Last November I saw a tweet that led me to this Seattle Met blog post about a Lebanese bistro opening soon in Ballard.
And I got really excited. I love Lebanese food and try to take advantage of Portland’s many wonderful offerings every time I go. And this lede on the blog item echoed a complaint I’ve had about my beloved Seattle for years:
Rajah Gargour grew up in Lebanon (and Jordan), and has a singular but rather significant complaint about the state of his native cuisine in Seattle: “This food isn’t represented at all,” he says. “It doesn’t exist.”
Lucky for all of us, owner/chef Gargour has changed that with the lovely Cafe Munir in the Loyal Heights area of Ballard, which has been open since January at 2408 NW 80th Street.
My employer just published a nice review of the place, but much of the write-up covered the meaty and dairy-rich offerings. Rest assured, vegans can get stuffed on all kinds of delicious options at Cafe Munir, and our server was helpful in identifying appropriate choices.
We went on a Saturday evening at prime dinner time, and the place was busy enough that we waited about ten minutes for a table. Seated with a view of the dining room with a couple glasses of Lebanese red wine, the time went by quickly.
Cafe Munir at dinner
The space is not super fancy, but it’s got nice touches, like the clean white arches and beautiful decorative light fixtures, mirrored in the style of the candle holders at each table.
After a long walk that afternoon, we were ready to make a solid dent in the menu, though we still had to save several options for next time. There are all the basics you’d expect to be available on hot and cold mezze menus–hommos, baba ganoush, falafel, fattoush (Lebanese green salad tossed with toasted pita)–as well as some less-common items like muhammara (a dip made of roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses) and two that were new to me: Ta’miyeh, a cousin to falafel made with fava beans instead of garbanzos, and mukhaddara, a variant on muhammara made with roasted green peppers, pistachios and mint. We went for a mix of familiar and new:
Clockwise from top left: baba ganoush (in striped dish), pita, Ta’miyeh with tahini and spicy tomato sauces, hommus, mukhaddara, fattoush.
Here’s a closer look at some of those items:
Lebanese Bread Salad (Fattoush), Ta’miyeh, Mukhaddara
Baba Ganoush, with a lovely garnish of fresh pomegranate seeds
The old favorites did not disappoint. The baba was smoky and smooth, and the hommus was substantial and well balanced in flavor. The Ta’miyeh was very similar to falafel (and good), but having two sauces to pair it with instead of just tahini sauce made for some added interest. The mukhaddara was a completely new blend of flavors to me. I’m not a huge fan of green peppers, so next time I will try the muhammara, but I would happily eat the mukhaddara again as well. At once rich and fresh-tasting, the flavor of the roasted poblanos really came through in the finished dish.
We enjoyed the fattoush, and it did add some much-appreciated fresh, raw produce to the table. It wasn’t as interesting as the other dishes we tried, and since we had more than enough otherwise to keep us busy and full, we agreed that we might skip it next time.
Of course, we couldn’t just leave it at small plates, so we ordered a couple larger ones as well. The kosheri we ordered (a rice-lentil-caramelized onion dish billed as “the Egyptian national dish,” and clearly a variant of mujaddara) was delicious, but sadly did not photograph well at all. It came with the same roasted, spicy tomato sauce that we’d had with the falafel, which was a fantastic accompaniment. Ask to skip the yogurt that normally comes with it also.
We also got some vegetable skewers, which came dusted in sumac and served with a side of tahini sauce.
All that (which was absolutely too much food for two people, even hungry ones), plus three glasses of wine, at $9 each, came to $75 with tax, which seemed very reasonable for the amount and quality of food, the very good service, and the pleasant atmosphere. My only wish for the business is that they improve their Web presence. The blog that serves as their website makes it very difficult to find basic information such as address, business hours or phone number, so honestly you’re better off with Yelp if need a quick answer on those details.
By all means, though, go visit! I’m eager to go back.