Best Middle Eastern restaurants
If you want falafel, go to Mamoun’s. You won’t find the chickpea spheres anywhere at Nur, the forward-thinking, pan–Middle Eastern restaurant in Gramercy from Israeli-Moroccan celebutoque Meir Adoni (of Tel Aviv’s acclaimed Blue Sky and Lumina) and Breads Bakery founder Gadi Peleg. Instead, Adoni stretches beyond Israeli comfort cooking to pull influences from all over the Levant, from Jewish and Arab traditions as well as his own North African roots.
No, Miss Ada isn’t the name of some chef’s grade-school teacher. Rather, it’s a playful twist on the phonetic pronunciation of misada, the Hebrew word for "restaurant." It’s also where chef-owner Tomer Blechman marries his childhood memories of cooking with his grandma and grandpa in Tel Aviv and his experience working in revered New York restaurants. The result is an exquisite, unique twist on modern Mediterranean cuisine including some of our favorite mezze and hummus in town.
This heralded Israeli pita shop in Chelsea Market is a key player in the renaissance of Middle Eastern cuisine in NYC. The menu is split up between in-a-pita and out-of-the-pita, though you're going to want to get a sampling of both (especially the whole roasted baby cauliflower).
This restaurant is authentically Persian yet inherently Brooklyn. The eatery’s name refers to the cloth that Iranians spread on the floor and cover with platters of food. But you won’t see any linens at this spot: The restaurant sports cement tables and cement floors with a white-painted brick wall. The cozy vibes arrive when chef-owner Nasim Alikhani’s food hits the table, offering a culinary crash course in Persian cuisine, highlighting many classic techniques and ingredients.
Named after the Middle Eastern spice blend, this Arabian-French bistro showcases the family recipes of Lebanese home cook Salwa Fallous. Highlighting the flavors of the Levant and North Africa, Fallous offers dishes like lamb shank with Armagnac-prune sauce, Tunisian merguez couscous and Lebanon's national dish, kibbe kras (bulgur wheat with beef, onions and pine nuts). The 46-seat restaurant, outfitted with burgundy banquettes, exposed-brick walls and a five-stool bar, also offers organic wines and craft beers (Left Hand Milk Stout, Magic Hat #9).
This Greenwich Village restaurant specializes in its namesake, kubeh, a Middle Eastern dish that can either appear as a meat croquette or dumpling filled with meat. Here, it appears in the Kurdish style commonly served in Israel: round balls of dough made from bulgur wheat, chickpeas or rice filled with veggies, fish or meat and served in broth. Choose from a variety of fillings and broths to build your bowl of kubeh.
Though New York’s food scene may be the world’s most diverse, not every type of cuisine is well represented. Since 1998, Tanoreen—a cult destination in Bay Ridge—has been alone at the top above other Middle Eastern establishments, a standard bearer in a category that has few. Palestinian-born Rawia Bishara, who runs the restaurant with her daughter Jumana, prowls the dining room nightly, a maternal hostess generously handing out hugs, handshakes, and big party platters lavishly garnished in tomatoes, parsley and za’atar dust. Her cooking—Middle Eastern soul food, you might call it—is based on tradition but not enslaved by it. While many dishes are just like what her mother made, plenty of others chart their own course.
Falafel doesn’t usually come in different flavors—unless it’s made by an Israel-born chef who’s worked under Bobby Flay. At her falafel and smoothie bar, Taïm, chef Einat Admony seasons chickpea batter three ways: traditional (with parsley and cilantro), sweet (with roasted red pepper) and spicy (with Tunisian spices and garlic). She pairs the terrific falafel with tasty salads like marinated beets, spicy Moroccan carrot salad or baba ghanoush, and three dipping sauces. The smoothies are exotic too—date-lime-banana, pineapple–coconut milk and a refreshing cantaloupe-ginger—and can be made with whole, skim, soy or no milk.
Persian dishes make you feel healthier just by looking at them: The cuisine relies on simple, fresh ingredients and lots of grilling—and you can sample it here in the form of flavorful kebabs. The standard lamb versions are available, but try the albaloo polo with jujeh instead: chunks of cornish hen marinated in lemon, grilled and served with basmati rice spiked with sour cherries. An appetizer of mirza ghasemi (a warm, smoky puree of tomato and eggplant) makes for an elegant, hopelessly addictive change from the usual baba ghanoush; the four sambuseh (fried samosalike dumplings) can be dipped in a fiery chutney.
One of the city’s hipper Middle Eastern restaurants, this lusty space is a welcome oasis on the western fringes of midtown. Flickering candles, a tiled open kitchen and a working stone oven offer a nice backdrop to the piquant, Pan–Middle Eastern cuisine. Standards like tsatsiki and hummus are well executed, but more inventive dishes, like the savory pastry cigars filled with sweetbreads, oyster mushrooms, parsley, preserved lemon and harissa, are more interesting.
It’s 4am, and you have three dollars and the munchies. Take heart: Mamoun’s Falafel is there for you, day or night. Serving quality Middle Eastern food since 1971, the place charges an extra 50 cents for to-go orders (which seems like a premium on top of a $2 order), so it’s an even better deal to show up late at night, when you might get a seat. The falafel is served in a pita with lettuce, tomato and tahini, and you’d be well advised to add hummus or baba ganoush. Sweet pastries such as baklava and knafe—shredded phyllo dough with pistachios—leave you satisfied and ready for bed.
The 300-seat box of a restaurant is stunning: In the main dining room, the honey-hued wood-paneled walls, pocked with windows and mirrors, create the impression of a giant kaleidoscope, and high ceilings and a plush adjacent lounge add to the feeling of grandeur. Ilili chooses an accessible entry point to haute Lebanese: an elegant take on the familiar. The falafel, for instance, has a crisp crust as manicured as a suburban lawn (and unfortunately, a pasty interior), topped by a dainty cylinder of chopped tomato; humble pita bread, instead of being just an afterthought, is unusually light, like an Indian puri; a beautiful chankleech cheese-and-tomato salad is chopped fine with scallions, thyme and oregano.
Almayass, which for the past dozen years has been among the top tables in jet-set Beirut, brings a taste of contemporary Lebanon to New York, with an upmarket spin on the country’s homey cuisine, best enjoyed in a pass-around feast. Shant and Rita Alexandrian, who’ve brought Al Mayass outposts to Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Kuwait, dispatched two of their children to the chain’s North American debut, featuring the same polished Lebanese-Armenian cooking as the original, and a similar mix of pastel-hued glass sculptures and tall potted trees.