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Lebanese Taverna, Eleven Area Locations - The Abi-Najm Family's Restaurants, Cafes, and Market


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OK, I couldn't find a listing for this restaurant, so here it goes...

I have tended to only go to the take out place in Arlington and the new "cafe" in Silver Spring recently, but Friday I found myself at the Lebanese Taverna in Woodly Park.

I used to go here all the time in years past, so when were were looking for a quick bite to eat, we thought we would give it a try. I would say the food was ok, but not as good as I remembered.

I think ultimately knowing you could go to Zatinya and have similar food, but prepared in a more inspired way, you would pick Zatinya. We ordered a bunch of the mezza. Some items were fine (the Kibbeh and hommus), one item was very good (sharaht ghanam- which was sliced lamb), and others were average to not very good (the lamb kabob appetizer was terrible, the pieces were so fatty my piece was impossible to eat as it was all fat).

I know that its location near the hotels means that there are many tourists, but I think they may have dumbed down some of the food for them. I used to remember this restaurant as a fun and interesting place to go. I still like the take away in Silver Spring, but if I want to sit down and eat, Zatinya is the winner, with better food and atmosphere. I wonder if they are successful with the 100 King restaurant in Alexandria, they will go back to to Woodly Park, and give it a much needed update.

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Has this entire chain jumped the shark, or does the Silver Spring location just really really suck? Emma asked to go today for lunch and it was awful. The hummous tasted old, and instead of a dusting of sumac it was sprinkled with tasteless paprika. Kafta Harra (spiced beef patties) had been cooked until every bit of moisture was gone, and the salad looked and tasted as if it had been dressed at 7am and left to sit. It was so mediocre I didn't even bother to take our leftovers home.

The Rockville location used to be our go-to for a quick takeout dinner. It wasn't fabulous, but reliable, inexpensive, and reasonably good for the kids. The last couple times we went it was starting to slip - dried out chicken shawarma, gristly lamb, etc. Too bad.

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My last visit to Tyson's a few months back was an improvement over my last two visits. It seems to be a bit up and down - my guess is that turnover in who is running thes kitchen makes a difference at this type of place as much as the places where we know the names of the chefs.

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The Rockville location used to be our go-to for a quick takeout dinner. It wasn't fabulous, but reliable, inexpensive, and reasonably good for the kids. The last couple times we went it was starting to slip - dried out chicken shawarma, gristly lamb, etc. Too bad.

Interesting. I've found the Rockville location reliable only for felafel. When I start to venture away from the felafel, I have been woefully disappointed.

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Has this entire chain jumped the shark, or does the Silver Spring location just really really suck? Emma asked to go today for lunch and it was awful. The hummous tasted old, and instead of a dusting of sumac it was sprinkled with tasteless paprika. Kafta Harra (spiced beef patties) had been cooked until every bit of moisture was gone, and the salad looked and tasted as if it had been dressed at 7am and left to sit. It was so mediocre I didn't even bother to take our leftovers home.

The Rockville location used to be our go-to for a quick takeout dinner. It wasn't fabulous, but reliable, inexpensive, and reasonably good for the kids. The last couple times we went it was starting to slip - dried out chicken shawarma, gristly lamb, etc. Too bad.

Beth and I used to get takeout from the SS location pretty frequently but haven't gone since Moby's opened. Everything is just, I don't know, blah. Which is not a good sign for Lebanese. The specials are still decent sometimes, I have had a few good tagines and some good soup but everything else is extremely underwhelming. I like the hummus we get from Giant better than the stuff they use.

My biggest issue though has been with the overcooking of meats. THis is my biggest pet peeve with a lot of the ethnic places, they just torch the meats until it is like eating jerky. Last time we got food there I was covering my chicken with BBQ sauce (after I quickly ran out of yogurt sauce) just to get enough moisture to make it chew- and swallowable. I figured that is just normal with Middle eastern takeout until I had Moby's. Their meat has been consistently very juicy. Until I start hearing consistent positive comments about Leb. Taverna I am completely loyal to Moby's for my takeout needs.

