Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern

(Henry Cromett)


Best for: Hangover brunch without the bacon.

1125 SE Division St., 11 am-10 pm Monday-Friday, 10 am-10 pm Saturday-Sunday. $-$$.

I never gave much thought to soy curls before eating at Aviv. Now I can't stop thinking about them. They're dubbed "shawarma curls" here—and, as the protein in a bowl called Tumeric Dreams ($12), they not only admirably replace chicken but (I can't believe I'm saying this) improve on it. They are tender and succulent and dense with spice. You might actually dream about them. This is the age of impossible meats, and Aviv is its herald. This Israeli restaurant, which will cater a plant-based Rosh Hashanah, excels at vegan comfort food. Think that's an oxymoron? You haven't tried hummus swimming with New Mexican Hatch chiles ($8), or the shawarma fries ($9-$12), which pour those soy curls and hummus atop thick-cut french fries to create a Middle Eastern poutine. Order those, then grab a pureed beet salad, purple as a party balloon, to throw on Instagram and make your frenemies hate you. AARON MESH.


Best for: Fantastic Middle Eastern classics with a homey, comforting touch.

320 SW Alder St., 503-444-7813, 2921 NE Alberta St., 11 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$.

A restaurant serving Middle Eastern cuisine lives and dies by its mezza platter, and DarSalam has every reason to be confident in its collection of small plates. A properly emulsified, creamy hummus that is smooth without being watery, and earthy without being grainy, can be a tall order, but DarSalam's rendition is dialed in. Paired with the chickpea spread is a flatbread that, while not as poofy as some, maintains a palpable, steamy softness. The mezzas ($16-$19) can be ordered with a lamb kebab, redolent with tangy sumac, which is tender and fatty with just the right amount of chewiness, but the real hidden gem lies down-menu, where a humble chickpea stew ($12) offers a surprising burst of tenderness with tomatoes and the perfume of cardamom. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Gastro Mania

Best for: Idiosyncratic gyros and sandwiches at the people's prices.

1986 NW Pettygrove St., 7:30 am-4 pm Monday-Wednesday, Saturday, 7 am-6 pm Thursday-Friday. $-$$.

A lunch counter so unlikely it feels poignant, chef Alex Nenchev's cart-turned-apartment anchor prepares Mediterranean dishes you'd expect to find at a white-tablecloth joint and serves them at people's prices. Its very presence amid the luxe-rental boom in Slabtown is a middle finger to Orangetheory gym members. Or maybe I've misread the room: Maybe brogrammers recently decamped from Palo Alto have been longing for a grilled octopus salad on spring greens and squid ink rice ($13.50) or a beef brisket sandwich with caramelized onions melting into the horseradish ($9). Gastro Mania is so singular, so clearly the product of one cook's idiosyncrasies, I assumed when it opened in 2016 it wouldn't last a year. But a recent Saturday saw the place packed until closing. I'm grateful to be wrong—it means I get to keep ordering a gyro packed with a salmon steak ($8). AARON MESH.

Mediterranean Exploration Company

Best for: Puffed-up pita and creamy spreads that will leave you twitterpated.

333 NW 13th Ave., 4-10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4-11 Friday-Saturday. $$$.

Rarely is there not a wait at this Pearl District warehouse-turned-restaurant, and most everyone queued up in the lobby or nursing a drink in the bar has the same dish in mind that they can't wait to hit the table. But before I go on about the hummus at John Gorham's Israeli-inspired eatery, there's a mezza that comes with the same puffy pita that's even better. Baked feta ($11) takes on entirely new properties that your tongue wasn't anticipating. The normally hard sheep's milk cheese that easily falls to pieces becomes a soft brick that is thick and luscious, brightened by lemon zest and a dash of sumac with citrus character. This snack is why I imagine the birds in the bar's mural are either blissfully warbling on one leg or have hypnotic swirls for eyes—they've all had a nibble of the feta and it's got them twitterpated. You really can't go wrong with any of the chickpea pastes—all are wonderfully smooth yet still dense. But the most interesting addition to the dip are maitake mushrooms ($15), which enhance the hummus's earthiness. It's entirely possible to fill up on the bread and spreads alone and leave perfectly happy, but for a more substantial meal, shared kebabs reward. The Nazareth ($16), a mixture of beef and lamb, is artfully displayed at the end of a cinnamon stick, and once you remove the skewer, the Adana lamb ($18) could be eaten like a hot dog wrapped in the pita it sits on with cucumber for relish and yogurt subbing for ketchup. For a drink that's just as herbaceous as the food, get the Pomona ($11). Made with liqueur infused with the resin of the mastic tree, it's like tasting a Greek grove at dawn. ANDI PREWITT.

