Looking for the best Middle Eastern food....
First, I must acknowledge that I'm a big fan of Syrian/Lebanese/Palestinian food. My four grandparents, long-since passed away, all immigrated from northern Syria through Ellis Island in the World War I timeframe. As a 3rd-generation Arab American, I grew up on the recipes my grandmother passed down to my mothers and aunts. Picture 20 Syrian ladies taking over the kitchen of the Orthodox Church for two days prior to the Hafli (festival) to roll about 5,000 stuffed grape leaves, and you'll know the joy I've known! So when I moved to the DC area in 1980, it's always been a quest to find the best.
My favorite place in the early '80s was Lebanese Taverna at it's original location on Washington Blvd. It's original location, not when it expanded to include the place next door. When I would walk in, Dory's wife back in the kitchen would yell with joy because she knew that by the time I was finished eating, she would probably be able to afford a new dress! That was when Dany and Alex were little kids running around the little dining room. It's not that good anymore. The Tysons II restaurant is now all glitz and noise, and none of the other outposts match the original back in its heyday. It has become "trendy".
I've eaten at a variety of places similar to Lebanese Taverna -- Layalina, Bacchus, Skewers, Mama Ayesha, Mediterranean Bakery, Kabob Palace, Fettoosh, and quite a few others.
But I'm still looking for the ultimate in Middle Eastern food, prepared with the love my grandmothers gave it. The closest I've come to far is Aladdin's in Burke and Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church.
Aladdin's is a surprise. They really are fixated on quality, healthful ingredients, and I've tasted just about the whole menu. I love the hummos, baba ghanouj, kibbee, sambusek, kafta and kabobs. Lebanese Butcher is maybe a slight cut above, similar to Lebanese Taverna 25 years ago. These are my two current favorites....
I'm looking for everyone else's favorites. In a metropolitan area like Washington DC, I would imagine Middle Eastern food to be more prevalent and higher quality than, say, Ethiopian or Vietnamese. Please help me build a top ten list to taste my way through. Thanks!
Finding the quality of food I used to eat in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv has been difficult. I've found a few places are great for a few individual things, though I have yet to find a one size fits all place.
At this point the Lebanese Taverna market takes the cake for me for fetoosh and fatyer b'jibne, the Lebanese Butcher takes the cake for me for dolmades and and shawerma, and strangely enough Amsterdam falafel reminds me of the wonderful falafel I used to get on the streets of Tel Aviv in the late night hours after being out at the clubs.
Unfortunately a lot of the vegetables don't carry through the freshness and summer sweetness as does the soil and climate of the middle east.
Rose Cafe in Vienna for Persian, particularly the stews and lamb shank. Great torshi, roast garlic, mast-o-khir.
Shamshirry for kabobs and rice dishes, also Persian.
Mirage in Bailey's Crossroads has a limited Persian menu with very good Lebanese desserts.
Lebnan Zaman in Tyson's is a divey hookah cafe with copious platters. YMMV.
Tremendous kabobs at Food Corner (Afghan), various locations, I know there is one in Annandale and another in Tyson's. I am not so fond of their vegetable dishes which are very plain and oily, but you might also want to try a couple of the meat stews they have.
Faryab in Bethesda is my favorite Afghan restaurant in the area, look for the buranee, aush, and the kadlu palow.
Rose Cafe is changing from a carry-out with table space to a real sit-down restaurant. The menu still has the same things (though prices seemed a couple of bucks higher) and now there are white tablecloths, real plates (darn heavy plates at that) and metal knives and forks. Still tasty as of last weekend, and that's a good thing.
Old City of Jerusalem Cafe in Adams Morgan (on columbia rd, north and east of 18th) is the best I've had in the city. Hummos is the best I've ever had anywhere, and they have a fantastic "salad bar" with baba ghanouj, tomato / cucumber salads, olives, and whole mess of other toppings. I highly recommend it. And they're also open really late on the weekends if you're out on the scene in adams morgan and need a late night bite.
6122 Franconia Road in a little strip mall/plaza with Sampan Cafe and a good pizzeria (owned by an Iraqi, I believe). It has about 10 tables in the front and on the sidewalk outside, but they're usually filled with Middle Easterners eating great food! The bakery in the back has a brick oven -- try the fresh zaatar bread. The place has a full menu and the carry out business is thriving, but I go right to the counter in the back and have them fill me up a carry out container with hummos, bab ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, olives, some cucumber-yogurt salad and a half dozen sfeeha -- open faced pies filled with yogurt-tomato-zaatar, or yogurt-meat, or a few other fillings. Head to head against the Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria, the sfeeha here are at least two notches higher in quality.
Med Gourmet Market is a favorite place of mine for a very casual (patio furniture) and cheap lunch. Very limited menu, though, they have kabobs, shawarmas and, of course, that great fired oven that puts out excellent zataar and lahmehs (minced meat on bread). I personally like the the safehas and fatayers at the Med Bakery on Pickett better, but if you don't want to put up with the crowds there, this is the place. Very low key, they were open for two years before I even knew they were there. Lebanese are some of the best people on the planet, go and go often!