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On Saturday, I had a chance to sample the LT cafe in Silver Spring (after having been numerous time to the one in Rockville years ago and a few times to the Woodley location in the past year) and I found it to be pretty good. Some dishes were excellent, some were ok, and a few were duds. I recommend sticking with the mezze. We had the Lebanese Feast - 12 mezze (almost everything in that section of the menu). This is a huge amount of food that provided enough for 4 with leftovers for 2 lunches for me. Here is my rundown:

Great:

M'Saka - eggplant and chick peas baked with tomatoes, onions and garlic - very nice combo of flavors, this salad was the first to go.

Shakshouky - eggplant with garlic, scallion, tomato and pomegranate molasses - very good and different from the m'saka - it had an unexpected sweetness to it. One of the more unusual choices.

Kibbeh - very tasty crushed wheat shells filled with spiced ground beef. and lamb. This was a stand out and not just because it was one of the few beef dishes we had that wasn't bland.

Tabouleh - heavier on the parsley and garlic and a lot less bulgur wheat than usual. It was really good - but only for garlic lovers.

Good:

Fatayer - mini pastries filled with spinach (I heard good but didn't get a taste), cheese (very tasty), and beef (blah - bland, the pastry was its only redeeming quality). If not for the beef one, probably be in the best category

Hummus - very good traditional hummus

Baba Ghanouj - not too sweet and not too smoky

Lebanese salad - typical but tasty with lots of flavor in the vinagrette and fresh veggies. Maybe a tad over dressed.

Yogurt salad - very similar to greek tzatiki but with less tanginess.

So-So:

Felafel - I thought they were kind of tasteless and bland. Everyone else thought they had a bit of a kick and enjoyed them. My standard is closer to Amsterdam Felafelshop though where they come out hot and fresh.

Grape Leaves - weak. Not any flavor in the rice mixture.

We also got overzealous in our ordering and got a beef/lamb schwarma sandwich and chicken kabob. The schwarma was not good at all. The meat was cooked to death and flavorless. The accompanying garlic paste (which is so garlicky it is spicy - which I liked) couldn't even revive it. The chicken kabob was good though - nice grilled flavor to the meat and it comes with what appears to be ketchup but is actually a light tomato sauce. Rice and salad on the side were ok.

Overall, I'd give it a B+. I wouldn't travel out of my way for this food unless I had a kibbeh craving, but it was a good meal for a very good price $25 for the feast. They also have smaller mezze/entree combos which would be a steal and probably a more manageable portion. Too bad the Woodley location doesn't offer mezze combos or sampler.

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Lebanese Taverna at Pentagon Row for an outdoor lunch yesterday. We just went with some of our usual mezze choices:

Camel wings (a little oilier than usual)

Shrimp Arak - a generous portion with a sauce that is perfect for soaking up with the puffy bread accompanying the meal

Makdous - small eggplant stuffed with ground meat - cold, tangy, and one of my favorites

Hommos bel Shwarma - the meat was a little dry. The hommos is always tasty.

Fattoosh salad - hard to screw this up, though it had a bit too much dressing

Nothing stellar, but good for grazing on a beautiful, sunny day.

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The Arlington Lebanese Taverna market isn't what it used to be, but it's still good, and continues to do some things extremely well.

The Fatayer ($1.10) are made with either cheese (in a crescent) or spinach (in a triangle), and both have always been personal favorites. They've developed a yeastier aroma than they used to have, but that's not bad, just different.

Their Baba Ghanoug ($6.49 a pound) is as good as anyones, a coarsely pureed baked eggplant, blended with tahini, lemon juice and garlic. I prefer this to their hummus, which isn't bad, but this is better.

Kabis (picked turnips, $2.99 a pound) always make a platter seem better, even if they've been sitting around all day.

Lebanese Mousaka ($6.49 a pound) is a different animal than the Greek version, more of a ratatouille with eggplant, chickpeas, onions and spices in a tomato sauce, and Lebanse Taverna Market's has always been very good (in general, wet, soupy, pureed things here tend to be standouts).

