Nesta: a local’s guide to Beirut

This fall the DJ Cookbook got the scoop on Nesta’s favorite spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner in his native city of Beirut. A place filled with culinary history that dates back to Roman and Phoenician times. Plus, his credentials are legit, his family is deeply rooted in Lebanese food culture from honey to olive oil; for sure the man must know what he’s talking about!

And if you haven’t heard it yet, Nesta put out last month Daylight,  the second half of his latest album project on Fantôme de Nuit Records. It is a listening album from the start and will warm your soul with its organic house rhythms and experimental-jazz undertones.

In his own words:

Lebanese restaurants are great. We have some amazing spots and cuisines; be it Lebanese, French, Armenian, American or Asian. The Lebanese cuisine is Mediterranean and is very rich, diverse and eclectic. Vegetables, fruits, chicken, red meat, fresh fish and seafood are all in favor. Meats and vegetables are often grilled or sautéed, creating incredible earthy flavors that will explode in your mouth.

Lebanese cuisine dates back to Roman and Phoenician times, and it was influenced by many colonies like the Ottoman Turks from 1500’s to 1900’s and then the French who also colonized here.

Most of the ingredients used are lemon, olive oil, garlic and onions. Food is often sautéed in garlic, and olive oil is used to dress salads, where its delicate flavor really comes alive. Lemon is also used a lot.

Lebanese mezzas are just like Spanish tapas. They consist of different small plates of food and when you’re having lunch with people, everyone is sharing those plates; it creates a type of family vibe.

The culture of food in Lebanon is huge. Lebanese people love to eat well and take really good care and pride in their food. My father produces olives and olive oil, as well as olive oil soap. My brother produces apples and all sorts of organic vegetables and fruits and my older brother produces different types of pure medical honey without added sugar, so loads of knowledge on fresh foods run in my veins.

Breakfast

For breakfast, the options I like to go for are: Man’ouche, Knafeh with cheese, Fatteh and Foul Medamas.

PATE PATE (Betchay Main Road): they specialize in Man’ouche which is a flatbread with ingredients on top. Its not a pizza but it looks like one. The classic Man’ouche Zaatar is with thyme, sumac and olive oil. You can also have it with minced meat, onions and tomatoes (Lahm Beajine) which is definitely their best specialty.

Hallab 1881 (Spinneys, Khalil Moutrane Street, Jnah): They specialize in Lebanese desserts but one of their best items is the traditional Knefeh. It’s a circular pan of cheese with sugar-coated pastry baked on top. It comes with a drizzle of rose syrup. A real treat!!

Al Soussi (Zeidaniyeh Street, Mar Elias):

Voted the world’s best breakfast place, The place has been open since 1975 and its one of those places where the owner is always there and takes the order from you. Their specialty is the Fatteh for which they have a century old recipe. One of the best ones you will have. It consists of toasted Lebanese bread, stewed chickpeas, garlic and yogurt. Pine nuts are also added and sometimes fried in lamb fat.

Abou Hassan (Mar Youssef Street, Haret ): Specializes in Foul and Fatteh. Foul Medamas is one of the most popular Mediterranean breakfasts. It consists of stewed fava beans seasoned with olive oil, pepper, cumin, lemon juice and served with onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs on the side.

Lunch

Al Halabi (Rahbani Brothers Street, Antelias Square): Al Halabi is family owned and its one of the oldest and most authentic Lebanese restaurants. It’s one of the few spots that remained consistent over the years. Most of the cooks and waiters have been working there for 20 years and more. Some waiters who used to serve my parents back in the day still work there. You can either take out carefully prepared Lebanese sandwiches or eat in. For me, its definitely my favorite hummus in the world. The raw meats and kebab are also to die for.

