Getting down and yummy in Houston with Mediterranean food

My last post was about food but my suggestions were admittedly not around the corner - more like 5,000 miles away. How about some local Houston suggestions?

Well, let's start with a place I kept hearing about and decided to check out - Russo's New York Coal Fired Pizza (owned by New York Pizzeria). About six months or so, I started reading about Russo's and the greatness of their coal-fired oven. Apparently a coal-fired oven can get much hotter than a traditional oven and it can make a pizza particularly crispy... maybe like the ones I'm used to in Rome? Robb Walsh gave it a good review although his most recent review of Grimaldi's made it evident that Grimaldi's trumps Russo's.

What did I think of Russo's? It was fine... nothing spectacular and really not different from most of the pizza places around town. The atmosphere was crazy - lots of families and kids on a Friday night (who are we to talk... we were there with a child) and the service was attentive... but, again, the pizza was just normal. Let's be honest... it does not come close to the greatness of Dolce Vita.

Now, the main reason I wanted to post a food entry was to post a few of my favorite Lebanese/Mediterranean places around town. Here are a few you can check out:

Mint Cafe' - 2800 Sage, 77056- I've blogged on this place before. We really like going there... Zaid and his parents always treat us well and pay so much attention to our son. The meat dishes are good but the veggie sides are what truly shine. Excellent falafel, too. Try their cous cous (different than they typical cous cous you'll come across at most Lebanese places around town), their delicious stuffed squash or my favorite... the ardishawki (see left)

Cafe' Rita - 755 Dairy Ashford, 77079 - I feel like I have Robb Walsh to thank for so many discoveries around town... this is one. As his review states, Cafe' Rita is Lebanese food with an Armenian twist. The twist is spice... a little bit of heat. The Armenian beef kabobs are simply delicious and the vast selection of sides can be a bit overwhelming... in a good way. The fava beans are excellent as is the Armenian cous cous. Prices are extremely reasonable and, while I haven't tried any desserts yet, they look quite good. George and Rita are absolutely wonderful and they will make you feel at home.

Zabak's - 5901 Westheimer, 77057 - I've only been here once but I had heard so much about the falafels, I had to check it out. The falafels... wow! So good... I agree that they're the best in town. A brother and sister run the restaurant using their father's old recipes (he passed away a few months before the restaurant opened... Allison Cook provides a bit of the story). I'll need to go back to try more dishes and to check out the falafel dishes which, apparently, are really really good.

Cafe' Lili - 5757 Westheimer, 77057 - Lili and her family run a great Lebanese restaurant - the service is always spot on and the food is excellent. I really like their kafta kabob salads and their babaganoush is excellent as is the moussaka. Not a big fan of their lebni - too plain. Still, it's one of our favorites and the coffee at the end of the meal is a real treat.

Fadi's - 8383 Westheimer, 77063 - This is the restaurant that put me on a Lebanese kick. Over the years, we've watched as the first location gradually gobbled up its neighbors and grew to a large restaurant. The cafeteria-style restaurant is a great way for newbies to be introduced to Lebanese food... so many great options and dishes like the veggie sampler are massive. Be sure to look further down the line - some of the best dishes are towards the end of the line.

Empire Turkish Grill - 12448 Memorial Drive, 77024 - This is one of our local haunts - as a Turkish restaurant, their menu leans more towards kabob, all of which are excellent. We typically start with their refreshing and delicious shepherd salad and cold appetizers like their delicious ezme and one of the best lebni in town. Kabob appetizers are large enough that they can be divided by two people - the adana kebab and the tavuk kebab (very juicy) are excellent. For something different, try the lahana samra - stuffed cabbage rolls. Desserts are delicious. Empire is more upscale that the other restaurants I've listed so it might be more fitting for a nice dinner although lunch is a steal at only $8.95.

There are still a few places I haven't tried... Mary's, Shawarma King and Cafe Mezza. They're on the list... but these five places are a good start. If you're new to Mediterranean food, start with Fadi's. If you want to go to someone's "home" to eat, go to Cafe' Rita get to know George and Rita.

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