Dallas is a diner's dream, but one thing it was missing was an authentic Lebanese restaurant that everyone could enjoy. Not just a hookah bar, a casual café, or a buffet-style Mediterranean joint — because Dallas already had plenty of those — but a beautifully designed, full-service bar and restaurant that served family recipes in an elegant, welcoming ambiance.
So a group of Lebanese entrepreneurs, spearheaded by Marc Mansour (a trained chef who moved to the U.S. from Lebanon in 2001), opened exactly that in Deep Ellum. Zåtar Lebanese Tapas & Bar officially debuted in December, but already the response from Dallas foodies has been so enthusiastic that happy hour and lunch have been added, with brunch to follow. In addition to the dining room, Zåtar also features a large covered patio that allows guests to relax and enjoy the arguileh, or hookah.
"We created a welcoming space where both Lebanese and Americans would feel equally at home," says Mansour. "And that means serving truly authentic Lebanese dishes, recipes our mothers made when we were growing up."
However those recipes, like most family favorites, are kept memorized and passed down as generations cook together. Neurologist C.K. Khoury, one of the restaurant's partners, recalls that he "literally stood next to my mother as she made the upside down lamb pilaf, and measured ingredients for her until the portions were just right."
Zåtar’s chef Moe Khazem brought years of perfecting his specialty items, like shish taouk (a grilled chicken brochette marinated in Lebanese spices with garlic cream and pickles), kafta skillet (spiced meat patties cooked with potatoes and onions, then smothered with tomato sauce), and of course, fluffy falafel that makes an appearance in appetizers and sandwich wraps.
Mansour's personal contribution is the unbelievably creamy lamb mac and cheese, one of the many dishes that demonstrates how tender and juicy the lamb is at Zåtar. But don't feel left out, vegans. The menu may sound carnivorous, but is carefully crafted with more than a dozen delicious dishes suitable for vegans and vegetarian. The result is a menu stocked with flavorful Lebanese home cooking.
The Zåtar experience isn't limited to the main menu. Desserts are largely based around ashta (a whipped sweet cream) and halva — or halawa, as it is called in Lebanon — a crumbly confection made primarily of sugar and sesame paste. The halawa wrap, with its salted pistachio and Nutella spread, is heavenly. The chocolate halawa cake, a specialty made specifically for Zåtar by La Baguette, a Lebanese bakery in Oklahoma, carries the authentic Lebanese flavors into an American staple.
That authenticity even extends to the bar, where patrons can find drinks made with the Lebanese national spirit, arak (an anise-flavored clear spirit), Metaxa (a Greek brandy-based liqueur), and several spices, including the restaurant's namesake (a blend of sumac, thyme, sesame and salt). Lebanese wines join those from France, Spain, Italy, California, and Oregon, providing a complete tasting experience for Dallas diners who are clearly excited to discover or return to classic Lebanese cuisine.