The Stuffed Tomatoes ($5.99 a pound) were beautiful as always, but very tired as you might imagine. Stuffed with rice and vegetables, I think their stuffed green peppers can better tolerate extended time sitting around inside the deli counter.

I'm weary of the industrial pita and lavash this town has to offer. King of Pita sells a lot of pre-packaged bread, but I don't see how pita can be much worse than this.

I believe this market is a hub for Lebanese Taverna's catering operations (there's often a van out front), so it's always well-staffed, and the service is very efficient - they do quite a bit of volume here. The food here isn't cheap, but if you're grabbing something to go, you can do a lot worse than this.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I'm weary of the industrial pita and lavash this town has to offer. King of Pita sells a lot of pre-packaged bread, but I don't see how pita can be much worse than this.

If you ask them at the counter they will sell you packages of frozen Kronos pitas from the back. I believe this is what they use for their wraps. 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven at home and they become pretty good. The King of Pita stuff in the front of the store is fairly tasteless.

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The Rockville café menu has always had its hits and misses on a per-item basis, but lately I haven't been loving it as much as before. The shwarma and its variants still make me very happy (really anything there involving chicken and garlic), but their once-very-good falafel sandwich seems to have taken a big turn downhill: the falafel too large to have a decent crust-to-interior ratio, somewhat too dense (although mercifully not actually pasty), and today rather dull in the flavor department other than an abundance of salt. YMMV.

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I find that an excellent combination for a good meal is to head way down Lee Hwy into Falls Church to hit the Lebanese Butchershop for a fine assortment of marinated meats and then grab your sides at the Lebanese Taverna Cafe on the way back home. It only takes 10 minutes to cook up the meat on the grill and you solve the problem of buying expensive overcooked meat at LT.

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It only takes 10 minutes to cook up the meat on the grill and you solve the problem of buying expensive overcooked meat at LT.

You can buy raw chicken, beef, and lamb kabobs at LT. They're on the far-left side of the counter.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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These reviews are generally poor. I'm disappointed. I used to go to the original in Arlington before it expanded to include the place next door. The Abi-Najm family was the role model of the American success story -- escape a war-torn country and come here to open a restaurant, and the next thing you know, it's a multi-million-dollar enterprise. I enjoyed their food through the '80s, but then I moved farther out into the suburbs and rarely get to a Lebanese Taverna anymore. I was at Tysons a few months ago and it was passable, but it was not the old Lebanese Taverna.

My Board name should indicate that I have an affinity for Middle Eastern food. There are good examples all around us -- Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church, Mediterranean Gourmet Market in Franconia -- but the original Lebanese Taverna was one of the best in the area. Maybe there was too much success or the family grew up and scattered, but it sounds like it's no longer what it was....

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We are never going to LT again, at least not the Silver Spring location. Kafta was dried out and barely warm, grape leaves were tough, the chicken kabob was overcooked to the point of being hard to chew, the hummus was tasteless, and the rice was musty and rancid tasting. Never again. It's moved from "mediocre" to "nasty rip-off."

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We are never going to LT again, at least not the Silver Spring location. Kafta was dried out and barely warm, grape leaves were tough, the chicken kabob was overcooked to the point of being hard to chew, the hummus was tasteless, and the rice was musty and rancid tasting. Never again. It's moved from "mediocre" to "nasty rip-off."

I have only really enjoyed the market on Old Dominion in Arlington. The kabobs I buy raw and cook myself. They always come out just right. :( My youngest lives on the hummos. It is okay at this location, imho.

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We are never going to LT again, at least not the Silver Spring location.

Never say never...Emma and I dropped in for an early dinner tonight (her request) while the boys were out. I was delighted to see that the older woman who was a fixture at the Rockville location was in Silver Spring tonight. I am blanking on her name but she has been serving Emma hummus since my girl was old enough to chew. :lol: And the food was a big turnaround - tender kibbeh, good hummus, excellent grape leaves, and m'saka was very flavorful and the eggplant not at all mushy.

