Craving falafel, couscous or kebabs? The best Middle Eastern restaurants in New York have all that and more, offering Persian specialties, Lebanese classics and Arab cuisine. Options span from Astoria restaurants to midtown grills to some of the best Brooklyn restaurants—a meal at the acclaimed Tanoreen is one of the best things to do in Bay Ridge. Get your fill at the best Middle Eastern restaurants in NYC.
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Best Middle Eastern restaurants
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.
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.
The word balaboosta connotes an endearing Jewish type: The homemaker who possesses just the right touch in everything—a true domestic goddess. Israeli chef-owner Einat Admony embodies that multiplicity. She’s well versed in the ingredients of India, Europe, South America and of course, her native Middle East, combining them in dishes—some great, most daring—at this venture. A marinated half chicken cooked under a brick was ideal comfort food, featuring crisp and juicy heritage fowl with gremolata and apricot-studded Israeli couscous. Lamb three ways was a fitting homage to Admony’s high- and lowbrow culinary backgrounds—a tender lamb chop was bathed in lime sauce; soft tenderloin wrapped in Swiss chard rested on fennel puree; and fried kibbe was filled with a hearty mixture of lamb, pine nuts, raisins and spices.
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).
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.
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.
Venue says: “Manousheh is a Lebanese bakery that specializes in traditional flatbreads. Street food at its best!”
Expanding from a Smorgasburg stall to a brick-and-mortar, the Lebanese street-food vendor layers its namesake breakfast flatbread with savory toppings like akkawi cheese, za'atar spices and ground beef, or sweet additions like halawa (candied sesame paste) and Nutella.
Red chandeliers and technicolor yellow, red and blue walls conjure up distant bazaars at this festive spot, where crowds pack in for expertly crafted Turkish cuisine from eccentric chef Orhan Yegen. Plates fly from the kitchen at an impressive pace: an appetizer of ethereal tarama (red caviar spread) topped with slices of smoked salmon seems to arrive seconds after ordering. Entrées soon follow, including manti—delicate beef dumplings resembling tiny tricorne hats in a tangy yogurt sauce—and chunks of juicy grilled lamb served with a homemade tomato-based hot sauce, so good it should be bottled and sold.
It's comfort food, Middle Eastern–style. When ordering here, don't skimp on pitas; the fresh-baked, puffed-up pillows are an ideal accompaniment to smoky, smooth baba ghanoush. The plain-sounding cheese, parsley and egg phyllo roll hides a decadent filling, a molten multiculti mix of mozzarella and feta cheese. And then there are the pitzas: The kid-approved tomato-and-cheese version is a pleasing near-relative of the Italian pizzeria staple.
If you don’t feel like splurging at Mombar, head a few doors down to the pint-size Kabab Café. The food is just as delectable, but cheaper and less gussied-up. Cheerful proprietor Ali el-Sayed wants you to be happy; start on your way with velvety baba ghanoush (studded with apples for a sweet twist) and eggeh, a golden-brown egg fritter. Logs of ground lamb and beef kofta are well-spiced, and the classic moussaka is a hearty vegetarian option.