So I went to Beirut, finally! Why did I want to go for so long? (I got this question a lot): because of the food, the people, the weather, the history, and also the food. My friend Florian and I spent 10 days in Lebanon, mostly in Beirut, some of it in the countryside, – and it’s been a delight! The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, there’s so much to see and to experience, yes the traffic is literally insane, but oh well. There’s the food – the glorious, glorious food. Based on fresh and local ingredients Lebanese cooking is an amazing blend of acidity and earthiness, freshness and spices, all bound together with fragrant olive oil and fresh yoghurt. Obviously the locally grown ingredients are in their prime, all citrus fruits are perfection (especially that bitter orange), you can even get local bananas here. Delicious treats wait for you wherever you go, there’s an abundance of foods to try and most shops specialise in one dish and strive for perfection of it. Our daily schedule was determined by where we wanted to eat, from breakfast to dinner. It’s a tried-and-tested travel-method of mine that I can recommend a lot, especially when walking to these places to a) digest all the food you ate, and b) get an impression of the city. Beirut’s not that big, so you’ll pass most interesting sights and places on your way to the restaurants.
The city is not the most ideal to discover on foot, since many streets have no sidewalks and if, they’re often used as parking space. There’s a system of public transport busses, that we never quite managed to understand, and millions of cabs. However, walking is entirely possible if you’re visiting outside of the summer months, when it’s just too hot to take. Beirut has loads of greenery – giant fiddle leaf fig and gum trees, palm trees, cedars, pine trees and more – but little green spaces like lawns or parks. The air can be quite heavy from all the traffic and generators (Beirut has 3 hours of power cuts per day), I found it overbearing at times, but entirely manageable if you plan for breaks. A good area to stay is between Mar Mikhael, Ashrafieh, Gemmayze, but stay clear of the main party locations around Armenia street which will get very loud and busy during nights. Beirutis love, love, love to go out and party and you’ll have no issue finding bars and dance clubs.
Also, if you have the chance, get out of Beirut and explore the mountains and countryside, if it’s just for the pomegranate and khaki trees, you won’t regret it. Any other questions, hit me up!
Here’re (almost all of) the places we ate at and enjoyed. There’s loads more, it’ll have to wait for another visit. Next time, I’ll go in spring, late April or beginning of May, it must be magical. Beirut, habibi.
Just a note: addresses for places in Beirut are a bit difficult, most of them have none. So I made a map of all the places in this list which you can check here, and I added a description of the location to each post with a link to a map.
And if you crave Lebanese food but can’t go to Beirut, here’re my favs in Berlin.
This was our first day in Beirut, and honestly, I was mostly tired. We arrived the night prior and either the heat, the smog or the traffic noise (or the fact that I just worked a lot in the weeks prior) exhausted me. So we mostly just scuffled around the neighbourhood, trying to keep our shoulders back and chins high (feigning confidence) when we walked into traffic on the incredibly busy Charles Malek street to get some falafel at these two, small shops just next to each other on Damascus Road. Each shop is managed by one of the Sahyoun brothers (there’s apparently some rivalry going on, but that might just be a myth) and both are only doing falafel frying. The regular sandwich (around 3500 LBP) has the perfect snack size (which is great when you have a long list of places you wanna try). We had one from each shop, and while I thought mine (the one on the left, in the picture and on location) was better, Florian thought the one on the right did a better job. But really, they’re very good, so definitely try both of them just for fun.
Damascus Road, Sodeco
Our first “real” lunch on the second day of our trip led us to a restaurant basically across the street from Falafel Sahyoun, so we still didn’t get super far in our exploration. We ordered the fattoush salad (with fried pieces of bread and a pomegranate molasses dressing), fattet (chickpeas with yoghurt, butter and oil, as well as fried pieces of bread), vegetarian kibbe and other filled pockets as well as a slice of meat pie (the dark triangle in the upper pic) and devoured everything. This was basically our first introduction to Lebanese brunch / lunch, which will require you to nap after, which isn’t a bad life choice anyhow. Mikhael is a solid place with very affordable prices and super nice staff.
I’ve heard a lot about this place in Achrafieh and its traditional, artisanal Lebanese ice cream – just to run past it on our first day, convinced the google maps location must be wrong. Alas, it’s not, but the places closes at unpredictable times, whenever the ice cream is out. It’s directly at the street corner, across the street from Maison Chal, and entirely unassuming – there’s no sign, just two big freezers, that’s how you’ll know you arrived. The ice cream is smudged into a square waffle (very exciting), making it a kind of ice cream sandwich (yummy). There are loads of fruity and more standard flavours (by which I mean: chocolate or coconut), but also more Levantine flavours like apricot with pine nuts, pistachio or rosewater. Just a tip: the rosewater is quite intense (more intense than I had it anywhere else), but the apricot and pistachio were quite delightful.