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It had been while since I"d been to the Washington Blvd LebTav— long enough for all the people who remembered why I used to get free dessert to have scattered— but it just meant we made new friends. Everything we had tonight hit the spot: kafta harra, sujuk, labneh, hummus and pine nuts, kibbeh, fatteh bel djaje, falafel. And then there was the dessert that I've never had before nor got the name of, which was essentially deep-fried honey doughnuts served with panna cotta.

I am going to explode. Oh My God.

It's not haute cuisine. But it was a wonderfully nummy and leisurely meal.

Yes, definitely going to explode.

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Never say never...Emma and I dropped in for an early dinner tonight (her request) while the boys were out. I was delighted to see that the older woman who was a fixture at the Rockville location was in Silver Spring tonight. I am blanking on her name but she has been serving Emma hummus since my girl was old enough to chew. :D And the food was a big turnaround - tender kibbeh, good hummus, excellent grape leaves, and m'saka was very flavorful and the eggplant not at all mushy.

Based on your report, I have to give it a try. Am I correct that they serve beer and wine? That wasn't the case when they opened.

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Had mezze at the Tysons 2 location yesterday, and it was surprisingly good. The first thing I noticed was the number of offerings on the menu. This kitchen is ambitious, and it pulled off our choices very well.

Kibbee Nayeh -- notwithstanding my board name, a very credible rendition, nicely comforting and worth ordering over and over again.

Tabbouleh -- fresh and tasty, loaded with parsley and lemon.

Hummos Special -- one of my favorite versions, covered with meat and almonds.

Bread -- replaced every few minutes to make sure the basket was fresh and warm.

Wine -- the wine list included quite a few from Lebanon, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but certainly adds to the geographic theme.

Among all the chain choices in Tysons 2, this place has to rank near the top.

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Just returned from lunch at the Westover (original) branch in Arlington. The above post on Tysons 2 mirrored our experience perfectly. Service was excellent and friendly, mezzes were delicious and plentiful.

Kibbeh, hummos (with pine nuts), house salad, tabouleh, another veg...all terrific for a mid-July meal. Plenty of refills on our iced tea and fresh baked pita bread and the staff was eager to please.

Today reminded me how much I missed Taverna Westover and how it strives to provide a pleasant and fresh tasting alternative to the drab choices at lunch. I need to get back more often and enjoy their chicken shwarma sandwich!

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It had been while since I"d been to the Washington Blvd LebTav— long enough for all the people who remembered why I used to get free dessert to have scattered— but it just meant we made new friends. Everything we had tonight hit the spot: kafta harra, sujuk, labneh, hummus and pine nuts, kibbeh, fatteh bel djaje, falafel. And then there was the dessert that I've never had before nor got the name of, which was essentially deep-fried honey doughnuts served with panna cotta.

I am going to explode. Oh My God.

It's not haute cuisine. But it was a wonderfully nummy and leisurely meal.

Yes, definitely going to explode.

i have to second that. wonderfully nummy, and so good for vegetarians or, if you go to the pentagon city location, when you need a reasonably "nice" setting for an inexpensive meal.

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The food is fresh, flavorful, and fairly priced. As are the wines and mixed drinks. We went to the Bethesda location a few months ago and dinner for four was $120 with a round of cocktails, two bottles of wine, and enough food for everyone to be sated.

Some may quibble whether it's the best representation of Lebanese cuisine, I personally couldn't tell. However, if I am looking for a nice, fun meal, consistently executed, where I can eat and drink well, that's not going to cost me a ton, I'll head to an LT.

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All these positive comments about Lebanese Taverna gave me a craving for it, so I stopped by the original location today for lunch and picked up a Hommos Special ($7), with spiced ground meat, pine nuts, and olive oil. Man, this is an excellent carryout lunch - a good-sized portion of the hommos, served with four pieces of homemade pita (two of them whole wheat, two of them white flour). Thanks for the prompting!

In case anyone's interested, the manager confirmed that they'll serve both the Kibbeh Nayeh and Habra Nayeh to go (evenings only) - not all places will do this as a carryout order.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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In case anyone's interested, the manager confirmed that they'll serve both the Kibbeh Nayeh and Habra Nayeh to go (evenings only) - not all places will do this as a carryout order.

