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Good Middle Eastern?

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  • ashes Apr 4, 2007 04:21 PM
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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

      I believe Kebab Palace is no more.

      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.

                                2. There is a tasty place called Jerusalem on Oltorf just east of Burleson and on the south side of Oltorf.

                                  It has shawerma, falafel, dolmas, babaganoush, gyros, etc. I have enjoyed everything I have had there, but my knowledge of mediterranean food is nil.

                                  It is nearly always empty. I think it is mainly because it has the most illegible sign I have ever seen. A family runs it (father, mother, son) and there is an arabic (I think) language station on tv all the time.

                                  I would be interested in the review of another Hound with more mediterranean food experience.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: El General

                                    I eat here often due to work proximity. It doesn't taste like my aunt's Greek food, but it isn't bad.

                                    1. re: El General

                                      Jerusalem's is alright. It is not a bargain, and the portions are only average. I have tried many dishes there (fried eggplant, hummus, falafel, gyro, swarma -I didn't spell that right).
                                      I recommend not to get a combination dish as they are rather expensive and not very satisfying. Stick with the hummus, or the very unique spicy falafel.

                                      1. re: opposite

                                        Let's not forget Pars Deli at the corner of Burnet and 183... Great kabob and rice... Ask for a pomegranate juice to go with it!

                                      2. re: El General

                                        Sarah's Mediterranean Market is the only Mediterranean place north of the river whose food I crave, specifically the roasted chicken. Kismet Cafe and Phoenicia on Burnet are pretty good.

                                        The food at Arpeggio Grill used to be very good. They used to make wonderful filled baklava. Some folks weren't too keen on the decor. The owners did a beautiful renovation and then got out of the business. Sigh.

                                        Jerusalem Gourmet Market on Oltorf has excellent lentil soup, a very nice vegetarian plate, specials like cabbage rolls (if you're lucky), and a cheese-filled pastry called kunafah (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanafeh) that is a-m-a-z-i-n-g!

                                        Longhorn Po-boys, Phoenicia (S Lamar), Marrakesh, Tino's (all locations), Zorba's are all ok. Personally, I'd rather get my fill at Dimassi's for about $10.
                                        Of course, you can get just a falafel for a lot less at one of the other places.

                                        Anybody remember when Longhorn Po-boys had the downtown location on Congress
                                        before it was Marrakesh? Those were great lunch plates.

                                        1. re: budgethound

                                          Sarah's has an excellent veggie plate for $5. You chose from Dolma or Falafel, and then you get hummus, a little salad, and tabouli. The almond rice that comes with their meat platters is freaking awesome.

                                          1. re: budgethound

                                            Arpeggio Grill is WIDE open, consistently/always good & their lunch special is a screamin' deal.

                                            -----
                                            Arpeggio Grill
                                            6619 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78752

                                        2. Doesn't seem like anyone's mentioned Phoenicia, which I find kind of surprising. Not that its mind-blowing good, but you can always count on their Chicken Schwarma. I'm pretty certain that the owners are Lebanese, fwiw. I go to the one nearby on S. Lamar, but the one just north of 45th and Burnet is equally wonderful. Lamb kabob is alright, though not as good as Ararat at its best in the mid-00's

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: taliesin15

                                            Next to Curras on Oltorf is a new Lebanese place (looks like a former Taco Bell building), called Tarbouch Lebanese Grill. I got food to-go- Lamb Kebab Plate and Veggie Plate. Very fresh, tasty and the prices are great.

                                            1. re: MGucci

                                              I've been to Tarbouch once, and it was fantastic. I had probably the best baba ghannouj I've ever had. The stuffed grape leaves are really good, too.

                                          2. I tried Dimassi's lunch buffet. It was alright, not great but not atrocious. Had some authentic type Lebanese stuff as well as some sort of generic Middle Easternish stews and even biriani. I didn't ask the owner where he was from but he was S. Asian. It did hit the spot and I liked the lamb stew and the grilled veggies best, plus the variety of rice pilafs with both short and long grain rices. Their seasoned meat kabob was very good, especially for being on a buffet. Didn't like the tabouleh at all. The baqlawa, basbousa, and jelly cookies were awful. Like I said, it is just okay. Good variety and you can find some decent things among some lame items.

                                            Has anyone been to Ya Hala? Any good?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: luckyfatima

                                              Just stopped into Zorba's in Round Rock on Sunday, 7/19. My wife had picked up hummus and pita before for a snack for us and we enjoyed it, so today, as I was out alone shopping I thought I'd stop in for a quick bite.

                                              I walked in to see that it was table service, but there was a cafeteria style line at the back with a cash register. So I proceeded to walk back to the cash register to order a gyro to go. A young woman stopped me about halfway back and asked if I wanted to eat in or get it to go. I told her I would like to just order something to go so she tells me to sit down.

                                              I thought that was odd, why can't I just go to the back and order something at the cash register? So I comply, and she brings me a menu. After I see that there is a gyro on the menu, and that's all i would like, I look over and she is just hanging out at the cash register. A few other employees are just lounging around in the kitchen. Wanting to follow "Official Zorba Protocol", I just sit and wait for her to take my order. She never comes over so I walk up to the cash register and I ask her if I can place my order at the cash register and pay there. She looks at me like I just interrupted her wedding and says "WHAT do you want?" I've never been treated like that in a restaurant before, so I just silently turned around and walked out.

