Angry Rant from a New Yorker: Middle Eastern Food

By Ben Adler

Matt’s interesting post on Doner Kebab, reminds me of a couple things. The first is that Cafe Creole was an awesome spot back in the day: live jazz, Caribbean food and alcohol for minors. Try finding that in D.C.

The second is that Middle Eastern food is awesome and that it is far better and more prevalent in New York than in D.C. I assume Matt is thinking Mamoun’s among his favorite late night Middle Eastern sandwich spots, since that is on MacDougal Street. Mamoun’s is indeed fabulous: quick, crisp falafel sandwiches with good Tahini sauce for $3 at all hours of the night. Compare that to D.C.’s famous Amsterdam falafel. The sandwiches are more expensive, take too long too make, and there are fewer choices.

Middle Eastern food in New York is exquisite. And this is one cuisine that legitimately is better in Brooklyn than anywhere else in the City. Atlantic Avenue’s longstanding Arab-American community is home to a series of delicious affordable eateries. Sahadi’s imports all tasty things from the Middle East, such as olives that are plump, juicy and subtle and creamy fresh made hummus. Damascus bakery makes quality meat pies and spinach pies.

For much of my later childhood there was a cheap BYOB restaurant across the street from my house called Olive Vine Pitza. In addition to personal pizzas made on crispy pita bread based crust, which featured such fine ingredients as carefully lamb and subtly seasoned vegetables, they made the best fresh pita for their sandwiches and abundant platters. The tangy babaganouj was above reproach.

Near my office when I worked at The Nation, by Union Square in Manhattan, was the most amazing cheap Middle Eastern sandwich shop in a converted newsstand. They sold vegetarian delights such as lightly fried cauliflower or sauteed eggplant sandwiches.

In D.C. Middle Eastern seems to only exist in Adams Morgan. While Amsterdam is OK, and I like the toppings bar innovation, it is as much about the french fries as it as about the real food. The only truly respectable Middle Eastern establishment in the area is Astor. That place has some good hummus, some appropriately flaky spinach pies and the right overall geshtalt.

Elsewhere in the District you have fancy, Middle Eastern inspired cuisine at Zaytinya, and mediocre Lebanese at Lebanese Taverna. Overall, my Middle East fetish goes generally unsatisfied.

6 responses to “Angry Rant from a New Yorker: Middle Eastern Food

  1. There’s also Levante’s at Dupont Circle, which, while a tad pricey for things like falafel, is quite good for other Lebanese/Mediterranean food. That said, I was in NYC last month and had a better falafel sandwich than any I could get in DC off of a cart just south of Penn Station. And you’re right, Brooklyn’s better.

  2. you must try “Old City Cafe” on Columbia. in Adams Morgan. Superb falafel and schwarma. Run by Palestinians and has the best toppings bar around. To my mind it slightly beats out Astors.

    Near dupont is an underappreciated North African lunch spot: Couscous Cafe on 20th near M. Excellent lamb couscous, and an extensive menu that I’ve only begun to delve into (chicken B’stilla, Golden Saffron Chicken Tajine, Merguez sandwich, lentil and andalusian tomato soups, nice fresh mint tea).

  3. Anonymous Coward

    DC isn’t NY in anyway shape or form
    – no bagels
    – no pizza
    – no delis
    – no middle east food

    It’s not Texas (all of which suck in NYC)
    – no tex mex
    – no bbq

    It’s not New Orleans
    – no Cajun
    – no Creole

    It’s not LA or SF
    – no great Asian
    – no organic/free range knottsys

    Appreciate what DC does give you
    – over priced food
    – surly wait staff
    – slow service

    Can you get all of that in your precious NYC?

    Now eat your half smoke with some Injera and be quiet.

  4. Oh what I would give for a decent halal stand in DC. I am a lover of the lamb on rice (with a little bit of white sauce and a little bit of hot sauce) and am absolutely shocked that we can fill our streets with tshirt vendors and bums, but god forbid we actually include things people would enjoy eating.

  5. oh great, angry/snobby new yorker food rant. what an original thing we need.

  6. There is a lack of good, inexpensive-price-range Middle Eastern food in DC. There does seem to be more North African coming into the area though — there’s a place out in Herndon I’ve been meaning to try and the Taste of Moroccos are reliably good.

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