Wow, I've only had habra nayeh, or هبرة نيّة, at Lebanese Butcher on rare occasions....is it possible to change my board name...?

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In case anyone's interested, the manager confirmed that they'll serve both the Kibbeh Nayeh and Habra Nayeh to go (evenings only) - not all places will do this as a carryout order.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Don't bother with the kibbeh nayeh from the Bethesda branch. It was bland and sitting in a pool of olive oil. Me Jana in Arlington does a much better take away kibbeh nayeh.

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Don't bother with the kibbeh nayeh from the Bethesda branch. It was bland and sitting in a pool of olive oil. Me Jana in Arlington does a much better take away kibbeh nayeh.

Funny, I recently had it at the original and I thought the same thing. Will have to try Me Jana.

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Since we're invoking my board name, the best versions I have come by so far in the northern Virginia area were at Jerusalem near Bailey's Crossroads, Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church and Layalina in Ballston. Leyla in Old Town has a credible version too. I have not yet tried Me Jana but it's on my list.

By the way, it is imperative to enjoy kibbee nayee with a glass of arak. There is no other way to pair it up. Just saying....

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...By the way, it is imperative to enjoy kibbee nayee with a glass of arak. There is no other way to pair it up. Just saying....

That's why your posts always seem so enjoyable! :rolleyes:

I adore kibbee nayee, cannot wait to try the versions at the Lebanese Butcher and elsewhere. Sumac onions alongside with a touch of pungent garlic sauce and pickled tasties in between, an instant transport to bliss. Thanks for the insight on where to find the best and for the tip about arak.

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Hit the original venue (Washington Blvd in Arlington) tonight after a several-month hiatus. Perhaps it's my taste buds roaring back to life after a seasonal cold, but the mezza seemed flawlessly flavored this evening.

An especially savory Shankleesh* carried no trace of chalky dryness I usually associate with this cheese. The thyme seemed more overt than usual in the zaatar, a highly pleasing complement instead of the usual background whisper. Accompanying olives provided the perfect salty foil.

Tonight’s Sujok struck that elusive balance of deft smoke/grill flavor without overbearing char. The accompanying tomato sauce was always good, but tonight tasted sublime with vine-evoking freshness, even seasoning, and carryover smoke from the sausages.

Maanek arrived perfectly grilled, not a trace overcooked, with irresistible juice beckoning the warm pita bread.

Other favorites at the table included Foole M'damas and Tabouleh. I was worried since it is so late in the season, but even the garnish tomatoes were flavorful tonight.

Service seems to have taken a hit, though. Bottles of Perrier arrived warm, with no suggestion or offer of ice. We had to track down a server a few times for table needs, surprising since the restaurant was only about half full.

Regardless, enjoyed the dishes tonight immensely.

Will also enjoy the two handfuls of Ouzo mints I picked up on the way out the door.

(Where's the emoticon for shame?)

*Next morning discovery: Adding leftover Shankleesh to your scrambled egg mixture (before cooking) elevates this simple breakfast food to a celebration...or to a ululation if you want to get all vocal about it. Amazing!

Edited by KMango
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We enjoyed the Woodley Park location last night. We were both tired and grumpy, and from the start the experience helped us to end the night on a high note. We had 5 mezze (fattoush salad, cold artichoke salad, the cheese/fillo rolls, sujuk and chicken shwerma (SP?)) and a Lebanese wine that was primarily pinor noir. Except for the artichokes, which were clearly the canned variety (though nicely dressed), everything was fresh, nicely seasoned and served in ample quantites. Our server seemed to be enjoying his job - something I too rarely see anymore.

A lovely added touch was the inclusion of a large serving of fresh pita (wheat and white) with our leftovers. This morning I heated one of the pitas and topped with the left-over chicken, which was as delicious today as it was last nght.

Capped off with a drink at the Gin Joint at New Heights afterwards, the entire experience was tasty and relaxing.

