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Our 10 Best Middle Eastern Restaurants

A Middle Eastern spread of olives, falafel, labneh, and hummus at Tripoli
A Middle Eastern spread of olives, falafel, labneh, and hummus at Tripoli
Alexia Nader

New York City has a lot to offer when it comes to Middle Eastern cooking. If you know where to stop for a meal along the city's few Arab strips or even in fancy neighborhoods, you'll find a wide range of the region's typical cooking including grilled meats, honey-drenched pastries, savory flatbreads, and bright, beautiful meze platters. I've been able to find traditional dishes in this city on par with those my Lebanese grandmother makes and ones I've tried in Jordan and Egypt. And the city even holds its own on the falafel and kebab front despite some serious competition in the Middle East and Europe. Below you'll find my 10 favorite sit-down and takeout Middle Eastern spots in NYC.

Note the delicate pita at Gazala's
Note the delicate pita at Gazala's

10. Gazala's -- At this Druze Israeli restaurant, located on the Upper West Side, you'll find the kitchen staff hand-rolling kibbeh at tables hidden in the back of the dining room, and freshly made bread that's stretchy, thin, and more like South Asian roti than the pita found in most Middle Eastern restaurants. Use it to scoop up lemony tahini and thinly sliced grilled lamb -- one of the best entrées on the menu. 380 Columbus Avenue, 212-873-8880

Our 10 Best Middle Eastern Restaurants
Alexia Nader

9. Moustache -- Much has been written about this West Village restaurant's flatbreads, but the best dish on the menu is also the most ordinary sounding -- grilled chicken over lentil puree. These are no ordinary lentils: They're softened and mashed until velvety and spiced with plenty of garlic and a drizzle of potent olive oil. Though it might be hard to resist the lamb sandwiches and fancy pitzas, this plate won't let you down. 90 Bedford Street, 212-229-2220

Stuffed grape leaves at Tripoli
Stuffed grape leaves at Tripoli
Alexia Nader

8. Tripoli/Damascus Breads & Pastry -- Located on an Arab restaurant-dense strip of Atlantic Avenue, Tripoli has an endearingly old-school feel -- the walls are covered in dark wood, the ceiling is painted to look like the sky, and the menu specializes in Lebanese home cooking. Make sure to try the wara'anib, tight cigars of grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb and rice served warm with a bit of lemony broth. Then for dessert, head across the street to Damascus Breads & Pastry, a Syrian bakery, and pick up some first-rate walnut or pistachio baklava for the road. Tripoli (156 Atlantic Avenue, 718-596-5800), Damascus Breads & Pastry (195 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-625-7070)

 

Lunchtime falafel at Alfanoose
Lunchtime falafel at Alfanoose
Alexia Nader

7. Alfanoose -- This restaurant got its start as a food truck that quickly won over the lunchtime crowd in the Financial District, where the street food competition is fierce. Here the falafel, which is not always super crispy but has a lively cumin-coriander flavor, is at its best when bundled up tight in a large pita (for tidy eating) with beets, tahini, lettuce, and tomato. 8 Maiden Lane, 212-528-4669

Stuffed bread on a board at Taboon
Stuffed bread on a board at Taboon
Alexia Nader

6. Taboon -- The kitchen of this spacious Hell's Kitchen restaurant riffs on classic Middle Eastern dishes using Mediterranean -- often Greek -- flavors. It's a great place to go for brunch, especially for its freshly baked, crusty bread stuffed with feta cheese and soft-boiled eggs, or ground lamb and tahini. 773 Tenth Avenue, 212-713-0271

The dining room of Ilili, where you'll be served some terrific lamb
The dining room of Ilili, where you'll be served some terrific lamb
Trey Ratcliff

5. Ilili -- A little more pricey and swanky than most other Middle Eastern restaurants in the city, Ilili serves some outstanding lamb -- made into makanek, a typical Lebanese sausage, or simply seared as chops and served with a sauce made with za'atar -- which makes putting up with the loud music and weird décor worth it. 236 Fifth Avenue, 212-683-2929

Taim's harissa falafel sandwich
Taim's harissa falafel sandwich
Alexia Nader

4. Taïm -- This Israeli vegetarian carryout gets some serious points for boldness -- it serves three different flavors of falafel, a move that would be considered heresy in some purist circles. My favorite one features house-made harissa, a chili pepper paste common in North African cooking, which turns the balls' interior a vibrant orange color. The great thing is that when you bite into the harissa falafel you're not inundated with heat; instead you taste the flavoring's zest playing off the low, earthy notes of the chickpeas. 222 Waverly Place, 212-691-1287

 

Baked kibbeh at Tanoreen
Baked kibbeh at Tanoreen

3. Tanoreen -- You can find some fantastic meze -- snacks meant for nibbling on while lounging for hours at an outdoor café -- at this Bay Ridge restaurant. Try some Arab classics: kibbeh -- raw, if available (fear not, it's like steak tartare), baked, or fried -- crispy lamb-filled sambousek, and tabbouleh salad. 7704 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-748-5600

Meat bliss at Cedars
Meat bliss at Cedars
Alexia Nader

2. Cedars Meat House -- The juicy meat skewers at Cedars will make every other kebab you've had in this city pale in comparison. Order the platter so you can really taste the deep seasoning and perfect char of the lamb shish kebab and the spicy beef kufta kebab. They come with plenty of accoutrements: two dipping sauces -- a potent garlic sauce, and one with hot pepper flakes; a fresh chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion salad; hummus; and baba ghanoush. Then cool down your palate with some ayran, a sour yogurt drink often consumed with meat for digestive purposes in the Middle East. 41-08 30th Avenue, 718-606-1244

Kabab Café's Meze platter with baba ghanoush, hummus, foul mudammas, falafel, and garnishes of fried frisée and apple slices
Kabab Café's Meze platter with baba ghanoush, hummus, foul mudammas, falafel, and garnishes of fried frisée and apple slices

1. Kabab Café -- Not only does this Egyptian café in Astoria offer an outstanding meze platter, it's one of the most intimate, relaxing spaces in the entire city. If you come during the day, there will be no written menu to choose from, the owner and chef of the restaurant's minuscule kitchen, Ali El Sayed, will simply ask you what you'd like to eat. Your order must absolutely include baba ghanoush, made with intensely smoked eggplant and lime, stuffed eggplant (if available), and the place's truly distinct fava falafel -- the daintiest, crispiest fritters you could ever hope to find outside the region. 25-12 Steinway Street, Queens, 718-728-9858

For more dining news, head to Fork in the Road, or follow us @ForkintheRoadVV, or me, Alexia Nader, @lexi1602. 

Use Current Location

Related Locations

miles
Gazala

380 Columbus Ave.
New York, NY 10024

212-873-8880

www.gazalaplace.com

miles
Tripoli

156 Atlantic Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

718-596-5800

www.tripolirestaurant.com

miles
Damascus Breads & Pastry

195 Atlantic Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11217

718-625-7070

www.damascuspastry.com

miles
Alfanoose

8 Maiden Lanene
New York, NY 10038

212-528-4669

www.alfanoose.com

miles
Taim

222 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10014

212-691-1287

www.taimfalafel.com

miles
Cedars Meat House

41-08 30th Ave.
Long Island City, NY 11103

718-606-1244

miles
Kabab Café

25-12 Steinway St.
Long Island City, NY 11103

718-728-9858


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