Nicholas Restaurant

Best for: Homestyle hummus and kebabs, every day for decades.

318 SE Grand Ave., 503-235-5123; 3223, NE Broadway, 503-445-4700, 323 N Main Ave., Gresham, 11 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday. Gresham: 11 am-8 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-9 pm Friday-Saturday, noon-8 pm Sunday. $$.

If Pioneer Place is Portland's living room, Nicholas is the city's Lebanese kitchen. The family-run business has served up savory saffron rice and creamy hummus with home-cooked touches since 1987, starting with the Grand Avenue location, and it's hard not to feel a cozy sense of familiarity upon entering. Every table gets a hot pita for dipping in the addictive za'atar olive oil mixture of thyme, sesame seeds and spices while looking over the menu. Kebab plates ($10.50-$18.75; $9.75 bowls at lunch) are a standby here, the tangy yogurt sauce tying together seasoned meat, rice and veggies, but you'd be remiss not to get tabouli ($6) for your table at some point. The coarse parsley salad is crunchy and refreshing—made with a hint of mint, lemon, red onion and quinoa—and an extra dash of olive oil makes it perfect as an extra pita topping. LAUREN YOSHIKO.

TarBoush Lebanese Bistro & Bar

Best for: Vegan, vegetarian and omnivore Lebanese cuisine.

3257 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Noon-9 pm Sunday-Thursday, noon-9:30 pm Friday-Saturday. $$.

Housed in a vintage Victorian home, the Lebanese restaurant TarBoush caters to diners of all diets, with a broad menu of vegan, vegetarian and omnivore Middle Eastern dishes. Lunch platters range from $12 to $18, and include offerings like kebab skewers with vegetables and rice, while the dinner menu features larger fare that's easily shared. Start with something like the aromatic cabbage rolls with ground beef ($14) or grilled halloumi with cucumbers and olives ($13.50) before moving on to an entree like the chicken shawarma plate ($18), which comes with steamed vegetables, a pile of fragrant basmati rice, and marinated chicken, plus a zesty tomato sauce on the side. The house pita that comes with every meal is incredibly fluffy, with a nicely seared crispy outer layer. ALEX FRANE.


Best for: Stunning small-plate Mediterranean food that is probably the best argument in town for giving up meat for life.

2448 E Burnside St., 5-10 pm Sunday-Wednesday, 5-11 pm Thursday-Saturday. $$$.

An argument can be made—and has been, in these very pages—that Tusk is one of the most influential restaurants to open in Portland in the past five years. While not an explicitly "vegetarian" restaurant, its veggie-forward menu helped change the way the city thinks about plant-based cooking. Whether or not that's demonstrably true, one thing's for sure: Several years on, a wide, devoted cult has formed around Joshua McFadden and chef Sam Smith's stylish Middle Eastern-inspired eatery, and it's more than justified. Any meal must start with the hummus ($10, $18), which comes in two variations, both velvety smooth and alive with flavors like paprika, cumin and sweet peppers. Go ahead and get an extra order of the thick, warm flatbread—you'll want it. The za'atar-dusted, citrus-marinated chunks of feta ($8) are a must-order as well. From there, take your pick of the ever-changing vegetable platters, which are effectively elevated salads, mixing various greens, nuts and grains into instant Instagram fodder. MATTHEW SINGER.

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