Classically Homey Armenian Food Spreads Across Beirut

I first remember reading about Onno on the blog Plus961. In it, blogger Rami Fayoumi, whom I finally met last week, raves about the Armenian restaurant nestled beneath a bridge in Bourj Hammoud. He cites the delicious homemade food, family-run operation, and incomparably low prices as unique selling points of Onno. It was thus that I committed the eatery to my bucket list.

But for one reason or another, mostly my inability to find Onno and the subsequent emergence of another viable contender to the Armenian cuisine scene (Batchig), I never did consummate my promise. Onno fell further and further into the recesses of my mind, and it wasn’t until I learned it had been franchised, opening bistros in Badaro and Hamra, that the spark of interest reignited.

Last weekend, we visited the newest outlet, straddling Hamra and Makdessi on Abdul Aal Street. Given it is Hamra, the restaurant is rather spacious, with a very Americanesque indented threshold for a front door. A bar runs the length of the restaurant, which itself is informally separated into two areas of differing ceiling heights.

Very homey feel at Onno Bistro, Hamra

We found a very capable and hospitable host in Abdo, who splits his time between Badaro and Hamra. Abdo briefly recounted the history of the founder, who passed away last year, and his desire that the food served in all outlets be reflective of his original dishes both in recipe and presentation. In comparing the cuisine we sampled with Plus961’s review, I am certain the owner would have been humbled by how well his creations are preserved.

We started with the hummus and pine nuts (12,000 LL), a thick blanket of sautéed slivered almonds and pine nuts atop a creamy bed of chickpea purée. Paired with the walnut-intensive and delightfully spicy muhammara (8,000 LL), it is a match made in heaven.

Clockwise from left: muhammara, Zeytov Dolma (stuffed eggplants),
and hummus caked with almonds and pine nuts

The muhammara is decked with walnuts!

The first of the Armenian specialties to land on our table was Zeytov Dolma (12,000 LL), baby eggplants stuffed with a mix of rice, boiled chickpeas and olive oil, all bathing in yogurt. It very much resembles Lebanese “me7she batenjen 2ate3” served during Lent.

Vospov Keufteh (12,000 LL) merge lentils and bulgur molded in the fist and accompanied by a sort of Pico de Gallo with parsley. This is another pulse-rich dish that could send a bear into his annual hibernation!

Vospov Keufteh are fist-formed from lentils and bulgur

Onno’s itch (10,000 LL) is unique from others I’ve tried, in that this Armenian tabbouleh is served warm. A mélange of bulgur, onions, tomatoes, and green peppers, it can be scooped with a wedge of cabbage.

The Armenian tabbouleh itch is served warm at Onno

I’ve always been a fan of anything cheese-filled, and the soubereg is no exception. Melted cheese oozes between layers of filo pastry sheets, but I’d go a step further and add fresh oregano or thyme to really give it character (12,000 LL).

Soubereg, or cheese-filled layers of filo pastry sheet

A meal can hardly be deemed Armenian if it is devoid of basterma, so we speared our tines through folds of the air-dried beef topped with fried quail’s eggs (14,000 LL). Divine.

Basterma topped with fried quail's egg

Where Onno really diverges from Batchig is in its manti (18,000 LL). Small pockets of dough are filled with minced meat and baked in the oven to a crunchy crisp. Tableside, a few tablespoons of thick tomato salsa are then spread over the dumplings, followed by cool laban. The result doesn’t come together as homogeneously as Batchig’s, and here’s why. Batchig opts for tomato juice, which soak up the tiny envelopes to a splendid sogginess. I suppose it’s a matter of preference, but I like my manti moist.

Meat-filled manti are baked to a golden crisp

Manti smothered with tomato sauce and plain yogurt

Onno serves both Fishna Kebab (20,000 LL) and Ras Asfour Karaz (22,000 LL), the latter of which seems like a Lebanese spin on the former. In the traditional Armenian dish, morsels of grilled kebab are drenched in a sour cherry sauce with fried pita chips, and Onno generously throws in sautéed cashews to boot. The same dish can be had with lean cubes of beef instead of kebab, and it is excellent. I’d also spoon in some creamy yogurt to counterbalance the acidity of the cooked cherries.

Fishna Kebab in a sour cherry sauce

Ras Asfour Karaz with cubes of lean meat

In the dessert department, you can opt for pomegranate seeds in grape juice crowned with a liberal dose of nuts. Or take a trip down memory lane with a sampler of timeless Lebanese pastries, like karabij with natef and tea biscuits with lokum.

Lebanese sweets

At length, Onno’s cuisine is prepared in a classically homey style. The dishes are modest and satisfying, rejecting sophistication for simplicity and minimalism.

It would be intriguing to see how Onno tackles Lebanese mezza, which decorates half the menu. We’ll leave that for our Badaro rendezvous.

Onno Bistro
Hamra (Abdul Aal St.)
01-743 540


Popular posts from this blog

Tantalizing Treats from the Coast to the Mountains

What’s New In & Around Beirut

Lebanon's Retail Landscape In Need of Customer Service Overhaul