Restaurant Fouad (Hrajel, Faraya and Ain el Rihani. Keserwan, Lebanon): Restaurant Fouad is one of the best authentic Lebanese restaurants and is almost always full. Hidden in Hrajel next to Faraya ski slopes, far from tourist’s vibes, It’s the story of an old traditional house with a terrace, turned into a restaurant where the grand mother of Fouad cooks. You will taste unique and special Lebanese dishes straight from the village, dishes you wont taste somewhere else. Shmamit bil laban which is yogurt, garlic and eggs is excellent. They also do a Tajine of lamb shoulder and the “fwerigh” which lamb intestine filled with rice and meat is their specialty.

Tawlet (12 Rue Naher, Armenia Street): is a Lebanese buffet style restaurant and offers every day new items. A Woman from a different village in Lebanon prepares few dishes the way they do it in their village. My dear friend Andrea is also recently working there as their executive chefs and the food is mind blowing!

Tanbakji (Ksara Street, Zahle): What can I say about this place. It’s definitely one of my best finds. Located in the Bekaa valley next to Ksara winery, it might be the most underrated restaurant in Lebanon. Their frogs “a la Provençal” are to die for.

Dinner

Cocteau (Palladium building, Downtown Beirut): One of the oldest French brasseries around, you will always find the owner there. Their chef has also been the same since forever. Le Cocteau is definitely my best French restaurant in Beirut. They serve a delicious fresh crab salad as well as a great boeuf stroganoff, excellent seafood risotto and others…

Babel Bay (Zaitunay Bay, Minet El Hosn): Babel Bay specializes in everything related to the sea. Whether it is their seafood taboule or shrimp fatteh. You could also pick your favorite white fish to do a sashimi out of it. Hands down the best seafood/fish restaurant in Lebanon.

Casablanca (Rue Dar el-Mreisseh, Ain el-Mreisseh | Qaddoura Building): Is one of the few Asian fusion restaurants in town. I’ve been going to Casablanca for the past 15 years. They offer very good mezcals and offer great Asian food like homemade dumplings, octopus etc

Jaï (Mexico street, Kantari): Jai is definitely the only proper thai/Asian cuisine in Beirut. It’s a really small restaurant with a maximum of 4 tables, and the owner is always there cooking and helping out. Their beef green curry and pad thai are one of the best I’ve had besides the Thai restaurants in Berlin.

Record shops, Cafes and Bars

Orient Express (Badaro Street, Beirut): Located in Badaro street, one of the busiest and trendiest streets in Beirut for bar culture. Orient Express is one of the few record shops we have. It is the hub of all music lovers and people who love and support vinyl culture. Apart from that, its also a small café where you can work during the day and enjoy great food with daily dishes. The club sandwich is amazing as well all other items on the menu and each night is a different local DJ showcasing his music.

KissProof (Badaro Street, Beirut): Also located in Badaro street, Kissproof is a charming small bar with a small terrace, known for their brunches and great drinks. They have a delicious BLT and bloody-mary and it’s a very cool hangout place for all sorts of people.

Centrale (Achrafieh, Beirut): Opened in August 2001 in an early 20th century traditional house, the restaurant is located on the ground floor with an impressive wine cellar containing more than 1500 bottles. It has a tunnel like architecture by the award winning Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury. You can see the structure floating from inside. The garden welcomes you throughout the year and the first floor is the bar with its retractable roof. It serves French cuisine and the menu changes in spring and autumn to take advantage of seasonal produce.

Burgers and BBQ

Meats and Bread (Gouraud Street, Beirut): if you’re into American cuisine and barbecue culture, this is your place. It’s a small shack near Gemmayze street where meat is smoked. Their baby back pork ribs, smoked 17 hours are to die for. Their flapping wings are also something out of this world.

The Happy Prince (Alexander Flemming St. & Armenia Street, Tyan Building): Definitely one of the best cheese burgers and aged steaks you will have.

Shawarma

Restaurant Joseph (El Saydeh, Sin El Fil): awarded one of the best sandwiches in the world. Restaurant Joseph makes the best shawarma/kebab you will ever taste, period!

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