Cue to the next day and another rolled bread for breakfast (no complaints here!) This time we wandered over towards Mar Elias street to stop by this tiny bakery specialising in what they call “Armenian Lahmadjun” either with meat or with mushrooms. They’re also doing manti (more on those later) and suboerek, but only in family size servings, so stick to the lahmadjun and order the big version (2500 LBP), because the small one is really small (pictured above is the big meat version on the left, and the big mushroom on the right). The bread is thin and crispy, the filling very savoury and delicious. The shop is next to the Ziade Palace, a landmark mansion from the 19th century, pillaged and occupied by militias during the 15 year war and left as a ruin with trees growing through windows and balconies. Around the corner you’ll also find the Murr Tower ruin, an unfinished 30 storey building that played a role in the so called “Battle of the Hotels” during the war from 1975 to 1990.
Hussein Beyham Street
Ahmad Aouni Hallab
After that first breakfast we went on the longest walk – from the bakery up to the Palm Beach Hotel, along the Corniche, past the light house and the Luna Park, to the Pigeon Rocks in Raouché – two impressive rocks rising up from the sea. There’s a fancy restaurant with a stunning view onto the rocks called Al Falamanki about which I heard good things (the entrance is just next to the Starbucks), however, we did not visit it because our goal was the infamous knafeh sandwich I had heard so much about. Knafeh is a deliciousness in itself, however, in Beirut you can get it stuffed inside of a Kaak bread, a slightly sweet bread with roasted sesame, creating an admittedly quite heavy but dreamy sugary treat. We sat by the palm tree lined, seaside promenade and prepared ourselves for a sugar high. And yeah, it was sweet, but very worth it. The sugar sirup is spiked with rosewater, which, as mentioned above, can feel overpowering for me, but here it had the right balance. The crunchy bread with the melted cheese and semolina crust, it’s a real treat you should not miss when in Beirut.
General De Gaulle Street
Beirut can be very overwhelming, so I was super happy when we found this little haven just off the very busy Hamra street on the suggestion of someone on instagram. Not only is their garden relatively quiet, they also have a bookstore inside and a menu of, let’s say, contemporary takes on Lebanese food – we shared a kale fattoush, for instance, with some very young and thus tender kale. We came back a couple days later, again for classic lemonade, apple mint lemonade and some quiet time to read. Put it on your map, it might save your day.
And since we’re at saving graces – take a walk on the American University Beirut campus if you’re craving some green energy. The campus is not exactly open to non-students, but if you walk through the gates with confidence, there shouldn’t be any trouble. We met the most amazing cat there, it just jumped on Florian’s lap 2 mins after we sat down on a bench and instantly fell asleep for an hour.
Rome Street, Hamra
Liza is a really nice place, the dining room is covered in mirrors and lights, the floor has gorgeous tiles and the furniture is spot on, it’s beautiful and also a bit boojie. I’ve heard good things about their brunch buffet on weekends, however, we went for dinner, ordering a selection of their mezze as well as dessert. The hummus here is lovely, some say it’s the best they had in Beirut, we also had a purslane salad with roasted aubergines and pomegranate that was exceptional – the aubergine cubes were fried crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside. For dessert, you bet I ordered the rice pudding, which was wonderfully fragrant with just the right amount of rosewater, caramels sauce and crunchy hazelnuts. I finished that bowl, absolutely.
Doumani Street, Ashrafieh
After a well spent morning at the National Museum (don’t miss the mummies in the basement), we headed for Onno in Badaro, an Armenian restaurant with a very pretty terrace, for lunch. I especially loved the vegetarian pumpkin kibbeh filled with greens and chickpeas you see in the picture above. Oh and the mouhammara, a red pepper and walnut paste, that was more sweet than hot at Onno, and very tasty. After, I had to have the spinach manti, tiny dumplings, that are baked in the oven to finish them, which makes them super crunchy and delicious when covered in yoghurt and tomato sauce. by the way, a super-feat of Onno: dessert is on the house!
After, we wanted to take a walk through Horsh Beirut, the city’s biggest park, to digest and relax and read a bit. However we learned it was only open from 7am to 1pm that day for whatever reason, and thus had to walk around it to get to our next food destination way earlier than planned.
After the disappointment of the closed off park, I really looked forward to my next knafeh sandwich for dessert, you know, how one does (and despite just having had dinner). Just that when we arrived at Safsouf, a place with raving reviews, and I asked for a knafeh sandwich, they laughed replying that that’s a breakfast thing only and thus they didn’t serve it past lunch. The disappointment must’ve been all over my face, because the guy then decided to gift me two pieces of the treat pictured above. I don’t remember its name, but it was delicious – filled with cream instead of cheese, but otherwise quite similar? Anyhow, my mission for the next days was clear: get your knafeh early.