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An especially savory Shankleesh* carried no trace of chalky dryness I usually associate with this cheese. The thyme seemed more overt than usual in the zaatar, a highly pleasing complement instead of the usual background whisper.

*Next morning discovery: Adding leftover Shankleesh to your scrambled egg mixture (before cooking) elevates this simple breakfast food to a celebration...or to a ululation if you want to get all vocal about it. Amazing!

OMG! OMG! If I were to reconsider my board name, it would be Shankleesh. I lived and died by this incredible cheese for over 50 years. My mother would make it from scratch, and thankfully I can find it in the refrigerated section at Lebanese Butcher and Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria. What a treat!

Best ways to enjoy Shankleesh -- you got one of them, under scrambled eggs in the morning, with a side of fresh pita and a cup of strong black coffee. That's the breakfast of champions! But you haven't lived until you've tried zhayfeera -- chopped or crumbled shankleesh, mixed with olive oil (Zaifan from Lebanon is best), diced onions and diced hard-cooked eggs, with maybe a pinch of extra zaatar, stirred together and served on fresh pita triangles. Un-frikkin-believable...!

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Went this past Friday to the Bethesda location (my first experience with this local chain-let). Nice space, good service, good food.

The standouts for me were the sambousik, the schawarma and the hummus topped with maanek. The falafel wasn't bad. The grape leaves just ok (I make better at home). And there was this cheese that was OK, but just not my prefered cheese experience (it made my teeth squeak -- kinda funny).

What was nice about the experience is not having to make any of it and it really hit the spot.

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And there was this cheese that was OK, but just not my prefered cheese experience (it made my teeth squeak -- kinda funny).

I am in love with halloumi. The texture, the squeaking, the flavor, the fact it just won't melt. Not much pleases me more than a hunk of grilled halloumi and a ripe, in-season tomato.

With that said, I find that Lebanese Taverna does a pretty good job with its halloumi--much better than Nando's, where it ends up cold and rubbery.

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I am in love with halloumi. The texture, the squeaking, the flavor, the fact it just won't melt. Not much pleases me more than a hunk of grilled halloumi and a ripe, in-season tomato.

With that said, I find that Lebanese Taverna does a pretty good job with its halloumi--much better than Nando's, where it ends up cold and rubbery.

You know i feel the exact same way about chipmunks as you do bout halloumi! Anyone want to see the squeakuel?

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Irrational exuberance (i.e., "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach," as my mom would say) got the best of me last night as we cobbled together a mezza dinner at the original Lebanese Taverna.

After starting with a skunky Almaza ($6), I was quickly reminded that the Traditional Hommos ($5.50, $2.00 extra with meat, pine nuts and almonds (and worth it)) is still perhaps my favorite version in town. It's served with unlimited baskets of good, puffy bread - I slightly prefer the white to the wheat. Sambousick ($6.50, always reliable here) brought out four yeasty little meat pies, and a Jibneh Halloum ($6.50) with olive oil, unpitted black olives, and pickled turnip was delicious and mercifully not overtly salty. The Kibbeh Nayeh ($10) is bland, as it often is, but the lamb meat they're using is so good it didn't matter, and this was only amplified by a special of Lamb Short Ribs ($6), looooooooong-cooked in zaatar. These short ribs were so rich and decadent that we couldn't finish them, and it was a small order, too. Anyone sick and tired of sous-vide this and sous-vide that needs to come here and try these.

Lebanese Taverna has expanded to the point where people are assuming dilution is the default, and maybe it is, but I'd take the meal I had last night over a meal at Zaytinya any day of the week.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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(Standing and clapping, with a slight bit of teariness).....I watched the Abi Najm kids grow up in this little place, before it expanded, ever since I moved here in 1980. I would fill a table with mezze and settle in, and every now and then Dory would bring out something that his wife was playing with back in the kitchen....maybe some stuffed cabbage, maybe some lamb stew....this place could not possibly have lost a step. It is, in my estimation, a local institution.

