2013 City Guide: Austin Middle Eastern Cuisine
Me and my fellow foodies of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance are putting together the 2013 City Guide of all our favorite places in Austin. For last year’s city guide I wrote about Persian Restaurants and North Austin Vegetarian. This year I’m expanding from just the Persian options to include all of the great Middle Eastern eats in town. While this list isn’t exhaustive, these are the majority, and I have tried each unless otherwise noted. I’ve also included some of the great Middle Eastern markets in town in case you’d like make your own at home. So, without further ado …
The 2013 Austin Middle Eastern Food Guide
Alborz Persian Cuisine (Anderson @ Shoal Creek)
This is a traditional spot for Iranian food. They have a great buffet that lets you sample a variety of Persian dishes from appetizers to desserts. Must try at Alborz: joojeh kabob (chicken), zereshk pollow (barberry and saffron rice), and the albaloo pollow (sour cherry rice). If you go with a group of four or more for dinner I would suggest getting the family plate so you can try a most of their grilled options.
Dream Bakery (Anderson Mill between 183 and Pond Springs)
The only bakery in Austin that has fresh baked Persian treats is Dream Bakery. Owner Azar Owlia and team make traditional cookies, cakes, pastries, and ice cream. In additional to Persian sweets they make traditional French pastries, fantastic kolaches, perfect cookies, and cakes of all shapes, sizes, and tastes. The wedding and party cakes are simply beautiful and tasty.
Kebabalicious (2 locations - Congress @ 7th & 7th @ Trinity)
Kebabalicious is a great trailer for Turkish style kebabs.Their wraps are fresh, quick, and tasty. The spices are prominent and they will tailor the spiciness to your taste. My favorite: The beef/lamb kebab, medium spicy with extra tzatziki. I’ve also heard good things about their zucchini fries. This is fantastic late-night food for those closing out their night on dirty 6th or Red River.
Kismet Cafe (On 24th just off Guadalupe)
Sadly, I wasn’t able to try out Kismet recently, but they have been a staple of the university food scene for years. They have quick serve traditional middle eastern standards. From shawarma to gyros to falafel and kafta, Kismet has your favorite middle eastern dish, and it’s halal.
Marakesh Cafe & Grill (Steck @ Shoal Creek)
Marakesh has reopened! What once was the downtown middle eastern food authority has now found a new home in north Austin. I haven’t been up to their new location yet, but I will be soon! When they were downtown I loved their chicken shawarma wrap. The new chef is Kurt Ramborger, the Eater National Hottest Chef in America of 2012. Good meal and eye candy? Yes, please!
Pars Mediterranean Supermarket & Deli (Burnet @ 183)
Pars Deli is the casual dining option for Persian food here in town. They do grilled meat really, really well. I recommend the koobideh kabob (ground beef and/or lamb) either with pita bread or rice. The meat is always flavorful and juicy. My mouth is watering thinking of the kabob at Pars. The make perfect fluffy basmati rice which is good on its own. The shaker of ground maroon spice you see on the table is sumac. It is a sour spice that makes the kabob even better. Try it, you’ll like it.
Phara’s Mediterranean Cuisine (North Loop @ Avenue F-just east of Lamar)
Phara’s has great food in a wonderful atmosphere. Their back dining area is worth going alone, but the food makes for an even better experience. On the weekend they have belly dancing and the audience is encouraged to participate. This is a great place for large parties. I recommend the lamb shish kebab. Tender, juicy, flavorful, yum! They also have great vegetarian options. It’s BYOB with a very reasonable corking fee, and they have a hookah lounge associated with the restaurant. It’s so nice after you have a great meal to sit under the stars with a glass of wine and aromatic hookah. Highly recommended!
Phoenicia Bakery and Deli (2 locations - Burnet just north of 45th & S. Lamar @ Barton Skyway)
Phoenicia is my go-to market for middle eastern staples. They also have a great bakery and deli. My favorite pita bread, hummus, and tabouli salad are made fresh daily at Phoenicia. At the deli counter you can buy a variety of fresh cheeses and meats. I love the French sheep’s milk feta and the halal mortadela. At the bakery counter you can get wonderful baklava and other sweets. They have hot middle eastern plates and sandwiches you can eat there or take on the go. Get there early for fresh pita bread, especially on the weekends as they sell out quick!
