These places may go by many names - Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Lebanese, Persian - and though it is clearly not possible for all of these titles to be correct, in Houston we usually have a general sense of what the person is talking about when they mention any of the above cuisine styles: a menu dominated by grilled meats, pillowy flat breads, creamy dips, and fresh herbs. For the sake of fairness, the focus of this list is only Middle Eastern venues, with the exclusion of other forms of Mediterranean fare. Here are my top 5 picks for Middle Eastern restaurants.
5. Fadi's Mediterranean Grill Although I have never had a bad meal at any Fadi's location, the one on Westheimer is by far my favorite. First, they have a drive-thru, which means I can enjoy a real meal without even having to get my lazy butt out of the car. Second, this place probably has the best pita in town, baked up like a pizza crust in their amazing brick oven. Do yourself a favor and start off with some savory dolmas before trying the succulent kebabs.
4. Mary'z Lebanese Cuisine Mary'z is one of those cool little joints that may not have the absolute best food in town, but where you still find yourself drawn there time and time again. It is an especially good choice for bringing large groups of friends to split plates of smooth, almost buttery hummus and big platters of hot-off-the-grill meats. Perfect for nights when you want to see and be seen, the patio is always filled to capacity with people relaxing and smoking hookah.
3. Bijan Persian Grill Deep in the heart of the Mahatma Gandhi district, Bijan stands out as a delicious Persian grill in a sea of Indian and Pakistani joints. The lush patio is an opulent setting for dates, and the platter of feta and herbs that accompanies the big disc of taftoon makes for a refreshing palate cleanser between bites of lamb and beef chunks served over some of the fluffiest rice around.
2. Kasra Persian Grill Though I only recently discovered Kasra, it has quickly climbed the list to one of my favorite new places to grab a bite. I insist on starting off with silky-smooth, garlicky hummus, and I don't think I have ever left a bit of it on the plate. The shrimp kebabs served atop dill rice are the embodiments of both simplicity and perfection, as are the grilled meats. And the exceptionally helpful servers add a charm often lost at many of today's restaurants.
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1. Abdallah's Bakery Three words: best shawarmas ever. My best friend, and one of the pickiest eaters I know, insists on visiting this place as often as possible to load up on crispy falafel and fork-tender meats, topped with house-made pickled veggies and enveloped in elegantly thin pita bread. With a fun, casual vibe, Abdallah's is perfect for grabbing a quick lunch on the go or hanging around enjoying a delicious, inexpensive plate of food. And since it's a bakery, you would be seriously remiss to skip the baklava with a cup of hot mint tea.