Fast-casual restaurants are a burgeoning segment of the industry. Hey, everyone is busy (especially in NYC) and many are trying to steer clear of overly-processed traditional fast food. Skip a visit to Chipotle — try the inexpensive fare at Naya Express (multiple locations). With two Midtown locations and a Financial District outpost on the way, the spot serves wholesome Middle Eastern eats on the fly.
The place is owned by the team behind contemporary Lebanese restaurant, Naya Mezze & Grill. The menu differs, but you can still get a taste of classics like beef shawarma. Strips of grass-fed beef are roasted on a rotating spit, shaved and served in freshly baked white or whole wheat pita ($8.03). It comes with tomatoes, pickles, parsley and sumac flavored onions, and tahini. For an extra $1.84, get it in a bowl with vermicelli rice or salad with citrus-sumac vinaigrette. Both come with a DIY-range of toppings like pickled turnips, jalapeño, hummus, baba ghanouj, and an excellent garlic whip similar in taste and texture to skordalia. Here, the thick puree is made with olive oil, garlic, and
Chicken shawarma, made with what Naya terms “naturally-raised” poultry, could serve as a flexitarian version of the dish. There’s also falafel starting at $6.88 and beef kebabs with grilled tenderloin for $8.27. More unique to this formula are the sujuk ($8.03), slightly spicy house-made lamb and beef sausage, and the kafta lamb kebab ($8.03), ground lamb rolled into a long cigar-like form. The classic roll portion of the menu features customary pairings for each main: sujuk with garlic whip and pickles and kafta lamb kebab with a parsley-onion mix, hummus and pickles. However, like most of these fast-casual joints, the staff pretty much expects guests to pick-and-choose what they want on every dish.
For those looking to make more of an inexpensive multi-course meal, there’s a selection of hot and cold appetizers. Similar to a Lebanese version of empanadas, sambousik lahmé and jebné ($1.84) feature pastry stuffed with minced beef and feta with oregano, accordingly. Rekakat ($1.84) blends three Mediterranean cheeses wrapped in phyllo, then deep-fried — they’re not mind-blowing, but all three are enjoyable. The fatayer sabenegh ($1.84), mini pies with spinach, lemon, and sumac are just bitter and taste slightly stale (though they might be better earlier in the day). The manooch, freshly baked homemade dough, is a bit pricier ($4.13 to $5.05). Similar in size and thickness to a flatbread, it comes with a variety of spices and toppings. Try the half and half with za’atar and cheese – go ahead and mix the two sides.