hebrew meaning “sweetheart” – a familial phrase meant to convey how Motek makes you feel at home through their Israeli comfort food and welcoming hospitality. Husband-and-wife team Charlie and Tessa Levy opened the first Motek Cafe in 2020 to make the kind of food that they loved available to everyone. Since then, it’s quickly become a Miami staple for Israeli-Mediterranean cuisine – with locations in Aventura, Coral Gables, and Downtown Miami — and two more on the horizon coming to Brickell (late 2023) and Miami Beach (2024).
“It’s humbling to see the dishes and flavors of my childhood in Israel so well received by the community. It’s definitely a driving force for our upcoming expansion plans,” says Charlie Levy, executive chef and co-founder.
Charlie was born in Israel to a Syrian father and a Yemenite mother (both Jewish), and Tessa was born into a Jewish French-Moroccan home in Los Angeles. The menu they’ve created is Kosher-style, meaning many of the dishes are rooted in traditional Jewish cuisine. The breadth of options actually go beyond Israeli food itself, incorporating Israel’s cultural influences from other neighboring Mediterranean countries that were also a part of their upbringing, like Yemen, Morocco and Lebanon.
“In Israel, I encountered many places where there was great food, but only specific dishes were standouts. When creating Motek, my wife Tessa and I wanted to create a space where every single item on the menu was delicious for everyone, under one roof,” says Charlie Levy.
They’ve focused on using the freshest ingredients, with everything from breads to sauces made from scratch in-house on a daily basis to ensure the highest quality. And what they’ve accomplished is the type of local spot where there’s something for everyone and you can’t go wrong with any item on the menu. In fact, Motek is known for having one of the best burgers in Miami (which probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you hear “Mediterranean”).
Here’s a look at five great things to order at Motek – but you’re going to want to keep coming back for more.
You can’t start a meal at Motek without their housemade hummus – an ultra silky-smooth version that’s the real deal, comparable to what you’d find in Israel. Motek serves four different styles of hummus meant for sharing: hummus tehina (the most traditional option topped with a dollop of tahini and olive oil, pine nuts, and s’chug), hummus mushroom (which layers on mushrooms and caramelized onions to their traditional hummus), hummus masabacha (a chunkier blend with overnight cooked chickpeas, hard boiled egg, celery and carrots), and the newly added hummus roasted eggplant (topped with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, amba aioli, pine nuts and pickled onions).
“Our hummus is made fresh every morning and has been a crowd favorite since the very beginning,” Charlie Levy says. At their locations with a wood-fire oven, it comes with their piping-hot, fresh-baked pita for dipping.
Motek’s award-winning Arayes Burger – it earned the People’s Choice Award at South Beach Wine and Food Festival’s famed Burger Bash two years in a row – is a great example of how Motek’s menu showcases the evolution of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. “The Arayes Burger originates from Lebanon and has long been recognized as a popular starter served at weddings in that region. Over time, the dish found its way to Israel, my home country, where it quickly gained popularity as a satisfying meal, which eventually transformed into a main dish,” Charlie Levy explains.
Their signature Arayes Burger is made fresh every day using a blend of lamb and beef, vegetables, and spices that pack the patty full of flavor. That burger base then gets stuffed into their housemade pita, and it’s grilled atop a Josper charcoal oven for added smokiness – making the burger deliciously crispy on the outside and extra juicy on the inside.
Crispy Schnitzel Sandwich
We all know how pervasive the fried chicken sandwich is these days, and Motek’s menu is no exception. The crispy schnitzel sandwich is one of their most popular menu items, but it’s not your typical fast-food fried chicken version. Instead, they’ve taken an Israeli staple – chicken schnitzel – and modernized it for today’s crispy chicken craze. The sandwich is made with super thinly sliced chicken breast coated in a blend of sesame seeds, breadcrumbs, and panko. It’s served on freshly baked challah bread topped with homemade coleslaw, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, sumac onions and a slightly spicy harissa aioli.
An Israeli brunch staple, Motek’s shakshuka features organic, pasture-raised eggs poached in a spicy homemade tomato sauce. “It’s a combination of slowly simmered ripe tomatoes and green long peppers, making it a flavorful, spicy and delicious harissa-spiced sauce,” Charlie Levy says. Of course, the dish is paired with their homemade challah bread to scoop up all the extra sauce.
Amongst all of the traditional Mediterranean staples like shawarma, kebabs and mezze plates, it might be easy to miss out on Motek’s seafood selection, but Levy recommends trying the Moroccan fish. It features fresh Chilean sea bass grilled to perfection on the Josper and is then finished in that harissa-spiced shakshuka sauce. “In a Jewish-Moroccan household, Friday night dinners are traditionally complemented by Moroccan fish served alongside fresh challah bread,” Charlie Levy says. You’ve been warned: it comes with a kick.