It’s taken a while, but I’ve found two new favorites for Mediterranean cuisine. The first one is Raya’s Lebanese Restaurant (29 E. Court St., Downtown, 513-471-1378). I walked past Raya’s unassuming storefront many times before I managed to stop in. It isn’t glamorous — nothing matches, and the art on the walls is straight out of the World’s Longest Yard Sale, but the food is tasty, the staff is exceptionally nice and the prices are reasonable.
The best meal I had at Raya’s was vegetarian — a fattoush salad ($4 small/$5 large) and ful ($4). The salad was delicious — nice fresh romaine lettuce, halved cucumber and tomato slices, little slivers of onion and plenty of fresh curly parsley.
Two things are distinctive in a fattoush. The first are crisp pita bread “croutons” that add a nice contrast to the veggies, and the second is the dressing, which is lemon juice and olive oil spiced with sumac and oregano. Very distinctive. The pita croutons are freshly made at Raya’s, which can make for a little bit of a wait, but this salad is worth it.
I hadn’t had ful in years — not since a long-ago diner on Calhoun Street in Clifton closed. I think it was listed on their menu as “fool muddamas.” It’s a dip, similar in consistency to hummus, but made from fava beans rather than chick peas. Raya’s ful is flecked with finely chopped parsley, tomato and jalapenos, but the real appeal comes from spicy, fruity Aleppo pepper. As I scooped up the last molecules with my pita triangles, I thought of all the people I know who’ve gone vegan lately. Maybe they’re on to something.
But then I met Boris. Handsome Boris cooks at my other new favorite pita-stop, Taz. Taz is a recent addition to the downtown food truck scene that I spotted at Fifth and Race recently when I was really pressed for time. The other trucks had lines; Taz was empty. I figured it was worth a try.
When I got close enough to spot the Chicken Shawarma ($5), I knew I was right. It was gorgeous! A spit full of sliced chicken breasts, skewered and layered, seasoned and juicy, rotating in front of the broiling element. The aroma was delicious. And when Boris with the bedroom eyes asked me, “Do you want garlic sauce on that?” I was like, “On what?” Definitely! I went a little crazy and even tried a juice box of Mango Nectar.
The shawarma was the best I’ve ever had — the most flavorful chicken, the thinnest, most tender pita and superb sauces — both garlic and tzaziki. So, no, I won’t be going vegetarian any time soon, unless Boris’ falafels are as good as his kebabs.
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