Soleiman Boustade Street, next to Bankmed
The next day, after feeling rather lost in Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian quarter in the East of Mar Mikhael, and an excruciating walk passing and crossing ultra noisy highways, walking through construction site lots (because the street was blocked off by military) to get to Sfeir-Semmler gallery in a bleak industrial quarter (still worth it, but take a cab), we stopped off at Tawlet, the lunch restaurant of famed Souk el Tayeb. This initiative was started by Kamal Mouzawak fourteen years ago, to connect the city peeps with the farmers around Beirut. Today, they’re running two markets in Beirut (more on that later), dozens of lunch restaurants (most of them outside of Beirut), and a couple of guest-houses (more on that also later). Tawlet is in a backyard of Armenia Street in Mar Mikhael and serves lunch buffets during the week, and brunch on weekends. The chefs change daily and each dish out a stunning array of salads and hot dishes. While the full buffet is 33 Dollar and the plat du jour is just 15, here’s the deal: you need to get the buffet. The plat du jour gives you only one of the salads, and one of the warm dishes, meaning you’ll miss out on all the delicious rest, which is not worth it. Drinks (water, rosewater, arak – hot tip: combine all three for a fun diy cocktail) as well as dessert is included in the price. And, let me say again: it’s worth it. So yummy. (The cover picture of this article is actually the buffet.)
Armenia Street, Mar Mikhael
Kalei Coffee Co.
We had actually spent some time at Kalei on our first day, when all I was was tired. So I sat down in one of the reclining chairs in their tranquil back yard adorned with trees, and had a lemonade – actually the best I had in Beirut, where good lemonades really aren’t hard to find. Kalei’s is more tart (while still sweet) and citrusy than all others, and quite intense, so it’ll take you some time to finish.
We came back a couple days later to have a cocktail, and then ended up ordering some salad, just as a side. I had freekeh, a green wheat, with pomegranate and purslane, which was delicious. The egg salad we also ordered was a bit much: about five eggs were chopped up and served with carrots and mayonnaise. We also ate up a bowl of their herb infused popcorn while watching the Beirut youngsters.
It’s a delightful space, make sure you visit it, and don’t miss the small shop of The Carton, a Beirut based magazine on food culture and the Middle East, inside of Kalei.
Click here for location
Lucky us, we chose an apartment that’s basically around the corner form Fern Ghattas, a popular Manousheh bakery. If I say popular you might expect lines out the door, but nah. While the bakers in the back are super busy, we often were the only people ordering anything in person. Most people who can afford it get their groceries, foods, and everything else delivered, and that’s why the phone rings constantly and guys on scooters pull up outside to pick up the orders.
Manousheh is a sort of breakfast pizza, just rolled, and here at Fern Ghattas we had the chance to try a very delicious one. You can get it filled with veggies, three cheese, halloumi and more. But after testing much, I will stick with my simple fav of zaatar and labneh. They also do kaak, but really excel at Manousheh.
Gouraud/Gemayzeh Street, across the street from St Antoine Church
Souk el Tayeb
Every Saturday, the bleak grounds of the recently built Souk get busy: Souk el Tayeb hosts a market with a big number of farmers and producers – from organic veggies and fruits, hip zaatar mixes, juice, soaps, honey, dried fruit, spices, lemonade, saj (a flat dough baked on a dome and then filled), natural cosmetics and much more. I picked up local guava, cherimoya (or custard apple), and khaki. All super fragrant (watch out for the guava, some people really repel its intense smell) and delicious, at affordable prices. I also bought about 4 different soaps and a jar of rather expensive oak honey – however, all the local honey I encountered in Lebanon was rather pricey, so don’t hesitate buying it here. There’s another, yet much smaller market happening on Wednesday at the Gefinor Center, that’s also worth a stop-by, but doesn’t have the food stalls.
Saturdays: Souk Beirut, from 09:00 to 14:00
Wednesdays: Clemenceau at the Gefinor Center, from 11:00 to 16:00
There’s no sign on the street, to find this place you’ll enter the Rasamany Building doorway on Hamra Street and walk the hallway till the end to find it. It’s worth it, we had some delicious food there. The fattet is dreamy, and you should also order the itch, an Armenian bulgur salad. We were told this is a prime place to party on weekends, when tables are cleared after 10pm to get the Arabic music going. Instantly everyone’s on the just established dancefloor, the place is packed and loud. During Saturday lunch time, it’s been a lot quieter, even relaxing, they have some couches to read and a small balcony to get some air. Don’t miss this one.