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Went to the Westover location last night and had a very nice meal. The pita was fantastic as usual, pillowy and crisp. Humus with pine nuts was smooth and nicely done. House salad was very fresh with ripe tomatoes, cucumber and feta (but not too much) and a nice vinaigrette. I had the Mouzat- lamb shank in tomato sauce with burghul pilaf and the lamb was very flavorful and falling off the bone tender. The tomato sauce was very tangy and went well with the pilaf. It is nice to see a local chain that has really kept the quality control. I always like the Arlington location for its charm and the service there is always great. Last night we had a really nice server who even gave me extra pita for my leftovers.

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Funny enough, we had lunch at Westover yesterday and also enjoyed a very nice meal. I like that location for the very reasons you cite. I also had the hummus and house salad, table shared kibbe and the shwarma entree platter (half chicken and half lamb). I had not been back for a number of months but I always whack my forehead and wonder why we don't stop by more often. The LT consistently does a really nice job.

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I have settled into the Tysons II outpost mostly because it's convenient for girlfriend and me after work. Tonight I had a hankering for Kibbee Nayeh and ordered two plates. I was a bit disappointed. For whatever reason, $10 now gets you a smallish hamburger patty size of this dish, about 4 inches in diameter and maybe a quarter of an inch thick. A few sprigs of parsley and about a quarter of a sectioned Vidalia onion rounds out your $10 snack.

Good to see that Tony, who patrolled the dining room at Tivoli for about 25 years, is now a constant fixture at Lebanese Taverna in Tysons II. Among all the waitstaff in the DC Metropolitan Area, he deserves some recognition as one of the best.

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Has something happened at the Bethesda location? The food used to be decent and service consistent. We went there three times in two weeks, and they are consistently overcooking their lamb (we asked for medium rare and it come out well done) all three times. Only the small vegetable plates were properly seasoned. It seems that they are still doing veggies well, but the meats were not very good. With one exception....the whole fish (yum!).

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We stopped in the Bethesda location a few nights ago for the first time. In an effort to eat somewhat lightly and more vegetabley we had the traditional salad (lots of nice crunchy cucumbers) and the mezze plates that come with nine different items. I liked it all and actually couldn't quite finish it. The light, warm oblong pitas were delicious.

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We went to the Pentagon Row location Wednesday night as we had a Groupon we needed to use up. We ended up ordering too many meze. The cheese pies were excellent. The hummus with ground beef and the chicken shawarma were good. The falafel was decent and the calamari were unexciting. The pita bread was also quite good. The wines by the glass we ordered (a Lebanese rose and a Lebanese white) were fine on their own but didn't really pair well with the food.

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i've visited both the pentagon row and bethesda locations recently, and had a much better experience at the pentagon location. at the bethesda location service was very, very slow, and the bread was hard and almost burnt, and they didn't have the mix of whole wheat and white pitas, only white. At pentagon row they have the wheat and the white pitas, and the service, even outside, was quite good. I was happy to note that at both locations they now have the lubieh bel zeit (green beans stewed with tomatoes) again! this dissapeared from their menu about a year ago, making me very sad, but it's back and as delicious as ever.

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KMango, do you have any particular recommendations for what to order at Lebanese Taverna?

[i originally posted this here in response to The Doctor's question, but figure it's detailed enough to put it here in the home thread.]

