What’s the best smell you can think of? Pizza fresh out of the oven? Almond extract? The sorcery of sauteed garlic and onion that always makes people say, “Ooh, what are you making?“ Those are all great, but there’s something about marinated chicken skewers sizzling on a charcoal grill that’s worthy of its own cologne.
That’s exactly what you smell when you walk into Cafe Munir. Their excellent grilled chicken, and the delicious mezze, make this Lebanese spot in Ballard somewhere you should have in your regular rotation for a casual weeknight dinner.
The menu at Cafe Munir isn’t tremendously long or overly-complicated. The mezze, like creamy hommous, tangy za’atar-seasoned lebneh, and a bunch of vegetable options (our favorites being anything involving beets), are all under $11. Plus, nothing in the entree section is over $25, including those fantastic-smelling kabobs.
While a plate of sliced beets or grilled chicken might seem simple, after you take a bite, you realize that beets just need a drizzle of really good olive oil, and chicken just needs a hot grill and a squeeze of lemon. Same goes for bread and melted cheese—all they need are each other. This ’Arayess bi Jibneh, which is toasted flatbread filled with a blend of feta/jack/panela, is thick enough to stand up to the hommous, crunches like a cracker, and is the best thing here.
photo credit: Chona Kasinger
Despite all the reasons we love Cafe Munir, there are a couple of things we wish were better. The rice and lentil Mudar’dara tends to be a little dry, and the popular sizzling lamb hommous can be a bit too greasy. Not to mention that we’ve had better, fluffier pita at other spots. And if you don’t make a reservation over the phone, you’re usually faced with at least a 30-minute wait for a table—especially on weekends. This forces you to either sit in your car and wait, or stand around by the front door getting tortured by the good smells wafting off the grill.
But if you stick it out with your date or small group, you can get a big spread of mezze and skewers for around $25 per person. It’s the perfect way to break up your workweek and have a consistently good meal. Plus, free aromatherapy.
Hommous Bi Tahini
We’ve had better hommous in the city, but Cafe Munir’s makes us really happy.
Hommous Bi Lahm Ou Snobar
We’ll admit that it’s fun watching hot ground lamb sizzle in this bowl of hommous. But even though this is the most popular mezze here, we’d rather have the classic drizzled with cold olive oil.
Lebneh Bi Za’atar
There’s not much else you need when you have thick yogurt, olive oil, za’atar spices, and plenty of pita.
Beets And Lebneh
The simplicity of tart pickled beets topped with really good olive oil and fresh parsley atop Cafe Munir’s standout lebneh is what makes this our favorite vegetable mezze to order. Get this with an order of pita.
’Arayess Bi Jibneh
This is the best thing here. It might just seem like Arabic bread filled with cheese and grilled, but this crunchy, melty thing is a way better vehicle for hummus and yogurt than their pita. Get multiple orders for the table.
The lemony shish taouk is perfectly charred on the outside, and goes very well with the creamy garlic sauce that comes with it. Make a little wrap with the chicken juice-soaked pita underneath and you have yourself a delicious dinner.
If you’re a steak person, you’ll be a fan of this skewer. We just think the chicken is tastier.
Every time we order this bowl of rice and lentils topped with crispy onions, we whisper “don’t be dry, don’t be dry, don’t be dry,” and then it is. The yogurt and tomato sauce that comes on the side helps, but we can vouch for filling up on more beets and meats.