Hamra Street, next to Aldo
On Sunday, we decided to get out of town and into the mountains. We went to Tannourine, a natural reserve devoted to cedar trees, Lebanon’s national symbol and proudly represented on the flag. We took a four hour hike through the reserve along its well signposted trails, had some more Manousheh at a makeshift restaurant by the entrance of the reserve, and then headed to the Baatara gorge sinkhole and waterfall, an impressive natural cave with three natural stone bridges. After, we drove to Beit Douma, a guest house of Souk el Tayeb to spend the night. It’s one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever been to. Housed in a traditional Lebanese building, its surrounded by a bountiful garden with pomegranate and khaki trees. Inside, opulent bouquets of flowers and greens dominate the interior of colorful wooden and upholstered furniture. The floors are gorgeous marble terrazzo, the walls are adorned with art, and the rooms have a view onto the stunning mountains. After six days in busy, noisy and often exhausting Beirut, this hideaway was just perfection.
After an extended reading session in one of the rocking chairs in the upstairs salon, we headed for dinner which had a salad with locally grown avocado, broad beans, baba ganoush, cheese salad, stuffed vine leafs, a lentil stew and oven fried potatos. We ate until we couldn’t anymore and still had a lot of left-overs (just a question of politeness, really, there needs to be too much food on a Lebanese dinner table). After a much needed sleep with fresh air from the open window, next day’s breakfast was a beautiful buffet of local foods, and eggs cooked in a clay bowl over fire, which made the whites perfectly fluffy while the yolk was still runny.
By the way, we booked the driver, guide, and hotel all prior, which was a good advice (though you wouldn’t necessarily need a guide in the reserve alone) and made the travel a lot easier. In general, hotels will support you with transportation and guides.
After a short stop in Byblos (worth it for the ruins, not so much for the souk), we arrived back in Beirut slightly yearning for a snack, so we headed to Falafel Freiha directly opposite the ABC mall (no need to go in there, it’s another shiny conglomerate of international fashion brands). As I said, I just loved how small these sandwiches are – three freshly fried, then slightly crushed falafel balls in a small bread make the perfect snack, instead of the full-meal-sized sandwiches most Berlin shops sell. Freiha is known for its bright pink pickles and a great stop when you’re in the area.
Furn El Hayek Street, across the street from ABC mall entry
Al Soussi Restaurant
This morning, we decided we’ll do a real Lebanese (2nd) breakfast, so after some tea and cookies in our house (1st breakfast), we hiked from Mar Mikhael all the way up to Al Soussi, just off Mar Elias street. Beirut’s centre is located in a basin on sea-level, surrounded by other districts on hills. So yeah, it’s been a hike, a necessary one though, because Lebanese second breakfast is heavy! We went to Al Soussi in a side-street, a restaurant with white plastic chairs and tables in front, where the owner is taking your order. We got fattet, eggs awarma (with lamb confit) and ful. And oh my, most delicious. The ful especially was exceptional, warm and comforting. Fattet is just a glorious concept in itself, and here the pine nuts were heavily roasted, making this dish even better. However, plan for a nap after.
Side street from Iben Rouchoud, close by Mar Elias
The last dinner of our trip led us back to a restaurant we’ve been a couple days prior, when were still too stuffed from an extensive lunch at Onno to really order much. We came back with four people. So we got Itch, aubergine salad, lentil salad and hummus as mezze. And the lentil salad here is amazing, spiked with cinnamons and I want to say, clove, and reminded me a lot of one of my fav recipes by Sarah Britton, whose dressing is loaded with unexpected spices. Also, at Mayrig you won’t only get bread with your order but a quarter of fresh white cabbage to roll your mezze in. The crunchy salad adds another level of deliciousness and I might just steel this idea for my own hummus and mezze consumption at home. For mains, I ordered spinach filled manti again, however, while the mezze at Mayrig are outstanding, the manti at Onno were slightly better. Now for dessert I ordered Banirov mamoul, basically a sort of knafeh, but smaller servings – what looks like a small torte, is filled with melted cheese and then covered in rosewater sugar sirup and jam. Yes.
282 Pasteur Street
Our final food destination on our final day in Beirut was Amal Bohsali, a pastry shop only open until the early afternoon (as in: went there a couple days before around 4pm to only find shut blinds, my personal guiding thread of this trip). They’re serving knafeh and – as you can see – knafeh sandwiches. Of which I truly hadn’t had enough, also because I’ve never seen them anywhere in Berlin, so I was happy we finally made it.
The slightly clinical feel of the place will be forgiven once you bite into that fluffy cheese, sweet, sloppy and sugary sandwich. Yeah, it’s a lot, but it’s worth it. If you don’t have a knafeh sandwich while in Beirut, you practically haven’t been at all.
Alfred Nobel Street, Hamra