                                              FYI, I'm not a hard to please person, I've never EVER walked out of a restaurant before. I just moved to Round Rock and will probably live here a long time, Zorba's could have had my business for years as well as my out of town guests. I will NEVER set foot in Zorba's again.

                                              BTW, the place was absolutely FILTHY.

                                              If I want Greek on a weekend, I will make the 20 mile trek to downtown to eat at Athenian Grill, they had wonderful service and the owner is usually working the line and is always helpful.

                                            2. I know this is a post about Middle Eastern, but The Athenian Grill (Greek, downtown, across from Ruth's Chris') serves most of the same food and is the best in town for what they serve. (The only thing I'm pretty sure they don't have that's been mentioned here is falafel.) They are consistently the best quality, the portions are plenty for what you get, and the food is always fresh.

                                              On another note, I'm surprised that Sarah's Grill has gotten such high reviews. I think the reviewers here are giving them an obscene amount of credit. It's alright, but it doesn't hold any weight to The Athenian.

                                              I have been to most of the other Mediterranean restaurants in town and the one I'd consider as my #2 choice would be The Arpeggio Grill. True, it doesn't have the atmosphere of some of the others, but I don't mind going to a hole-in-the-wall.

                                              Dimassi's, by the way, is HORRIBLE. Do yourself a favor and don't go there. I can't believe it was even mentioned. Food is bland and cold. It's all on a buffet which sits out forever. Families and college students camp out and feast for hours in this depressing restaurant. Oh, and the restaurant really goes the extra mile to make sure they don't lose money off the buffet. You know this because you won't be getting much high-quality foods from it – Dimassi's is a glorified Middle Eastern Golden Coral. And if all this doesn't convince you, let me also throw in that they are a Houston chain. I don't know about you, but I'd rather support the small, local Mediterranean restaurants that are filled with so much more quality and charm.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: italyvespa

                                                Sarah's gyro is disappointing - pre-sliced and reheated on the grill - but every other meal I've had (kefta, falafel, kebabs, shawarma) has been excellent.

                                              2. I can tell you where NOT to go for good Middle Eastern-Tarbouch on Oltorf. We went midafternoon on a Saturday. There was no one else in the place and the service was terrible. The tea was bitter and tasted like it had been sitting for a long time. I asked to have water instead and they still tried to charge me for the tea. 3 of us ordered separate dishes and they all came out about 5-10 minutes apart and looking exactly the same except for the meat. My dish was supposed to have basmati rice and didn't and when I finally found the waitress to ask for the rice she looked a little puzzled and said "well do you want a bowl of rice". She brought a plate of rice with a wrapped square of butter on top. The meat was very good-the beef, chicken and lamb. The hummus was ordinary, the iceberg lettuce salad, well, it was iceberg lettuce. While we were waiting for our check the cook and the waitress brought out several large bags of pita bread they had bought at Phoenicia, took them out of the bags and were sorting them out by hand at the table next to us. No decor, no personality, nothing at all that would make me want to go back to this place, especially the food.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: kathyk

                                                  Just head east on Oltorf, a little east of I-35, to Jerusalem Gourmet Market. See my earlier post for specific suggestions.

                                                  Near the UT campus, try the excellent grilled Lamb Mashawi (P10) at Kismet Cafe on 24th, just off Guadalupe.

                                                2. Hi,

                                                  Sorry if repetitious, but I went by Bylbos on Wednesday and found the space empty. Have they relocated?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: anjgupta

                                                    As far as I know they closed down about 6 months ago with no plans to relocate.

                                                  2. Just to pound on this expired equine some more: I've been to Alborz multiple times for the lunch buffet, and once for dinner. I like it, mostly because the chefs/cooks appear to know what they're doing and as such the dishes don't all taste/look the same.

                                                    Also, I'm usually there for lunch with a Lebanese friend. He likes their food as well. He says the tabouleh is more authentic in that it is mostly parsley.

                                                    1. I went to Sarah's Mediterranean on Burnet and North Loop yesterday for lunch yesterday and I had an amazing lamb shank plate. I have sampled lamb shank at a few 'fancy' restaurants, but this was by far the most tender, moist and savory lamb I have ever tasted. If you enjoy lamb, this is something you want to try.
                                                      The lamb shank is on a bed of fluffy rice which has been flavored with some very nice spices and toasted almonds. The plate includes hummus a very small salad and a side of pita bread. A very filling meal.
                                                      An $8.95 lunch is not exactly cheap, but the quality of the food was remarkable for the price.
                                                      Sarah's is a combo lunch counter and grocery store. The employees are extremely friendly and welcoming.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: nw_austin_gourmand

                                                        Arpeggio is, hads down, the besr Middle Easern resto in Austin. Why? Freshness, cosistency & value. Their $7.99 lunch (meat, 3 sides from around 10 choices) is outstanding. While not the best Gyro meat I've ever had, it's pretty good. Here, it's all about the mezze & salads. This place is a vegetarians delight! Nice folks, great deal, fantastic chow. Don't miss Arpeggio.

                                                        -----
                                                        Arpeggio Grill
                                                        6619 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX 78752

                                                        1. re: stellawine

                                                          Arpeggio--it's all about the sauce and they just don't have it...