June 2006 Cheap EatsThe concept is fast-casual, usually the product of corporate calculation. But these homey offshoots of the Lebanese Taverna restaurants dish up authentic cooking at rock-bottom prices. Little wonder they draw crowds heavy on stroller moms at lunch and singles at dinner.
Combo platters are great deals, but many of the best items are to be found elsewhere. For starters, go for hummus topped with meat (and lovely meat juice) and crunchy pine nuts and almonds. Order a round of the creamy Lebanese cheese lebneh to slather on hot pita, or indulge in the fragrant m'saka, a sort of eggplant stew studded with chickpeas. Sharhat ghanam--spiced, thin slices of lamb drizzled with lemon-parsley-garlic butter--is one of the more memorable big plates. So are the fattehs, layers of toasted pita, yogurt, and a choice of lamb, chicken, or eggplant, which makes for a great vegetarian meal. And though the Lebanese are not known for roast chicken--most of us think of France or Peru for that--the version here, with an intense garlic sauce, is mighty fine.