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Good Middle Eastern?

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I was recently in Philly and ate at this fabulous Turkish restaurant (Divan Turkish Kitchen) and now I'm craving more of it, but I'm back in Austin. I have my stand by for fast and cheap, Byblos (up north at Parmer and I35) which is really really good food from Lebanese transplants but not a real "sit down and have a meal" kinda place (we usually get take out). Where do I go for good Middle Eastern fare, perhaps with atmosphere? I liked the food at Ararat, but their space and reservation issues kept me away unless it was a planned event....and now alas they are closed. Anywhere in the city is great but even better if its "up north."

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  1. Arpeggio is my favorite restaurant in Austin for Middle Eastern fare....it's a Palestinian joint up on Airport Blvd....the combo kebab platter is enormous,perfectly cooked and can easily feed two hungry people for about 11 bucks.The Hummus and Baklava are also very good.....Kebab Palace on Rutland was my former favorite....the chef is Egyptian and consistently puts out the best plate of rice in Austin[simmered in rendered chicken fat...ahhhhhh]

    12 Replies
      1. re: scrumptiouschef

        Arpeggio has good enough food, but is a depressing and dark dump, looking more like an unkempt warehouse than a restaurant.

        I prefer SARAH'S GRILL on Burnet @ 51st., featuring similar food (kebabs, falafel, hummus), if not tastier (Arpeggio's beef kebab was on the dry side), but in a friendy and aesthetic atmosphere. Both are Palestinian. Both have a selection of groceries; Arpeggio's is limited and mostly Indian, Sarah's is broad, Arab/Mid East and includes a good dairy section as well as pita bread and condiments. SARAH'S very much reminds me of Droubi's in Houston, but with fresh goods.

        1. re: avi

          and ararat closed, used to be so good

          1. re: manisubra

            I too liked Ararat, mostly due to the BYOB and the atmosphere. But I wouldn't call it delicious. And sometimes weird things would happen: no corking fees one visit but absurd fees the next; attentive and pleasant service one time, disinterested and slightly angry service the next.

            Worst of all, though, was the erratic nature of the food. The same dish, ordered five times, would give you one excellent variant, two good, one mediocre, and one downright bad. I have no idea what caused this effect, but over the past half-decade this (along with the worsening service) became more pronounced. Eventually my wife and I gave up on the place.

            New management has overtaken the restaurant and fired the entire staff. Picketers (ex-staffers) were outside last Sunday claiming that this was entirely unjust. I can't say what the motivations were, but the place had been going downhill for years.

            If the picketers are to be believed, Ararat will re-open in the near future with an all-new staff.

          2. re: avi

            Thanks for the heads up on Sarah's,always looking for good Mediterranean....atmosphere for me,honestly,means nothing.I actually delight in eating in miserable,rundown circumstances[goat tacos in Acuna in a shack constructed of cardboard with naked toddlers frollicking and tethered goats waiting to be slaughtered out back]for instance.What is the best menu item at Sarah's?

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              Sarah's falafel and hummus are the best in town. The roasted chicken is good, as is the shuarma (though not made with lamb). They also have good salads and pocket (filled) pastries. They sell a great labane, which is a yoghurt based soft cheese, in the dairy section. Spread it on a plate, as you would hummus, sprinkle with zaatar and olive oil and dip it with pita ... nothing better!

              As for dining a la local, I agree in general; "In Rome, do as the locals do". But in Austin, why bother if there is a much better alternative?

            2. re: avi

              I give up... I drove around Burnet/51st and did not see this place. Is it somewhere around Billy's? With the demise of Ararat, I am looking for same middle eastern food in my neighborhood. Thanks for the help.

              1. re: ebloom

                Sorry to have mislead you ... the address is 5222 Burnet Rd #500, between Hancock and North Loop. Here's a link to the Austin Chronicle review:

                http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyroba...

                1. re: ebloom

                  I went yesterday and had the same problem. For one google maps led me to think it was north of North Loop and instead it was in the complex south of North Loop. The other thing is on the marquee off Burnet it says "Mediterranean Restaurant".

                  And I was impressed with food. I had a chicken kebab with 2 falafel on the side. The chicken was tasty and tender and the hummus good. The falafel didn't amaze, but then they never do for me. I enjoyed the baklava as well, not too gooey and rather easy to eat with one hand. I took a look around the store because I'm obsessed with Turkish style pistachios--smaller with a more green nut that is much more flavorful than typical California style. I thought I detected them on the baklava but didn't see any in the store.

                  1. re: Carter B.

                    I've gotten bulk turkish pistacios before, either at Central Market or at Sun Harvest...can't remember which!

                  2. re: ebloom

                    Sarah's is north of Billy's, on the west side of Burnet. It's in the strip mall that has the CVS and the Savers. There is a Little Caesars going in right next to them.

                    The restaurant side of Sarah's has really taken off. It was dead in there at first, but now I see people eating in there all the time. I usually go in for groceries, since they have good prices on spices, cheese, phyllo, etc.

                    Also, this is one of the few places where you can find real Nescafe Frappe instant coffee from Greece. Don't let the instant part stop you: It makes a fantastic frappe. All you need is a cocktail shaker, some ice, milk, and sugar.

                  3. re: avi

                    Based on recs from the posts here I have hit up both Byblos and Sarah's in the past few weeks. Got the veggie combo plate at both places to try a bunch of items at once. SO got the lamb at Sarah's and the beef kebobs at Byblos. Both places you ordered at the counter and there were between 6-12 tables. Both were relatively clean and nearly empty. But other than the lamb at Sarah's, which the SO said was the best he thought he had ever sampled, Byblos won on every category. Byblos' hommus tasted like it had just been made and was thick and creamy with just the right amount of garlic (at Sarah's it tasted old, thin and a bit bitter). The eggplant at Bylbos had just the right touch of flame roasted taste without being bitter. Byblos' dolmas were slightly sweet while still having a vinegary bite. Sounds weird in concept but they were delicious! The dolmas at Sarah's the grape leaves were too tough and crewy. Unfortunately, the falafal at both places was a disappointment. Both were tough and too hard. Byblos' were better spiced though. (Jerusalum still has the best falafel in town IMO).

