New York is loved and famed for its experimental cuisine, diversity of flavors and tastes, and its melting pot of culinary heritages – including the food culture of the Middle East. These are the best Middle Eastern restaurants to try in NYC.
Akdeniz aims to offer a tempting starting point to diners who have never before encountered Turkish food, and to please established regulars. For a mid-town restaurant, the food is reasonably priced, with a welcoming, familial environment. Although a comfortable stop for a sit-down meal, it is the catering and delivery service for which Akdeniz is best-loved. This service offers the full range, from tamara (whipped red caviar mixed with olive oil and lemon choice), to baby lamb shish kebabs to marinated salmon skewers. Make sure you save room for dessert, because the almond cake is worth waiting for.
Akdeniz, 19 W 46th St, Manhattan, NY, USA, +1 212 575-2307
Restaurant, Middle Eastern, $$$
This restaurant brings the best of Middle Eastern cuisine to New York’s financial district. Since Alfanoose’s opening in 1999, owner Mouhamed Shami has sought to bring an authentic Syrian-cum-Lebanese dining experience to a now wide-reaching audience. Critics from the New Yorker magazine to local word on the street acclaim the unusual diversity and appealing freshness of everything that Shami dishes up. Most renowned for their falafels, this spot also serves more original offerings. This includes a vegetarian kibbeh wheat shell, generously stuffed with mint, spinach, Swiss chard, pomegranate juice, sesame seeds and garlic. Fancy something meaty? Try their lamb shawarma sandwich featuring juicy cuts marinated in vinegar and spices accompanied by grilled tomatoes and labnah.
Alfanoose, 64 Fulton St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 528-4669
Cafe, Restaurant, Israeli, Vegetarian, $$$
Don’t be disenchanted by the bedraggled interior and terse owner, for the food at Azuri Café, a kosher Israeli cafe and takeaway outlet, is knock-out. This place favors a vegetarian-heavy menu and it is advisable to stick to the classics, which are done very well. The less-than-tempting-sounding ‘vegetarian patty’ is a surprising delight. It arrives laden with a wealth of sides including unctuous baba ganoush, flash fried aubergine and toasted rice, all deftly spiced. Soak it all up with as much of their wonderfully puffed pita as you can manage.
Azuri Café, 465 W 51st St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 262-2920
Hailing from Turkey, the staff behind the Beyoglu Grill have made their native cuisine into a competitive business model. Offering great lunch deals, this joint is heaving in the midday office cram. Open from breakfast until late, their tempting selection of quasi pudding patisseries are a delectable treat at any time of day. These are perfectly accompanied by an amber-colored Turkish tea. If you have the chance for a more leisurely visit, make sure you sample a selection of starters, sides and desserts as well as the main event. In the former camp, the acili ezme (finely chopped tomatoes and walnuts seasoned with hot chili peppers), and mucver (finely chopped courgette pancake) are deserving choices. Meanwhile the latter camp is crowned by a buttery and gently crystalized baklava.
Beyoglu, 1431 3rd Ave, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 650-0850
Diner, Restaurant, Middle Eastern, $$$
Gazala’s Place, nicknamed Gazala’s, is the creation of chef and owner Gazala Halabi, and celebrates her culinary heritage as an Israeli Druze. Halabi points out that hospitality is a Druze characteristic: ‘I want my restaurant to be a place to eat Druze food, to sample Druze culture and be treated like family.’ So what foodie delights can you expect? Head to Gazala’s for a decadent and leisurely weekend brunch to sample the ‘Druze Breakfast’. A filling and well balanced meze of mohamar, zatar, meat pies served with hard boiled egg, houmous and tahini is a great option for the cultural diner. For those who want a twist on a firm Big Apple classic, opt for scrambled eggs – Druze style. Don’t expect anything too close to home, though, as Gazala serves up eggs with sautéed lamb, houmous and a variety of homemade fries.
