It’s true when they say that some foods are best prepared by masters… and not just any masters. Often found in hidden places, there are certain places that have been around for generations, handing down family secret recipes from one to another, leaving the same taste in every bite. And there are places that have become landmarks in our country… places our parents used to hangout and enjoy some of the most delicious bites Lebanon has to offer. Let’s see some suggestions…
If you think you’ve had all kinds of Knefe out there, you’re mistaken… In Mar Elias, Al Karout has been open for more than thirty years now. Before the Civil War, Al Karaout first started in Downtown Beirut and then moved to Mar Elias. People come here for the Knefe and trust me, you won’t understand why until you’ve tried it yourself. It is extraordinary because of its non salted cheese, premium cheese, imported from the Czech Republic, its melting heart, its thick layer of crumbs, its fine texture and concentrated body. A square is cut, stuffed in the bun and scented with a couple of drops of rose water. It was a premiere for me: Knefe and rose water.
For more than half a century, Halim has been running a restaurant in Bhamdoun. Halim, known to serve the best charcoal grilled birds in Lebanon and after my experience, I would say the region, is the simplest set up you can ever imagine. First opened in 1920's, Halim is located on the first floor of an old building on Bhamdoun el Mahatta main street where guests were welcomed to enjoy the basic Lebanese Mezze served on wooden trays and include hummus, salad, pickles followed with grilled makanek and charcoal grilled birds. The restaurant at that time had no windows and no floor tiles. It stayed that way until the early sixties when the three sons of Halim took over the restaurant and transformed into a simple and calm place. The spirit remained the same. A basic space where people can come and enjoy delicious homemade food.
Since 1881, Abdul Rahman Hallab & Sons enjoys a reputation for being one of the best places in Lebanon for occidental sweets…Baklava, maamoul, knefe, packaged sweets, a diet section, ice cream parlor, chocolate and much more. It’s a grand setting, which started in Tripoli. Although it now boasts a place in Jounieh, I would still drive all the way to Tripoli early in the morning and enjoy their Lahem Bil Ajeen, followed by their delicious Znoud el Sit.
One of Lebanon's iconic places is Le Bristol Hotel, located in the heart of Beirut... This historic spot is again in the limelight after a year of renovation and re-design... Le Bristol Hotel became world-famous in 1950s for hosting grand balls for diplomats and film stars, but has since lived through wars as well as decades of general wear and tear. Known throughout its history, Le Bristol housed the first ever skating rink in the country; it was the source of inspiration for the finest interior designers of the period such as Jean de Royère and a meeting place for kings and heads of state.
Al Ajami is an authentic and full of life food spot in Baalbeck. You’ll find nylon-wrapped tables with green table clothes, old chairs, and historical photos on the walls, high ceiling, a bar and a food display. The place looks like an "Ahwet Ezez", a coffee shop where the elders gather around. Opened since 1924, the Al Ajami enjoyed a long list of celebrities who have walked through their doors like Zaki Nassif, the Rahbanis, Charles Aznavour and many more. Owned and managed by two brothers, Ahmad and Behzad, this place comes highly recommenced. Try it before it’s too late, as the next generation of children has already left the country…
I truly doubt that there’s anyone out there who has not heard of Hanna Mitri, an ice cream parlor since the early 40’s. The one and only Hanna Mitri is known for his uniquely fresh ice cream, perfect Maamoul and arrogantly rude character. Following his steps is his son Mitri Hanna, the sole carrier of this legend's recipes.
Al Halabi is my favorite Lebanese restaurant. I have been going there since I was a kid to enjoy a selection of Lebanese bites. Now that I am married and have kids, I have been taking my kids often to try some of their renowned dishes.
I was told a long time ago that one of Lebanon’s favorite drinks is known as Jellab and one place in Mar Elias comes highly recommended. I have always thought that Jellab was something we drink during Ramadan. Adequately sweetened, grapes molasses, the scent of fragrant oil of Bakhoor especially imported from Saudi Arabia… Every sip of Al Antabli’s Jellab takes you on a journey around the Middle Easts with its intense aromas and flavors of Bakhoor mixed with light sweetness offered at the end. Of course you’ll enjoy the taste of Jellab or the grapes molasses.
Here’s a place you must try. Wake up super early and head down to El Sousi. The restaurant’s first location was in Downtown Beirut 1890 and, after 85 years, relocated to Chehade Street, in Mar Elias, where it has been since 1975. I was told that the Awarma (meat with fat) in Beirut is different than the ones served in the Metn and Keserwan area. I learned that the sweet way, after trying the one at El Sousi. But trust me that’s not the only thing that’s good there… Come here for the hummus, fatteh, kawarma, bad ghanam and surely chicken liver.
During my adolescence, I remember my dad taking me to a pastry shop all the way up in Broumana. Owned and run by Victor Rbeiz, Pâte à Choux cakes were special, freshly handmade with love and passion, a passion that has run for many generations. Pâte à Choux made the best and finest cakes and sweets way before big commercial factories existed. Let’s stop a minute to enjoy the country’s best croissants. Chocolate, Cheese, Zaatar… and their specialty the almond croissant is a signature of theirs. I've been raised on these croissants. The minute I tasted them I fell in love with them and the best part is that Pate a Choux have maintained the same premium quality for years and are still one of Lebanon’s best.
I don't want to sound like I am exaggerating but believe me when I say that there is no falafel like Sahyoun’s. In one day I tried the same falafel sandwich in three different places but the one I've had at Sayhoun beats the rest by far; to an extent that I think the name Sahyoun should be a generic name to all falafel sandwiches – just like the word Kleenex is for tissue paper. Yes it is that good…