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Sahara Lebanese restaurant / Sami's Bakery (Tampa)

The best middle eastern in Tampa? Sahara is certainly a contender, and for the price the quality excellent. The sweet Lebanese family that runs this little place on Busch (in a bleak strip mall with a Big Lots) recently renovated the restaurant side of the space, with pleasant warm wood and booths.

Even the iced tea is excellent. The gyros are great, with seasoned skin on fries and a little fresh side salad. Cost: $6.50. The kofta wrap is even better, with the rich, mint-flecked beef surrounded by creamy melted hummus. I wasn't as thrilled with the falafel, which lacks the crispiness i usually look for. But the baked goods are great--- spinach and cheese pies are wonderfully proportioned and balanced, with a light pillowy dough. Only 99 cents. wow.

The deli/bakery/grocery is lovely, with all kinds of flatbreads, sweets, and savory pies, not to mention the deli case filled with all manner of freshly prepared food. The family is sweet and attentive, but they may need your help keeping the orders straight.

I have visited 6 times in the last two weeks. It is that good.

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  1. Sami's Bakery's millet flax bread is amazing.

    1. ---- biting my bottom lip.....

      1. I used to eat at Sami's often when I lived over in Tampa. I saw a new Sami's storefront open farther towards Busch Gardens on Busch blvd. Are they moving their restaurant into the new storefront?

        1. Andy -better than Oasis & Byblos? You have my attention :)

          Also there's a new place opening up on Memorial near the airport kinda, I believe it's going to be called cypress (or cedar, i forget) lebanese

          2 Replies
          1. re: askdrtodd

            The lebanese place on Memorial is open.

            Small, place lacks any atmosphere, hole in the wall (not iin a bad way) just nothing to say about the place.

            Stoped a few days ago, picked-up a falfel sandwich, to try them out, and the sandwich was small for the money (I have had better for less).

            Hope they tune in to the area, and make it.

            1. re: TampaPete

              I have hesitated to stop because there are never any cars there. I did not even realize it was still open.

          2. Sahara has been around for about 15 years, but this recent renovation makes them more of a sit-down restaurant. I had shopped there before many moons ago but never ate there.

            The millet flax bread is amazing, with 32% of daily fiber in one flatbread, and it crisps up nicely when warmed in the oven and eats like a chip.

            I ate at Byblos and thought it was good, but Sahara has several plusses: the rock bottom prices, the grocery/deli, and the lack of belly dancers. The smaller Byblos near campus is a great addition to the area is nice, but the flavors, value, and selection can't compare to Sahara. Never tried Oasis.

            2 Replies
            1. re: andy huse

              Agreed on the value statement vs. Byblos, you should definitely check out Oasis though, my co-worker is from Lebanon and he practically lives at Oasis. The chicken and rice is particularly good (it's a special one day a week but I forget which one) and also the eggplant/tomato dish is quite yummy.

              1. re: askdrtodd

                sounds great--- i'm there!

                sahara does the simpler things but often does them well. the baked goods are impossible to ignore. the pillowy spinach and feta pies, along with the open faces meat pies, are worth the visit alone.

            2. it makes me sad to say so, but Sahara is a really disappointing experience on the service end. The family is friendly but seems terribly scatterbrained. Fromn now on, I will order to go, but i don't have the pateince to dine in. Worse, they are warming their great pies in the microwave (i think), leaving them dry and chewy in some parts, soggy in others, and unevenly heated. what a shame, because the food itself is usually very good. If i were them, I'd be taking their new restaurant much more seriously than they presently do.

              1. Sahara has good daily specials, too. The same family owns Cedar Market in St. Petersburg as well as Sami's Bakery. My favorite Lebanese in the area is the Kebab House in Dunedin, though.

                1. If you live North of Tampa you have to try Garden of Eden Restaurant in Hudson. It's real home cooking style lebanese food and the portions are huge and the prices pretty cheap.
                  I live in New Port Richey and that's my favorite place in this area for sure.

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                  Garden of Eden Mediterranean restaurant
                  13510 U.S. 19, Hudson, FL 34667