Sarah’s Mediterranean Grill & Market (Burnet near North Loop)
I recently tried Sarah’s and had a fantastic meal. They have delicious middle eastern food in a welcoming atmosphere. The family who owns Sarah’s felt like my own. It was as if I was having dinner at my aunt and uncle’s rather than at a cafe. I had the lamb shank and picked the bone clean it was so delicious! My sister had the chicken kebab plate, which also was great. They have the creamiest hummus I’ve ever tasted and serve it with fresh olive oil and roasted garlic. The market was well stocked and has nearly all of the middle eastern groceries I buy. I will be back very soon!
Shandeez Grill (Anderson Mill north of Pond Springs)
Shandeez Grill is as traditional of an Iranian restaurant as you’ll find. They have slow cooked khoreshts (stews) served over fluffy steamed rice, delicious grilled meats, and some yummy snacks I usually only have at home. My favorite is the tahdig topped with khoreshte (shown below). Tadig is the crispy fried bottom part of the rice. It is soooo delicious. The khoreshte fesenjoon, a beef, walnut, and pomegranate stew is really good. I recommend getting an order of mahsto khiar, yogurt and cucumber dip. Yogurt is like the ketchup of Iranian food, we eat it with everything!
Tarbouch Lebanese Grill & Hookah (Oltorf east of S. Congress)
Tarbouch comes recommended to me by several of my food blogger friends. They have traditional Lebanese options as well as a hookah lounge. I haven’t been to taste yet, but I’ve been told to try the fattoush salad and any of their shawarma plates. Looking forward to making it down there soon!
Tom’s Tabooley (Guadalupe just north of 29th)
Tom’s Tabooley offers Americanized versions of middle eastern classics. They have a brick and mortar on the Drag, plus you can find many of their meals at Whole Foods and Central Market. If you need a quick middle eastern fix, Tom’s is the place for you.
Wholly Kabob (2 trailers - E. 6th @ Waller, and the other is on-the-go)
Wholly Kabob is the new kid on the middle eastern food block. Opened for only a few months, they are making a name for themselves by taking a modern twist on Persian classics. Owner Nanaz Ahmadi is a dietitian and nutritionist and has found a way to make awesome food that is organic and gluten-free. Her spices are spot-on delicious, and flavorful without being greasy. I had Da Persian and after the first bite I could have been in a kabobi in Tehran. Beef kabob grilled to perfection in a pita topped with yogurt-shallot sauce, chopped herbs, and sumac. I had to try some of the other offerings so I got a side of basmati rice and the salad Shirazi. The rice was perfect, and I’m a rice snob. The salad Shirazi was fresh and dressed lightly with lemon juice and olive oil. I also got a sample of of the kuku. I grew up eating kuku and love seeing other interpretations of it. She adds currents and walnuts in addition to the spinach, onion, herbs, and eggs, and I really like the texture and flavor of the kuku. The staff is friendly and had great recommendations. Next time I’m going to try one of the bowls and get the jalacado sauce on it for a little Tex-Mex twist.
Flying Carpet (Oltorf near S. 1st)
While not Middle Eastern, the Moroccan food at Flying Carpet is a spicy cousin. Still operating out of their food trailer, they are now adjacent to a small indoor eating area. The food is delicious! I recommend The Moroccan and Le Dajaj Maghrebi. You also have to get the dates for dessert with some hot Moroccan mint tea.
Verts (7 locations in Austin)
Verts is Berlin style kebap. That’s basically the German version of the Turkish doner kebab street food. However it came about, it’s damn good! I got the doner kebap with beef/lamb, veggies, and both the garlic and hot sauces, as recommended to me by the man who made my kebap. That combination was genius if you like things that are creamy, garlicky, and spicy all at once. If you’re on the go and see a Vert’s, stop in a try it. I’m sure you’ll like it.