Gazala’s, 709 9th Ave, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 245-0709
Restaurant, Mediterranean, $$$
Pitching themselves as ‘New York’s premier contemporary Lebanese restaurant offering inspired Mediterranean cuisine’, Ilili aspires to fuse authentic Lebanese dishes with modern Mediterranean influences. This culinary and sensory journey has divided reviewers in the past into a love or hate categorization. However, of late Ilili seems to be winning more supporters than enemies. For an alternative Middle Eastern experience, arrive between 4 and 7.30pm on weekdays, for happy hour prices. They offer a great selection of drinks ranging from the poison sumac margarita cocktail (tequila, pomegranate juice, lime and orange liquor) to the ‘from Manhattan to Beirut’ (bourbon, St. Germaine orange blossom water). These are accompanied by delicious dishes such as mini beef dumplings, yogurt and piquant peppers. The price is competitive for the area and it gets busy, so don’t go if you intend on a secluded date night.
Ilili Restaurant, 236 5th Ave, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 683-2929
If you’ve ever seen Cake Boss, that wonderful display of Italian-meets-American gourmandize and TV gluttony, you may notice that Mamoun’s appears to be setting itself up to attract a similar fan base, albeit not the most culinary aspiring one. With numerous locations across New York, Mamoun’s have built their falafel empire around just that: ground chickpeas and a great marketing team. They offer a popular spread of perhaps less authentic, but crowd-pleasing generic Middle Eastern fare. Their falafel and variants of them, are fantastic. They have clearly perfected their spice blend, because these tasty bites are great on their own, as well as with a range of sides from minty tabbouleh to sticky vine leaves wrapped in rice.
Mamouns, 119 Macdougal St, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 674-8685
Bar, Middle Eastern, $$$
Chef and owner Rawia Bishara is happy to share how her cooking has evolved since opening Tanoreen in 1998. Having been a lavish home and dinner party cook, she decided to take her concoctions to the wider public. A success from the outset, she continues to experiment with the traditional Middle Eastern cooking which she ate and learnt growing up, but with increasing confidence to bend the rules. On the menu, kibbie (a shell of ground lamb, bulgur and spices studded with pine nuts, almonds and onion) nestles alongside fried halloumi served with fresh vegetables and kalamata olives. Make an evening of it by making yourself at home with a Nazareth sunrise cocktail (pear vodka, fresh orange and rose flower). Drink this in the bar gleaming with mosaic lanterns and sumptuous wall tapestries.
Tanoreen, 7523 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY, USA, +1 718 748-5600
Situated in a quiet corner in Hell’s Kitchen, Taboon marks its 10th anniversary this year. Established by partners Danny and Ayala Hodak and Gadi and Sheila Ruham, this place has established a loyal following thanks to their take on ‘Middleterranean’ cuisine. The central attraction is the glowing wide-domed oven which flavors the original wood-fired dishes. So too is the handmade cooking piqued with the vibrant spices and flavors of the Middle East and Mediterranean. Serving up the usual culprits of falafel, baked breads, kebabs and koftas, this place has a cooking method and menu deals which sets it apart. The reasonably priced pre- or post-theater menu lets you choose a meze, main and dessert. This, along with treats such as sautéed calamari, chicken taboon and silva (an ice cream, honey and crushed pistachio extravagance), will be the perfect refreshment for your evening’s entertainment.
Taboon, 773 10th Ave, 52nd Street, New York, NY, USA, +1 212 713-0271
This Hebrew name denotes tasty and delicious, and by all counts Taim lives up to its reputation. The team behind this enterprise aim to cook Middle Eastern dishes with love and adherence to traditional methods, but with a modern, gourmet twist. Profiting from the healthy-living New Yorkers in the locale, this destination has made a strictly vegetarian menu their characteristic amid the plethora of multifarious cuisines in West Village. There are dishes to suit any palate. Opt for the harissa balls if you like a slow burn, ‘green’ if you prefer your falafel crammed full of fresh parsley, coriander and mint, or ‘red’ for the warmth of roasted red peppers. The refreshing and exotically spiced smoothies on offer at Taim are also delicious.
Taïm, 222 Waverly Pl, Manhattan, NY, USA, +1 212 691-1287