Top 10 Middle Eastern restaurants in the Twin Cities
Ah, the cradle of civilization: birthplace of modern agriculture, organized religion, and falafel. The Midwest isn't exactly a Mecca of, well, Mecca-inspired cuisine, but we do have a handful of Middle Eastern restaurants here in the Twin Cities worth seeking out when those kabob cravings strike. Here are 10 of our favorites.
Get your gyro on
10. Khyber Pass Cafe
Right across from Macalester College, Khyber Pass serves Afghan home cooking in classic college-town style--that is, in large portions, with plenty of vegetarian options, in a room that's fancy enough to take your visiting parents to but not so expensive that you couldn't pick up the check with your birthday money. The kabobs of lamb and chicken are always good bets. Vegetarian combination plates with sabzi, fresh spinach cooked with leeks and spices, or kachaloo (curried potatoes) are simple and satisfying. A serviceable wine list, rose-water rice pudding, Afghan green tea with cardamom, and pretty, piped-in Afghan music round out the experience. Add to the fine, inexpensive food Khyber Pass's mellow, homey decor and warm, attentive staff, and you've got all the ingredients for a St. Paul classic.
1571 Grand Avenue, St. Paul; 651.690.0505
Khyber Pass Cafe's website
9. Caspian Bistro
Caspian Bistro offers Persian-style cuisine tucked away in a warehouse on University Avenue in the U of M area. If you can't find a kabob you like here, you never will. The hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and gyros are crowd-pleasers, with the homemade lemonade and pistachio ice cream adding unique accents to the menu. The Persian rice is fluffy and flavorful, with hints of saffron and plenty of butter, and the kabobs are tender and well-seasoned. The space is airy and bright, with high ceilings and large windows. Caspian boasts an adjoining Persian market, where you can find everything from jars of fig jam to pomegranate paste, among other imported items from Turkey and Iran.
2418 Southeast University Avenue, Minneapolis; 612.623.1113
Caspian Bistro's website
8. Emily's Lebanese Deli
Tiny and well-worn, this beloved neighborhood spot just northeast of downtown Minneapolis is easy to miss, but it's worth seeking out. The traditional selections, seasoned with a light hand, are delicious. Kibbi--ground beef, cracked wheat, cinnamon, cardamom, onions, and pine nuts--is so fresh it's ordered raw as often as cooked. The kabobs are heady with butter, garlic, and clove. Grape leaves rolled with rice and spiced lamb come with tangy, thick homemade yogurt; hummus bi-tahini is laced with lemon; baba ghanoush packs a garlicky punch; and the tabouli is parsley-mint fresh. Don't skip the baklawa (Lebanese baklava), with its layers of phyllo, butter, walnuts, and honey-rosewater syrup. Entrées are all under $10 and come with tabbouleh and bread. It's perfect for takeout, or, if you want to learn more about the making of kafta (ground beef kabobs), mistah (thick golden bread), or real feta, hang around and eat in. Closed Tuesdays.
641 University Avenue NE, Minneapolis; 612.379.4069
Emily's Lebanese Deli's website
7. Jerusalem's Restaurant
Ever since camels got humps Jerusalem's has been winning local "Best Middle Eastern Restaurant" awards--or at least, it seems that way. Why? The awkwardly charming tented room, which always feels like it's been whipped together for a party just for you. The inexpensive, simple foods perfect both for a quiet vegetarian date (with wine or beer!) or for a super-filling mixed plate of lamb specialties. It's not terrifically fancy or aggressively cutting edge, but that's probably why it's first in so many hearts: Jerusalem's just sits near downtown, year after year, under its funny onion dome, quietly radiating the homey vibe of a place where you can slip off your Birkenstocks and discuss politics, culture, or which came first, the camel or the hump.
1518 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.871.8883
Jerusalem Restaurant's Facebook page
6. Babani's Kurdish Restaurant
The first Kurdish restaurant to open in the United States, Babani's is named for the Babani tribe, whose men were known for their fighting skills and sexual prowess (seriously, it says that on the menu) and whose women were considered kind, forgiving, and exceptionally good at cooking. The menu consists of authentic Kurdish dishes, including chicken tawa (chicken sautéed in lemon and spices and baked in layers of potatoes, green peppers, onions, and dried limes) and Sheik Babani (cored eggplant filled with spicy meat and vegetables). The tangy Dowjic soup made from chicken, yogurt, and lemon juice is a patron favorite that works miracles on a head cold and is credited for "keeping many a Kurdish traveler from wandering too far from home."
544 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651.602.9964
Babani's Kurdish Restaurant's website
123 N. 3rd St., Minneapolis, MN