At most Lebanese restaurants, one wouldn’t consider baba ghanouj a primary delicacy, but Montavilla’s Ya Hala has turned this spiced mashed-eggplant dish into a decidedly unbyzantine art. Their baba is richly smoky thanks to open-flame cooking, its flavor not outmuscled by any of the usual excesses of garlic or oil. Skip the grape leaves with my compliments and the tomato entrees on the menu, which are unfortunately a little too stewed, like something Mom might have made (sorry, Mom). The falafel, though, when you get a fresh batch served still-soft and piping-hot (ask for it, I’m serious), is Meg Ryan orgasmic, with a crisp-but-not-too-crisp outside and tender, naturally flavorful center. The Lebanese delicacy of moughrabieh—tender beef and chicken, served up with caraway, yogurt and gravy—is similarly so rich it’s an embarrassment.
IDEAL MEAL: Get the falafel, baba ghanouj and specially spiced Nakanik sausage as appetizers with your pita, and don’t miss the moughrabieh. Every time you don’t order it, you’ll miss it, even when you’re in other restaurants.