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Our Five Faves

Best Mediterranean Food

Posted January 28, 2013

Crispy, flaky, nutty walnut baklava from Neomonde in Morrisville.

— When I moved to the Triangle from the diverse and densely populated Northeast in 2011, I figured I would have to give up eating my favorite Mediterranean foods unless I wanted to slave away in the kitchen to make them myself. But I was thrilled to discover a plethora of places to please my Middle-Eastern palate. There are so many choices that it was tough to narrow my list down to five. As an Arab-American who grew up eating a lot of traditional dishes, I’m a tough critic. So you can be sure these picks are tops in my book.

Neomonde (Raleigh): There aren’t too many shawerma sandwiches on earth that can compete with the one from the tiny, three-seat stall around the corner from my grandmother’s apartment in Cairo. But I found one here. The beef shawerma is mouthwatering, fragrant and served exactly as it should be – in a pita spiked with pickled vegetables, tomato, parsley and a smattering of tahini. The light and crisp falafel is equally fantastic. I’m sure there are other items on the menu that are just as delicious, but I rarely venture away from this favorite. It’s. That. Good. While you’re there, check out their terrific grocery section and try (really, really hard) not to go crazy on the best baklava in town. (Other locations: Raleigh on Strickland Road and Morrisville.)

Best bakeriesAladdin’s Eatery (Raleigh): When you walk into this joint, it’s hard to focus on the menu because of the glass display of full of decadent desserts. What can I say, we Arabs love our sweets. But tear your eyes away from the case and check out the menu. IMHO, Aladdin’s has the best baba ghanoush in the area. This is a simple, satisfying dip made of roasted eggplant that is blended smooth with tahini, olive oil, garlic and spices and eaten with pita bread. Aladdin’s gets it right with the perfect balance of smokiness and garlic. I usually have to order my own because I don’t want to share. Another great thing here is the spicy kafta. Think of it as a rolled Middle-Eastern meatball. And I have to give props to the staff. No matter which location I’ve been to, the folks behind the counter are super friendly and pleasant. (Other location: Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh.)

Baba Ghannouj Mediterranean Bistro (RTP): While the food here can sometimes be a bit inconsistent in preparation, I think it’s one of the best values out there. In a word – buffet. The RTP location serves a daily buffet that’s about $12. I would highly recommend their stuffed grape leaves, fried cauliflower salad and curry chicken. If you’ve never had Greek or Middle-Eastern food, consider this place as your primer. A lot of the dishes aren’t super-authentic, but they are tasty. (Other location: Highway 54 in Durham.)

Best bakeriesMediterranean Deli (Chapel Hill): I used to work at a newspaper where I shared a desk with a business reporter who doubled as a restaurant reviewer. He once left a menu on my desk with a sticky note that simply read: “Yummy. Go here.” That’s how I feel about this popular spot on Franklin Street. My brother discovered it when he lived in Chapel Hill and, whenever I would visit, we would troop over there with his wife and four kids like some swarthy, hunger-crazed Family von Trapp. In my family, we have the fork rule: If you can reach it with your fork, it’s yours. We’d buy so many dishes and share them because everything is fresh, delicious and generously portioned. The Moroccan-style cous cous salad, which is spiked with raisins and pine nuts, is a great side, as is the hummus. But my favorite dish by far is the fall-off-the-bone lamb shank cooked in tomato sauce. The free condiment bar with olives and fresh feta is a big plus, as is the great Arabic music they pipe over the speakers. Enjoy, if you can hear it over the sound of your own chewing.

Greek Fiesta (multiple locations): I know what you’re thinking. Looks like a chain and feels like a chain. But with six locations and some drive-through windows, Greek Fiesta is a great alternative to traditional fast food and a good value. My favorite is the Fiesta Platter, which comes with two kebabs, tabouli, hummus, stuffed grape leaves and pita bread for $11. Hello, elastic waistband. I recommend the chicken kebabs, which are nicely marinated and grilled, and the tightly rolled grape leaves. The tabouli is also terrific, with just the right amount of lemon and oil. (Other locations: Raleigh on Brier Creek Parkway and Creedmoor Road, Durham and Morrisville.)

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