I don't want to answer for Mango, but even though it's been awhile since I've been here, I've been to the one on Lee Highway no less than twenty times. Things that I tend to buy repeatedly are fatayer (my favorite is cheese, but get a couple of the (vinegary) spinach for variety), kibbeh (fried balls of meat and burghul) hummus (a no-brainer here), baba ghannouge (also a no-brainer, but if you're getting hummus, be careful not to go overboard on dips), grape leaves (I like the non-meat ones but heck the meat ones are only a *dime* more), tabouleh (the dark green color of the parsley is gorgeous), m'saka (not at all like Greek moussaka; the Lebanese rendition is cold slices of eggplant), foole m'damas (fava beans with garlic and lemon), stuffed zucchini (irresistible, but can get pricey). All of these are room-temperature dishes other than the fatayer and kibbeh (both of which are perfectly fine when they cool to room temperature). In general, I avoid cooked items here such as the rotisserie chicken and lamb kabob because they're not special (although I do enjoy the shawarma sandwich (tightly wrapped in foil, so by the time you open it, the liquids (meat juices, tahini) are nicely integrated), and can really start to add up, and I think this place does better with dippy things and salads that use vegetables as their primary ingredient. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of King of Pita and the other packaged versions, but the breads here are necessary evils - for a party, I highly recommend the small ones that are just a few inches in diameter. This place isn't cheap, but it's reasonable, and it's food you can feel good about eating. Another rule of thumb: everything I just wrote should be overruled by your own vision - if something looks really good and fresh (and it's all sitting there right in front of you), it probably is. If it's your first time in, you may feel a bit rushed, but the people there are all very patient - take your time, and figure out what sized containers of each will work best for you (you can also just tell them you're trying to get sides for 15 people (or however many) - they know what they're doing, and can recommend portion sizes). Most of the food here keeps very well for a few days, so I prefer to err on the side of overbuying. A sample menu is here so you can figure out in advance what might appeal to you.

Cheers,

Rocks

PS - Looking at their website, it looks like the original Lebanese Taverna opened in 1979, so they also make the list of Oldest Restaurants In The Area.

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Geesh, scary how much Don mimics my preferences at LT Market (or is it vice versa?). After many, many years of take away at the Lee Hgwy location, I say his recs are spot on. My preference is to pass on the kibbeh in favor of braised cauliflower or lubiya (cooked string beans with garlic bulbs and bits of tomato). Kibbeh has become too rubbery for my tastes but, hey, that's me.

Funny, the bread used at the Market is different than that at the restaurants. Taste and texture of chicken shwarma sandwiches served in Westover vs. the Market are decidely different. Both are good - I prefer Westover.

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We visited the Woodley Park location last night. The entire interior has been redone--I'm not sure when exactly, but I think some time last year.

Every time we go here, we wonder why we don't go more often.

I'm perplexed by Don's comments about King of Pita, above. Lebanese Taverna serves piping hot bread fresh from their oven, and I'm assuming it's made in-house (has this not always been the case? As far as I can remember, it has.) We cleaned out the sludgy sumac-y oil dip in minutes and mused on why we don't have sumac at home (well, what *else* do you do with it?).

One order of the chef's platter (a square dish with nine compartments, which houses hummous, baba ganoush, foul, tabbouleh, lebneh, kibbeh, falafel, and other delights); one of the calamari; one of the hummous trio; and the fatayer was plenty of food for our party of 2 adults and a young 'un. A mango lassi was a big hit with the kiddo, although a little sweet for my tastes. The hummous with beef was a great meld of flavours, the lebneh was deliciously creamy, and the fatayer were great although they disappeared fast.

I had the knafe bel jibne for dessert, described on the menu as a "warm sweet cheese tart, golden semolina crust, sesame seed biscuit." In fact the "crust" of this tart is the cheese, which is a thin and chewy layer (of halloumi? not sure) on the bottom of a fluffy semolina filling, topped with syrup and pistachios. This was a really sophisticated meld of flavors in a sweet dish, which can be hard to come by, even in high-end restaurants.

For those who remember the interior of the Woodley Park location, I think you'll be very pleasantly surprised. I could hardly believe this was the same room. The room is a big, high ceilinged open space with a long bar by the hostess station at the front. Booths line the walls and the tables on the floor are nicely spaced, which is lovely--I always felt cramped in the old configuration.

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We cleaned out the sludgy sumac-y oil dip in minutes and mused on why we don't have sumac at home (well, what *else* do you do with it?).

That would be a dip made with olive oil and za'atar. You can purchase za'atar around the area at a few different places, but Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria has an assortment of types. It is a spice and herb mix, and the Jordanian version is my favorite -- without sesame seeds. If you crush some shankleesh, a pungent cheese, under a nice pile of scrambled eggs, and sprinkle za'atar on top, accompanied by warm pita right out of the oven, you have defined breakfast perfection.

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