Best Middle Eastern restaurant (2000)

Phoenicia Grill

Since taking over the Phoenicia Grill, a small but cheerful Middle Eastern eatery, earlier this year, owner Jim Kher has done nothing but improve upon what was already a distinctive spot. In the hip, streamlined space, Kher's chef, Mustafa Awada, displays his extensive culinary-school background and extensive experience at Middle Eastern restaurants with some finely prepared fare. For instance, both the hummus and the baba ghanouj are stellar examples; they each display a creamy texture and sharpness of flavor rarely found around here. The crunchy balls of soft-as-bread falafel are homemade, as are the nakanek, small finger sausages cooked with cilantro and red-wine vinegar and garnished with pine nuts. Other traditional dishes also shine: A thick, hearty moussaka comes covered with a tangy, chunky tomato sauce, and the shawarma features strips of meat that have been grilled until just done so the meat stays moist and tender. If you had to pick just one thing that proves Phoenicia's prowess, though, it would be anything involving kabobs -- lean, well-marinated meats cooked on skewers with mixed vegetables. But then you'd be missing some of Phoenicia's real surprises, such as the flu-shot chicken vegetable soup made with Lebanese spices, and the deep-fried kibbeh -- cracked wheat and beef finely chopped with pine nuts, walnuts and onions -- that few Middle Eastern restaurants take the time to prepare.

Readers' choice: Jerusalem


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