At first glance, Beirut, Lebanon, like many cities in the Mediterranean, feels fractured. With protests and infrastructure problems making headlines, it’s easy to dismiss the city when planning your next trip. But while it has its fair share of struggles, Beirut is also home to one of the richest cuisines in the world—and its culinary scene is gold. Here, a roundup of eight things you definitely should eat while in Beirut, and where to find the best versions. Feast your eyes on this.
When in Beirut, one must eat falafel. Either way, locals who know their falafel from their falahlas (an Arabic term meaning “peasant-ish”) will shove you in the direction of one of three places. Falafel Freiha, next to the ABC Mall in Ashrafieh, is one of those hole-in-the-wall spots that you could easily pass by. Don’t ye be so foolish. The falafel balls are crunchy and full of flavor. And if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe they’ve been deep fried.
ABC Mall, Alfred Naccache St., Mar Mitr, Ashrafieh
The Original Falafel Sahyoun
Serving the first falafel sandwich in 1933, Sahyoun is an iconic landmark of sorts in Beirut. (It was even featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.) There are just two options here: a falafel sandwich or simply falafel balls. We recommend grabbing a sandwich packed in pita bread with tomatoes, radishes, parsley, mint and a signature tahini-based sauce. There’s an option to add the Sahyoun red chili sauce. Do it.
Bchara El Khoury St., Bachoura
The first difference you’ll notice about Falafel Arax is the light brown color of the falafel. Legend has it this is because of the secret recipe the Heybelian family has been refining since 1949. There are three locations across Beirut; we suggest trying the flagship shop in Burj Hammoud.
Arax St., Bourj Hammoud
We get it: Falafel isn’t for everyone. An unapologetic carnivore (channeling Ron Swanson) just wouldn’t be satisfied. So what would he love? Easy: The wraps known as shawarma, which feature meat (chicken, beef, lamb, turkey) grilled on a vertical spit for hours and then shaved for serving. For your first foray into this spicy sandwich, Joseph in Sin el Fil is the spot. It was voted by local foodie pros as the “tastiest sandwich in the world” for 2015, so you know its street cred is real. Try the chicken shawarma and ask for extra garlic aioli. The taste will linger all day in the absolute best way.
Mar Elias St., Sin El-Fil. Tel.: +9611510520
While Joseph is a meat-stitution in East Beirut, Barbar in Hamra is an all-time classic and part of the history of West Beirut. In fact, Barbar’s spit kept turning even during the 1990 war. Now that’s commitment. It’s the perfect place to pick up a sandwich on the go and a must-stop when you need a post-party late-night snack. Eat it on the street with the cool locals.
Speers St., Hamra. Tel.: +961 1 112 233
They say that there are plenty of fish in the sea. But any singleton knows that’s a platitude. So allow us to do you one better: Introductions. Have you met Meat the Fish? Nestled in the cobblestone streets of the Art Quarter and hidden among upscale fashion boutiques, this tiny spot needs to be on your list. We should tell you up front that this is not a restaurant: It’s a fish-and-meat market where you can get 83-plus types of fresh quality meat and fish from around the world. But the shop does offer daily specials for delivery (or you can hope there’s space at the one communal tables, or perch on a pallet outside). The market opens at 10:30 a.m. and lunch usually starts at 11:30, with salads, sandwiches (the salmon is legendary), fresh oysters, ceviche, sashimi and more.
Moukhallassiya St., Saifi Village. Tel.: +961 1 993 606
Pizza as a breakfast food: Who wouldn’t want to jump on that? Well, manakeesh (more or less Lebanese for “pizza”) is traditionally a breakfast dish featuring flatbread topped with thyme, cheese or ground meat. Eat it whenever you want at Zaatar w Zeit, a popular chain with locations across Beirut. The zaatar is the traditional Lebanese manakeesh: Think wild thyme, sesame and olive oil. Dairy fans shouldn’t resist ordering the zaatar with melted cheese. For a heartier classic, go with the Lahmeh Bi Ajjine, topped with ground meat and spices. You’re welcome.
Call 1523 for delivery.
