Herbs, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic are the iconic ingredients of Lebanese cuisine, a tantalizing fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. Eating out in the capital Beirut is a fantastic chance to sample anything from international to Lebanese fare, from locally sourced delicacies to haute cuisine delights. These ten restaurants represent a handpicked selection of venues that represent the best of Beirut dining.
Karam sits on the border between simplicity and rich tradition. The experience here is all about the food, hearty, filling Lebanese food that is both generous and tasty. And for that reason, Karam might just offer the perfect introduction to Lebanese gastronomy. With this in mind, the mezze is one of the best options here. Similar to the Italian antipasto, but richer both in variety and quantity, the mezze comprises a number of simple but tantalizing small platters: fattoush (salad with vegetables and breadcrumbs), hummus (a creamy dip made from chickpeas), preserved vegetables, yoghurt, pita bread and many others. Arak, Lebanon’s national, anise-based drink, makes for a great finish to the rich meal.
Tawlet has a great concept behind it. A branch of Souk el Tayeb, a market where small-scale farmers from every region of Lebanon come together to sell their produce, Tawlet offers typical Lebanese food made with fresh ingredients brought by the farmers themselves, served as a buffet. But in addition to the high-quality food, Tawlet’s most characteristic feature is that every day, a different guest chef from a different village in Lebanon cooks a lunch based on the culinary delicacies of his or her area, making Tawlet the venue to sample Lebanese cuisine in all its regional variations. At Tawlet, food reflects culture and for those who really want to get in touch with Lebanon’s culinary culture, the restaurant also offers cooking classes.
For typical Lebanese food on the go and on a budget, visitors to Beirut should plan a stop at Kabab-ji. From a single outlet which opened in Beirut in 1993, Kabab-ji has grown to become a chain of restaurants covering all major cities in Lebanon, with a few extra around the world. However, this is by no means a simple fast food venue. Despite the fast service, the char-grilled meats (and the kebab) that are served in sandwiches or on platters are prepared with care and fresh ingredients, and make Kabab-ji a favourite among locals.
The mission of Al Balad is to twist traditional Lebanese recipes to introduce ingredients and flavors from around the world, while remaining faithful to the essentials of the country’s cuisine. Customers can choose from a variety of grilled meats, salads, pitas and fetteh, a typical dish that has breadcrumbs as its base, and which can be mixed with a variety of other ingredients. Of all dishes, the most popular must be the kebbeh, a sort of large meatball covered with rice or bulgur, and fried.
Em Sherif is perfect for those seeking an unconventional fine-dining experience in the heart of Beirut. It’s a themed restaurant with a luxurious atmosphere inspired by the far-away Orient. Em Sherif boasts a sophisticated and exclusive decor rich in detail, and features a band playing classical Arab music, conveying Lebanon’s culture. Despite the Oriental setting, the menu is typically Lebanese, and sure enough it includes the traditional mezze. Alongside carefully presented and generous portions, customers can choose from a fine selection of French, Italian and Lebanese wines.
The Gathering is the perfect culinary destination for those with a passion for the environment. The menu is prepared with fresh ingredients from local producers to reduce the restaurant’s carbon footprint, and eco-friendly items are used throughout. Alongside the impressive menu including Italian dishes and succulent grills dominate there is an extensive selection of wines, including over 1,000 options. The Gathering is set in a historical location, within a group of three 19th century stone houses once inhabited by three of the most powerful families in Beirut. There is also a charming garden for enjoying alfresco dining.
Jaï is a take-out restaurant with an open kitchen, where hungry customers can watch chef Wael Lazkani cook their dinner right in front of them. The concept is relaxed and intimate, and certainly conducive to fun conversations from across the bar. The menu itself is ripe with items such as chicken, shrimp rolls, fish cakes, noodle soups and curry. You will find an irresistible mix of spicy Indian, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, making Jaï the ideal destination for all lovers of Asian cuisine. All food can be taken away and enjoyed while strolling around Beirut’s Kantari neighborhood.
Momo at the Souks is the brainchild of Mourad Mouzaz, a restaurateur who opened a number of other successful restaurants in London, Paris and Dubai. While not typically Lebanese, Momo at the Souks is a great choice for those who fancy a hip restaurant, right in the heart of bustling Beirut. Both a restaurant and a bar, Momo at the Souks is characterized by a strong North African influence that suffuses both the menu and the interior design. Although the stylish design and furnishings make a great impression, the orange trees and other plants in the terrace gardens on the second floor top them. The equally exotic positions on the menu provide a tantalizing mix of strong, Moroccan flavors combined with the refinement of delicate French cuisine.
Opened in March 2013 in the Saifi Village in the center of Beirut, Gilt quickly built a reputation as one of the best restaurants in town and deservedly so. More than a place to eat, Gilt combines food, design and music, making the dining experience truly cultural. The menu, a cosmopolitan fusion of Mediterranean, Asian and Peruvian dishes, features a number of exciting propositions, while the food itself is simply excellent. While the eclectic selection of music creates an intimate ambience, the architecture, a spot-on combination of cool, modern style accompanied by the warmth of wood and dim lights, is simply excellent. Gilt also has a bar where a range of expertly prepared cocktails can be enjoyed.
For those looking for a change from mezzes, grilled meats and the omnipresent lemon juice, St. Elmo’s is the right spot, nestled in the Zaituna Bay in the Beirut Marina. St. Elmo’s offers simple and honest New England food, ranging from fish and chips to lobster rolls, with colorful servings of salad in between. Like the food, the atmosphere is unpretentious, St. Elmo’s genuinely has laid-back charm. And the nautical atmosphere, with its navy blue, model vessels, ropes and fake sharks, transports customers to a different continent.