3 Mediterranean restaurants in the U.S. you must try in your lifetime
Atlanta, Philly and L.A. eateries make Yelp's coveted rankings. Here's why you should go.
Is Mediterranean food the culinary darling of 2016? By the looks of Yelp's latest food rankings, you can bet your baba ghanoush on it.
The uber-popular business review platform released its 2016 Top 100 Places to Eat list this week. To determine its rankings, Yelp analyzed which places were the all-time most popular and well-reviewed on the site since its inception in 2004. Three superstars on the list offer the best in Mediterranean cuisine to American eaters.
Tucked away in a tree-lined corner of Philadelphia's youthful Old City neighborhood sits Zahav, a gem of modern Israeli cuisine that's made a culinary celebrity out of James Beard Award-winning head chef Michael Solomonov. Zahav is the only Philadelphia restaurant to have made the list, and it's the latest in a long line of accolades for the eatery since opening in 2008 (it also made Eater's list of 38 "essential" restaurants in the country).
Solomonov, himself a native of Israel, recently released a cookbook that spills the beans, so to speak, on some of his favorite recipes from his restaurant, including fried cauliflower, beets with tehina and crispy halloumi. Solomonov is also the host of a documentary called "In Search of Israeli Cuisine," which took the chef on an intimate tour of the country to highlight its most flavorful, diverse dishes. Zahav came in 62nd on the list.
Aviva by Kameel, an Israeli-inspired quick-serve cafe known for its mouth-watering falafel and charismatic proprietor, came in at No. 23 on the list. It's the establishment's second consecutive appearance on Yelp's ranking, and the reason is no surprise: Owner Kameel Srouji, an Israeli native, has earned praise from his downtown Atlanta clientele for his warm, inviting personality. He doesn't miss an opportunity to tell each customer how much he loves them and values their patronage. "Hello, my brother!" he exclaims as guests approach. "Sir, you can have anything you want! Without you, I am nothing!" If nothing else, Kameel gives "power lunch" a whole new meaning.
That personal attention is also a priority for the people who run Joe's Falafel, a busy shop in Los Angeles that took the No. 20 spot on Yelp. The L.A. Daily News, in a recent review, called the shop's signature dish "beyond irresistible – so good, it needs no sauces, no condiments, no tahini, no pickled vegetables. It’s perfect as it is." Affordability was also a point of praise at Joe's, with an average cost of $12 a plate (practically free by L.A. standards). And as a bonus, cooks at Joe's can be found roaming the dining area with miniature falafel balls on sticks, offering them as extra treats to diners already working on plates.
Yelp's list underscores just how much Israeli and Mediterranean food influences the way America eats. It comes not long after Cajun-Mediterranean fusion spot Shaya was named the Best Restaurant in America by Esquire Magazine. Customers at this eclectic New Orleans restaurant "go crazy" for dishes like Bulgarian lutenitsa (a spread made with tomatoes, eggplant and peppers), fresh-made falafel and Persian rice. Head chef Alon Shaya also received the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South last year.
Hungry yet? If you can't make it to all three of these beloved spots right this very minute, you can always take a gander at our collection of Mediterranean-inspired and good old-fashioned favorite recipes at our Israeli Kitchen, and try your hand at home.
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE: