Restaurant Review: Nabila’s Takes a Homemade Approach to Lebanese Food

Sep 06, 2022 · 38 comments
Alexis (Austin)
I lived in London for many years and Lebanese restaurants like Ishbilia were a favorite. The contrast with US versions of Middle Eastern, including Lebanese food, is astonishing. I am yet to locate an authentic kibbe nayeh or muhammara that doen't taste like dessert.The substitution or mixing of lamb with beef seems to be more common than not. Organ meats are a staple of Lebanese food but almost absent from menus. There are two principle reasons for the difference; first, that London has a huge expat Middle Eastern population, particularly during the summer.Second, that the pathetically narrow range of the childish American palette means authenticity and straying beyond the familiar are seen, appropriately, as business risks.
GO (New York)
I think the issue is that the Lebanese population in America is one that emigrated here in the late 1800’s through the 1950s. Like the Chinese and the Italians, the immigrant population tried to make their cuisine with the ingredients at hand. Over the decades, these dishes change.
Raindrop (USA)
Atayef are not normally filled with custard, but with ashta, better described as clotted cream.
JAR (New York)
@Raindrop Or cheese or walnuts.
runner6460 (New York)
Great article. I love all the food. My husband is Syrian so I make several of those dishes and some variations of others. The flavors are amazing. I always opt for Middle Eastern food.
gale (La Jolla & VT)
As much as I love where I live, restaurant reviews like this make me very jealous of those who live where places and meals like this are available. Here in whitebread Vermont, not so much. Time for an Amtrak trip to the big city.
Independent Observer (Texas)
@gale "Here in whitebread Vermont, not so much" Yeah, you're not exactly what I'd call a diverse region of America. In fact, I just went to the Census and added up the percentages of your African Americans (1.5%), Asians (2%) and Hispanics (2.2%) and the sum was still lower than the individual United States percentages for each of those 3 race/ethnicities. :-) Anyway, I haven't been to Boston in many years, but I'd imagine that it still has some pretty decent restaurants (and that's "only" 70 miles to your southern border).
Nicole (Hamden, CT)
@gale There's a nice Turkish restaurant in White River Junction, VT: "Tuckerbox".
gale (La Jolla & VT)
@Independent Observer Thanks, but it's another 100+. from where I am. And it's still got good ethnic (and other) restaurants.
Lola (Santa Cruz, CA)
Pete funny. Pete make me wanna eat! Pete sunny... in a bitter kind of way. All hail Pete!
Zendr (Charleston, SC)
Pete Wells is not only truly clever but strategic in his choices. Laserwolf must be savoring for a review along with its many fans, but Pete just keeps them wanting.
Wordsworth from Wadsworth (New Wye, Appalachia)
There is nothing better than a kibbe, tabbouleh, homemade hummus, etc. It always seemed on the healthy side. I'm there. We had a considerable number of Lebanese in Ohio, see Danny Thomas, Jamie Farr. Like others, I'm nonplussed at the leathery pita. In the 1960s mother would stop at a Lebanese bakery in what is now LeBron's Copley Rd haunts. The pita was heavenly. If there's an issue, you'd think they would contract it out easily in Brooklyn. Good pita is an essential element with all those dips.
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
@ Wordsworth from Wadsworth New Wye, Appalachia "There is nothing better than a kibbe" -- Agree with this choice, but not with others. At least neither sheep eyes nor ram testacles are included in this Mideastern menu.
PB Fan (Minneapolis)
Lebanese food is delicious, and it tastes best without a side of xenophobic comments. :) I once heard an interview with the amazing Claudia Roden, where she recounted how, in 1950s-60s England, when she told people she was writing about Middle Eastern food, they immediately asked her about eyeballs and lamb testicles. Time has moved on, yay! It’s a complex, diverse, cuisine, well worth exploring.
Alcide Zeno (Brooklyn)
I found the experience of eating there a little awkward. We had to navigate a heavy door to get the dishes to our table. The outdoor tables themselves are flimsy. There was a lot of staff, but the ethic appeared to lean towards self-service. The owner was quite nice and seemed happy to talk about the dishes with us. Overall, I liked the food but don’t feel an overwhelming need to return.
