Back to the Past… Generations of Quality and Taste
Places Your Dad Told You About
It’s true when they say that some foods are best prepared by masters… and not just any masters. Often found in hidden places, there are certain places that have been around for generations, handing down family secret recipes from one to another, leaving the same taste in every bite. And there are places that have become landmarks in our country… places our parents used to hangout and enjoy some of the most delicious bites Lebanon has to offer. Let’s see some suggestions…
Yes, Tripoli is famous for indulging its guests with many kinds of sweets, with recipes handed down from one generation to another, from father to son for several centuries. Tripoli has ancient masters, specialists in Halawa, varieties of pudding made from grained rice or semolina with or without cheese and much more, all rooted in the heart of the old souk. Nouh Al Haddad is definitely one of them, and this little shop dates back to the 1800. Head up to Nouh Al Haddad and Sons Pastry, facing the Uwaysat Mosque in Tripol and try is an oriental pastry shop known for one single item, "Haléweh Shmeisseh".
If you think you’ve had all kinds of Knefe out there, you’re mistaken… In Mar Elias, Al Karout has been open for more than thirty years now. Before the Civil War, Al Karaout first started in Downtown Beirut and then moved to Mar Elias. People come here for the Knefe and trust me, you won’t understand why until you’ve tried it yourself. It is extraordinary because of its non salted cheese, premium cheese, imported from the Czech Republic, its melting heart, its thick layer of crumbs, its fine texture and concentrated body. A square is cut, stuffed in the bun and scented with a couple of drops of rose water. It was a premiere for me: Knefe and rose water.
If I want to recall a restaurant from my childhood, it would definitely be Le Relais. One of the first restaurants to open in Kleiaat, Le Relais was a place I used to come to every week with my parents. If you spend your summers in Keserwan or simply live around the region, you’ll know Le Relais for sure. This famous spot is not only a restaurant but it’s also known as bread producers and other related unique products, which are around the country's supermarkets. Le Relais existed way before Wooden Bakery and Moulin D'Or… They still serve great food, generous portions in a pleasant ambiance.
Byblos Fishing Club was established in 1962 in the ancient Phoenician harbour of Byblos. The creator of this restaurant was a man called Pepe Abed, a legendary figure that’s become renowned throughout generations. The restaurant became very famous due in part to its beautiful location but mainly to Pepe's sparkling personality. Over the years many famous faces have graced the restaurant with their presence and are now immortalized on the 'wall of fame', which is a charming reminder of the restaurant's past as well as its present. It’s like a landmark in Lebanon, where people come from all over to experience…
Just imagine a small place, a very old place that's cracked from all sides, with old tables, a dirty paint job, broken tiles, high ceiling and the sound of running water from a broken tap... Welcome to Georges Ghosn's little heaven, where you will taste some of the best flavors ever - believe it or not. Georges Ghosn is a funny old man who, who works all alone and still lives in the era of prosperous Lebanon... Time has stopped the day his father died. Georges took over the business his father started a century ago, using same traditional recipes to make delicious foul beans and hummus.
For more than half a century, Halim has been running a restaurant in Bhamdoun. Halim, known to serve the best charcoal grilled birds in Lebanon and after my experience, I would say the region, is the simplest set up you can ever imagine. First opened in 1920's, Halim is located on the first floor of an old building on Bhamdoun el Mahatta main street where guests were welcomed to enjoy the basic Lebanese Mezze served on wooden trays and include hummus, salad, pickles followed with grilled makanek and charcoal grilled birds. The restaurant at that time had no windows and no floor tiles. It stayed that way until the early sixties when the three sons of Halim took over the restaurant and transformed into a simple and calm place. The spirit remained the same. A basic space where people can come and enjoy delicious homemade food.
Le Phenicien, opened in the 1970s, is one of the few or maybe the only high-end seafood restaurant in the South of Lebanon. Located on the Tyre's fishermen's port, Le Phenicien welcomes you into a relaxing marine setup overviewing the whole daily activities of the marine life. Located in Tyre, Le Phenicien, has built a strong reputation for itself, offering good food and memorable service. It is a favorite among many who want to escape the hustle of the city.
Since 1881, Abdul Rahman Hallab & Sons enjoys a reputation for being one of the best places in Lebanon for occidental sweets…Baklava, maamoul, knefe, packaged sweets, a diet section, ice cream parlor, chocolate and much more. It’s a grand setting, which started in Tripoli. Although it now boasts a place in Jounieh, I would still drive all the way to Tripoli early in the morning and enjoy their Lahem Bil Ajeen, followed by their delicious Znoud el Sit.
In 1953, during Lebanon’s Golden Era, a world-class hotel was envisioned to be opened on the shores of Beirut. Eight years later, in December 1961, the Phoenicia InterContinental opened its doors! The hotel, in the heart of the city, attracted leaders, businessmen, celebrities and much more to come stay. It’s a landmark today. After the war, the hotel reopened in the 90’s with restaurants and coffee shops worth trying. Even their breakfast is something to experience.