Long before brunch became cool in Beirut, Casablanca was offering eggs and mimosas on a quaint balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. If you can’t nab a seat outside, don’t fret: The interior is offbeat yet divine, with high ceilings, a marble floor and pops of red, yellow and blue in a traditional Lebanese home. The husband-and-wife team who runs the place sources organic produce from the family farm in the countryside. Brunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a menu of classics: free-range eggs (Benedict, scrambled, sunny-side up, omelets) bagels (cream cheese and salmon, please), free-range yogurt with fruit and maple syrup, and fresh juices and daytime cocktails. We recommend the French toast. It’s as decadent as they come.
Dar el-Mreisseh St., Qaddoura Building, second flr., Ain el-Mreisseh. Tel.: +961 1 369 334
In the 1950s, Beirut was given the moniker the “Paris of the Middle East” for its cultural and intellectual life. Em Sherif, an upscale restaurant in Ashrafieh, captures that nostalgic essence and takes it to glittering new heights. Set in a gorgeous old house, the restaurant serves scrumptious Lebanese cuisine including mezze and plated dishes in a setting that inspires whispered intimacies. Go hungry, order the prix-fixe and sit back while dish after splendid dish lands on your table.
Victor Hugo St., Monot, Achrafieh. Tel.: +961 70 919 119
A mix of modern and traditional Lebanese cuisine is whipped up behind the kitchen doors at Leila. With three locations (ABC Mall in Ashrafieh, ABC Mall Dbayeh and Verdun) you’ll never be too far away from munching on excellent tabbouleh, hummus, soujouk cheese rolls and more. And by more, we don’t mean the full variety of mezze on offer, but one dessert in particular: kanafeh, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup and served with rose ice cream.
Verdun Main St., Ain El Tine. Tel.: +961 01 738 638
Tawlet is quite literally a farmer’s kitchen. Well, if said farmer’s kitchen happened to attract chefs from across Lebanon. Tawlet (“table” in Arabic) is the table of Souk El Tayeb, a farmers market, food movement, and cultural heritage project founded by Kamal Mouzawak. Every day, a new cook/farmer/chef/grandparent from a different region of the country takes over the kitchen in Mar Mikhael to put their spin on local favorites and then lay it all out buffet style. In any given week, you could be chowing down on fattet djeij (a type of layered chicken dish) prepared by a cook from Tripoli or gorging on kebbeh (a bulgur and onion “meatball”) from West Bekaa. No matter what’s on the menu, it will be unforgettable.
12 Naher St., Mar Mikhael. Tel.: +961 1 448 129
7. Armenian food
If the only Armenians you know are the Kardashian krew, your life is poorer for it. In Beirut, of course, you’ll more than likely to meet a few more, as they make up about four percent of the population. And at Mayrig, a gem in an old stone mansion in the Gemmayzeh quarter, you’ll be treated to some of the best traditional Armenian dishes anywhere in the world. The recipes were handed down from Manouchag, grandmother of founder Aline Kamakian, to her children, who then passed them down to their children. In essence, this is homespun food: Mayrig, after all, translates to “little mother.” Order the mante, small boat-shaped dough filled with spiced mince meat and covered in a garlic yogurt sauce. It’s so good you will feel like you’re coming home. Pair it with itch, Armenian tabbouleh featuring a mix of bulgur and vegetables.
282 Pasteur St., Mansour Building, Gemmayzeh. Tel.:+961 1 572 121
Batchig by Mayrig
If Mayrig is the grandmother of Armenian cooking, then Batchig is the child given wings. Created by the same team, Batchig is laid-back and cozy. The food here marries Armenian flavors with Lebanese, Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian and Greek classics. With a garden lined with lemon and jasmine trees, an in-house pizza oven for cranking out crispy flatbread, a three-meter marble salad bar and access to argileh, this is a perfect spot to sit still for a while.
1275 Kassis St., Dbayeh. Tel.: +961 70 444 307
What can we say about baklava that hasn’t been said already? Technically, it’s layers of filo stuffed with chopped nuts, sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. But to really understand its enduring appeal, you have to bite into one. And Amal Bohsali, a pastry shop in Hamra, Ras Beirut and Jal el dib, is the place to do it: Here they’ve been delicately dishing out the pastries since 1878. We recommend buying a mixed baklava box and sinking your teeth into every single variety they make. Your taste buds will decide whether you prefer walnut or pistachio, in rolls or in fingers. You can always return and get a complete box of your favorite one. Share at your own risk.
Alfred Nobel St., Hamra. Tel.: +9611736400
Originally published on The Daily Secret. Daily Secret uncovers local hidden gems, need-to-know insights & exclusive events across the globe.