Andy (Charlotte)
@Alcide Zeno Agreed. Even if I enjoy the food, find the owner friendly and restaurant affordable - tables that aren’t really firmly constructed and heavy are a dealbreaker for me.
Marjorie Summons (Greenpoint)
I've eaten at Moustache since I was a baby. One time my friend Jane Fairfax said to the owner of Mous-tache in the West Village, "Success! Success!" The owner kept nodding her head yes. She explained to us that her name was Success. They make a mean loomy there.
Anxious Anonymous Again (New York)
The tone of this piece was puzzling, was he trying to be funny? I hope so. Even so, it was incredibly rude and arrogant.
Independent Observer (Texas)
@Anxious Anonymous Again It was humor.
@Anxious Anonymous Again Of course it was meant to be funny. You seriously thought he was offended for not being invited to embassy meals in DC. Really?
lemon (MTL)
@Anxious Anonymous Again Rude? Arrogant? Where? There was great humor and reverence for the cooking. I think you need to relax.
Susan Anderson (New York)
I love Lebanese food…. However if the bread has a rubbery and tough texture… It’s been heated in the microwave ( been there , done that). 
ray (wi)
@Susan Anderson Should use a toaster oven.
Yiddishamama (NY)
“A suggestion, not much more, of orange-flower floats over the proceedings like a promise of a better world.” That is exactly how I experience sitting under a flowering orange tree or making stuffed onions delicately scented with orange blossom water for Shabbat. What a gorgeously written and illustrated article. It is, itself, a blessing and, like Shabbat, a promising taste of a better, more contentment inducing space and place and self and community. Thank you.
pqt (in a cafe somewhere)
@Yiddishamama Your beautiful words are also a blessing. Thank you!
Jack (Midwest)
Mmmmm! I love Lebanese food. I even got my picky-eater partner to try a great Lebanese restaurant in Cleveland several years ago.
Chris C (Brooklyn, NY)
Ate here last weekend. Fantastic meal!
NHMama (New England)
Oh those pictures are amazing! Would love a recipe or two....
Sage55 (NW Ohio)
@NHMama google!
Victor (Rancho Santa Fe)
I can't decide whether Italian or Lebanese is my favorite. After reading this article I may have to say Lebanese until I try that next great Italian find. Lebanese food has so much range that in the USA we have yet to scratch the surface of this healthy and extremely enjoyable cuisine. I had exposure to this range on a trip to Dubai which outside of Lebanon itself has some of the best Lebanese food anywhere in the world. Tanoreen is one of the best middle eastern restaurants in NYC and the knaafe that the restaurants makes on order is world class.
Teach (NYS)
Interestingly, the beans and tomato recipe sounds very similar to one I was taught by my Italian grandmother (sometimes she will add squares of hard cheese, and sometimes use zucchini instead of beans). But then again, when my grandparents did the Ancestry DNA test, it showed a significant amount of middle eastern heritage — perhaps not so surprising for southern Italians!
Susan (Branford CT)
This sound like a nice place if you live in the neighborhood, but I, like many of your readers, do not. For those of looking for special occasion places, and for tourists who look to Times reviews, we would appreciate reading about good Manhattan restaurants.
Margaret (Brooklyn)
@Susan You know that the population of Brooklyn is twice that of Manhattan, right? From what I see the ratio of reviews already favor Manhattan.
Boourns (New York City)
I have to echo my puzzlement with subpar pita at Middle Eastern restaurants that otherwise knock it out of the park. So many dry, stale specimens out there. (Oddly enough, I stumbled upon some of the best pita I've ever had at a strip mall falafel joint in the Raleigh/Durham area.)
Kevin (NC)
@Boourns Which place? I live in the area.
Boourns (New York City)
@Kevin Falafel 54 in RTP
Kevin (NC)
@Boourns Thanks! Will definitely check it out.
SJ (Brooklyn)
Absolutely loved this place when I went a couple of weeks ago. Everything we tried was delicious, and there's obviously so much care taken in the preparation of the food. Cobble Hill is a bit of a trek for me, but one I will happily make over and over again so I can eat here!