L’Os has been around for well over 50 years now. Located in Mansourieh area, L’Os is a vast space known for its good Lebanese food and specifically its garlic bread. I believe no one until date knows how to make them the same way. You can't come here and not order the garlic bread. A long baguette, toasted to perfection and filled with a garlic cream. I personally have issues with garlic so couldn't even smell it, but everyone tonight loved it. It is indeed a signature. I also tried their Halawa baguettes. Crunchy baguettes filled with warm halwa. Delicious.
One of Lebanon's iconic places is Le Bristol Hotel, located in the heart of Beirut... This historic spot is again in the limelight after a year of renovation and re-design... Le Bristol Hotel became world-famous in 1950s for hosting grand balls for diplomats and film stars, but has since lived through wars as well as decades of general wear and tear. Known throughout its history, Le Bristol housed the first ever skating rink in the country; it was the source of inspiration for the finest interior designers of the period such as Jean de Royère and a meeting place for kings and heads of state.
This legend has been open since 1929 on Monot Street. It’s a place my parents used to tell me about. Georges Aoun, Mikhael's son welcomes you in his little piece of heaven. The place is known for offering a wide selection of breakfast items, but it is also popular for the dairy products, which are exclusively prepared in-house since 1929. It’s a special place where black olives, green olives, fresh mint leaves and markouk bread and a plate of freshly handpicked vegetables land on the table before ordering.
Al Ajami is an authentic and full of life food spot in Baalbeck. You’ll find nylon-wrapped tables with green table clothes, old chairs, and historical photos on the walls, high ceiling, a bar and a food display. The place looks like an "Ahwet Ezez", a coffee shop where the elders gather around. Opened since 1924, the Al Ajami enjoyed a long list of celebrities who have walked through their doors like Zaki Nassif, the Rahbanis, Charles Aznavour and many more. Owned and managed by two brothers, Ahmad and Behzad, this place comes highly recommenced. Try it before it’s too late, as the next generation of children has already left the country…
I truly doubt that there’s anyone out there who has not heard of Hanna Mitri, an ice cream parlor since the early 40’s. The one and only Hanna Mitri is known for his uniquely fresh ice cream, perfect Maamoul and arrogantly rude character. Following his steps is his son Mitri Hanna, the sole carrier of this legend's recipes.
Al Halabi is my favorite Lebanese restaurant. I have been going there since I was a kid to enjoy a selection of Lebanese bites. Now that I am married and have kids, I have been taking my kids often to try some of their renowned dishes.
I was told a long time ago that one of Lebanon’s favorite drinks is known as Jellab and one place in Mar Elias comes highly recommended. I have always thought that Jellab was something we drink during Ramadan. Adequately sweetened, grapes molasses, the scent of fragrant oil of Bakhoor especially imported from Saudi Arabia… Every sip of Al Antabli’s Jellab takes you on a journey around the Middle Easts with its intense aromas and flavors of Bakhoor mixed with light sweetness offered at the end. Of course you’ll enjoy the taste of Jellab or the grapes molasses.
Here’s a place you must try. Wake up super early and head down to El Sousi. The restaurant’s first location was in Downtown Beirut 1890 and, after 85 years, relocated to Chehade Street, in Mar Elias, where it has been since 1975. I was told that the Awarma (meat with fat) in Beirut is different than the ones served in the Metn and Keserwan area. I learned that the sweet way, after trying the one at El Sousi. But trust me that’s not the only thing that’s good there… Come here for the hummus, fatteh, kawarma, bad ghanam and surely chicken liver.
During my adolescence, I remember my dad taking me to a pastry shop all the way up in Broumana. Owned and run by Victor Rbeiz, Pâte à Choux cakes were special, freshly handmade with love and passion, a passion that has run for many generations. Pâte à Choux made the best and finest cakes and sweets way before big commercial factories existed. Let’s stop a minute to enjoy the country’s best croissants. Chocolate, Cheese, Zaatar… and their specialty the almond croissant is a signature of theirs. I've been raised on these croissants. The minute I tasted them I fell in love with them and the best part is that Pate a Choux have maintained the same premium quality for years and are still one of Lebanon’s best.
I don't want to sound like I am exaggerating but believe me when I say that there is no falafel like Sahyoun’s. In one day I tried the same falafel sandwich in three different places but the one I've had at Sayhoun beats the rest by far; to an extent that I think the name Sahyoun should be a generic name to all falafel sandwiches – just like the word Kleenex is for tissue paper. Yes it is that good…
Going up to Chtaura and not enjoying a labneh sandwich is something really unheard of to us Lebanese. Chtaura is known for its dairy products and one place to try is Elias. Perfectly Elias himself, an old man, who’s been around for decades, handcrafts hand rolled each labneh sandwich.
What did your dad tell you about?