                    The Tabouleh at both places was tasty with the parsley taste the main star but depending on what you like, Sarah's was about 1 to 1 bulgar to parsley while Byblos was about 4 to 1 parsley to bulgar.

                    The best thing about Byblos was the cilantro potatoes. Not sure the authenticity of this dish but despite being served barely lukewarm they still had the best flavor of anything I ate at either place.

                    Also, I would like to note, in response to my SO's question about the difference between gyro meat and shwarma meat, the counter guy gave him a generous explaination and sample of shwarma.

                    We both decided this is our new go to neighborhood spot. Which is great for me, because before it was Zorba which I think it mediocre at best.

                2. These are all good suggestions. What I'm really craving is a good lamb dish, perhaps with a yogurt or tomato type sauce. And, I'd love a "sit down" place. Has anyone tried Alborz? What about Marakesh downtown? I think there is a new place north...can't remember name (on Anderson Mills btw. Parmer and 183) or also that place off I35 (Pyramids or Pharoahs). Are any of these worth my time??

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: ashes

                    ashes: Shandeez is the place on Anderson Mill....wonderful grilled lamb, matter of fact, some of the best grilled meats I've had in Austex fin a long while. Definitely give it a go, m

                    1. re: ashes

                      What you are describing could easily be Persian, and Albroz would suit that. Good food and atmosphere.

                      1. re: ashes

                        I did have a lamb shank at Sarah's a week ago. It is a part of their expanded menu. Not bad at all and, since it was on the smallish side, I assume that it was made from young lamb (an oxymoron?). $8, including sides.

                        1. re: ashes

                          Just wanted to add a minor update. We stopped by Byblos last week fo dinner and I was pleasantly suprised to see a Lamb Shish Kabob now being offered (9.95 for a meat plate with two large kabobs worth of meat and 4 sides). While it wasn't the saucy lamb dish I so crave it was near perfect in terms of grilled meat (I find that lamb can get tough when cooked this way but this was perfectly tender). I am at the very least sated for the time being.

                          1. re: ashes

                            Thursdays (I think) Flying Falafel and Po'boys on Guadalupe features lamb mansaf as their lunch special. Lamb cooked in yogurt, absolutely awesome.

                            1. re: mkwng

                              I ate the beef shawarma today. i'm not the most experienced in this sort of food, but it was really tasty and spicy (as requested). I've had the roast beef po-boy there before and was really happy.

                              ran into a friend eating there who was stumbling over his words to try and express his level of pleasure with the oyster po-boy. This place is going to have to get a bigger shop soon I think.
                              very cool.

                              -----
                              Flying Falafel & Poe-Boys
                              2001 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX 78705

                        2. Wanted to put in another plug for Arpeggio Grill. True, the space itself leaves much to be desired, so it doesn't meet your "atmosphere" request, but depending on where you live, they might even deliver to you (they're right by Highland mall). My favorites are falafel, tabouli, hummus, and the kofta kabob. Everything is pretty decent, but those four in particular stand out, IMO.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: gilintx

                            I've always found Alborz to have fresh ingredients and and great seasonings, and the prices are really reasonable for all that you get. I lean towards the lamb and chicken dishes, or any of the stews.

                          2. Alborz at shoal creek and anderson lane is my favorite. Totally in love with their cherry rice dish and raisin rice dish.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mikeinatexas

                              Just wanted to toss in another vote for Alborz. Their food is consistently delicious, and the Sholeh Zard is something that I would have every day, if I could.

                            2. I am surprised that nobody mentioned Zorba's in Round Rock. I have found all of their items excellent at dinner, and have taken numerous folks there and they have all loved it.
                              They serve lunch also, but not all items are available.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: judiftx1

                                Marakesh is great . Belly dancers some nights too. my Palestinian bud from Lebanon swears by it. Try the goats eyes ( just kiddin')I found it delicious.

                                1. re: Rustcat

                                  we used to go to marrakesh all the time but lately the food quality has declined, not to mention, they also seem to not be well-staffed. i'll try alborz, then sarah's next. how do sarah's and alborz' falafels/shawarmas compare to phoenicia's?

                                  1. re: hungryfoodie

                                    Alborz is a Persian restaurant and, to my knowledge, offers neither falafel or shuarma. Otherwise, it fine. Phoenicia has both, but I have never eaten there as they do only take out and I prefer Sarah's since it is a sit down place, although of the self-service kind. I go to Phoenicia mostly for the breads, spreads and olives ...

                                    1. re: avi

                                      Actually Phonecia has a sit down area, you'd never know it though, it's behind the deli counter.
                                      I'm referring to the one on burnet.

                                      1. re: chucklesmcfarland

                                        My bad; I have only been to the Phoenicia on S. Lamar ... you know the old adage: "You can take the boy out of the south, but you can't take the south out of the boy".

                                    2. re: hungryfoodie

                                      Since the owner died it has gone downhill.

                                      1. re: achtungpv

                                        Yeah, it's very sad about Marakesh. It used to be one of my preferred lunch spots downtown, but I went there a couple of months ago and had probably the 4th worst dining service experience of my entire life. I was so aggravated that I resolved never to go back.

                                        I'm not sure why it all fell apart after Samir passed away... the food still tastes about the same, but the service has become unbelievably slow. Having to wait 45 minutes for your food at lunchtime is a non starter, especially if they then screw up your order.