The Best of Beirut
on Aug 22, 2014 By Danielle Issa
Mar Mikhael has become the latest hub for buzzing nightlife, cropping up with restaurants, pubs, and casual hangouts. It is here that the young and seasoned, modest and affluent, local and foreign come out to play, descending on the portside quartier where new high rises tower next to century-old, dilapidated facades. There’s a wealth of posh restaurants that can siphon your wallet, but there’s also more humble institutions where your limited lira will go a long way.
Allow me to navigate you through the streets of Mar Mikhael for worthy, pocketbook-saving eats. Be grateful, because you’ll need every penny you can scrounge to pay those greedy valet parkers.
Brought to us by the boys behind Secteur 75, Smoking Bun is a small burger shack tucked in the side of the same corner building and serving one burger type (12,000 LL), fries (5,000 LL), soda (3,000 LL) and draft beer (7,500 LL). Watch the cook drop the coarsely-packed beef patty onto the griddle as he layers the brioche bun with aged cheddar, lettuce, tomato, butter pickles, and the house sauce. The burger oozes with juice, and the slightly sweet bread absorbs it without falling apart. This is gourmet meets street food, and it will make you feverish with satisfaction.
Ibrahim Pacha Street
Motto is a new concept that invites the customer to dine on his/her own price terms, offering a baseline of 9,000 LL for guidance. Serving delicious home-made fare daily between 1 and 4 pm on weekdays and noon to 5pm on weekends, Motto’s head chef Nimal is skilled in both the cuisines of Lebanon and Sri Lanka, from where he hails. A sample menu of the day could feature shawarma, oven-roasted potatoes, fattouch, tabbouleh, and baba ghannouj, with a suggested 9,000 LL donation. I don’t know about you, but 9,000 LL wouldn’t even fetch you a glass of wine in most joints.
At the foot of the stairs leading to the popular foodie lair La Cour Saint Michel sits Tartine Bakery, a proper boulangerie and patisserie that produces fresh bread and pastries for customers on the go. Not only can you stock up on baguettes, fougasse, eclairs, millefeuille, and croissants, but you can order a proper sandwich with all the trimmings (starting at 7,000 LL). Have your pick of roast beef, salmon, tuna, chicken, halloumi, or ham & cheese, or, if it’s a triangle fix you fancy, the quiche and pizza are sublime. Don’t miss the meat-lovers’ pie, with its French sourdough flour and sausage and chorizo toppings.
Rocket aims to bring the simple pita, the foodstuff of our childhoods, back into the hands and hearts of Lebanese diners. Offering a host of fresh, healthy pita wraps at rock-bottom prices (4,500 - 9,500 LL), Rocket does it all, from kafta kebab, to Philly cheese steak, Tex Mex Fajita, Frankfurter and even the borrowed French steak au poivre. But honestly, it’s the falafel sandwich that gets me every time, with a grilled chickpea-fava bean mash fashioned into balls drizzled generously with tarator. It will sate your hunger for hours.
There’s a new Chinese joint in town, and though it’s not P.F. Chang’s, its prices are a wonderful consolation. Ganbei, which is a Chinese toast requiring all those present to empty their glasses in one gulp (“dry glass”), is a self-described authentic Chinese restaurant bar. They offer a hearty menu with everything from the classic hot and sour soup (9,000 LL) to fried rice with shrimp egg (9,500 LL) and—a Lebanese favorite—chicken with cashew nuts (14,500 LL). Chef Zhang Wanxi has more than two decades of experience in Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin, and undoubtedly, it is evident in the culinary experience he lavishes upon every diner.
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista.
"Self described authentic" Nice one.
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