What's On My Plate? My Favorite Meal Deals in Town

When friends and acquaintances learn I’m savvy on the restaurant scene in Lebanon, they tend to ask for my recommendations. Now that’s no easy task, because the options in Beirut are endless, and the types of cuisine available are just as expansive. Now I readily confess I’m no frequent diner at the posh hotspots. And I definitely reject the hype of the newbies in town—rarely do they impress or bring something fresh and innovative to the table. But I do adore a good-value meal for my money. And since those experiences tend to be very few and far between, I naturally cling to them like a dog on a bone.
Here are my latest food fetishes:
1.       Shtrumpf, Le Mall Dbayeh (salad bar and more)
Many years ago, I visited the standalone Shtrumpf outlet in Dbayeh (next to Chopsticks) and wasn’t too windswept with their salad bar. A round little kiosk, it was very much challenged on ingredients, variety, and aesthetic appeal. Recently, I was introduced to the location at Le Mall Dbayeh, where the salad bar is indeed the star of the show, with around 40 distinct offerings, 6 dressings, a soup du jour, and fresh-baked baguette and focaccia bread a volonté. And trust me, this is no stingy salad bar.

Besides the usual suspects—cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, sweet corn, asparagus, palmito, artichoke hearts, faux crab, tuna, boiled eggs, feta—there’s also ham and Swiss; a chicken salad tossed with olives and bell peppers; chilled Singapore noodles with chunks of fish filet and calamari rings; a unique labneh mix; stuffed olives; pickled eggplants; and even veggie terrine. Every time you go, you’ll find a new dish, and bowls are constantly being replenished by the kitchen staff.

In the past few months, I’ve frequented Shtrumpf three times, and on each occasion I’m captivated by the sight of the salad bar, even though the menu items are inviting (there’s a mango chicken light dish I’m tempted to try). Best part? Prices are the best in town for the value had. The salad bar is 23,500LL, which given its vast variety and inclusion of soup and bread, is a steal. All the main dishes are under 30,000LL, and desserts are capped at 10,000LL. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal, particularly inside a mall.  

2.       Baie Rose, Kaslik ATCL Highway (international cuisine)
From the people behind Provincial—which now has a branch in Antelias along restaurant row—comes a new eatery just a few meters away from the original Kaslik stronghold. The menu is much more varied, featuring a live teppenyaki station, the essential Lebanese mezza and grills, sushi, salads, burgers, sandwiches, mains, and more.

The welcome bread basket is a scrumptious treat and includes two dips, a feta concoction and a pesto, both of which spread nicely on the thin toasted baguette. The grills (18,000LL-21,000LL) are tender without being undercooked and fragrant with a savory marinade. The goat cheese salad (16,000LL) is original, with substantial balls of goat cheese breaded, fried, and served on a bed of French lettuce in cherry vinaigrette. Try, too, Baie Rose’s chicken burgers (15,000-16,000LL)—they’re impeccably executed, whopping in size, and accompanied by the most tempting fries. In brief, all platters are generous and reasonably priced.

Perhaps Baie Rose’s only weakness is inattentive service—there’s never a waiter on hand when you need him. And the name Baie Rose still eludes me: I haven’t seen one dish incorporating the eponymous pink peppercorn.

3.       3al Baladi, Jeita (Lebanese countryside food)
I’ve known about 3al Baladi for a while now, having passed by it numerous times on trips to the Faraya mountainside, as well as reading BlodBaladi’s rave review years back. A chance excursion on the Jeita highway this past weekend led us to this restaurant, and we sauntered in to Fairuz tunes and chunky wooden tables and benches. The food was outstanding: thick labneh (6,000LL) slightly tart as in the homemade version;  tender citrus-marinated taouk skewers (5,000LL each) that actually work wonderfully with the labneh; a copious bowl of fattoush (7,500LL) doused in pomegranate molasses and olive oil; and easily the best kishek sajj (4,500LL) I’ve ever had in any Lebanese dining venue. Spread thickly over a thin tortilla-like flatbread, the kishek tastes as if it were prepared at home and is rich with garlic and tomato. Only the hummus (6,000LL) was a bit of a disappointment, as it lacked the right doses of tahini, lemon and garlic, lending it a softer, purée-like consistency.
Otherwise, prices are rock-bottom, and service, on-mark.


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