Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Lebanese Taverna

The Abi-Najm family’s Lebanese Taverna chain has made strides since its first Mediterranean-cuisine restaurant opened doors in 1979. 845spotlight.jpg

The original restaurant stands among some classic dining choices in Arlington’s Westover market area, but the Taverna represents a proud tradition itself.

With award-winning outposts across the D.C. Metro area, in Tysons Galleria and Woodley Park and as distant as Annapolis and Baltimore, the Lebanese Taverna may be a common name to northern Virginians, though the restaurant’s quality ingredients, sumptuous meals and diverse array of choices carve out a unique niche for the family-owned enterprise.

The Westover space occupies a corner lot, with the proud sign, “Lebanese Taverna,” hanging above the entrance. According to Tanios Abi-Najm, the restaurant takes its name – well, at least half of it – from the Athenian Taverna that existed on the site before it. In fact, when the Abi-Najms first began their business, they hadn’t enough money to change the entire sign, and thus was born the Lebanese Taverna.

The Taverna’s interior is simple yet ornate, ornamented by Lebanese artefacts that lend an authentic feel to the space, which can seat a small dining crowd.

Focus, however, turns quickly to the Taverna’s renowned menu, a sizable fare of colorful, titillating tastes. Guests can choose among a host of lunch or sandwich platters, the latter which comes with a side of rice or French fries and a salad. Rather than finding one’s fill in one entrée, the mezza, or appetizers, make for small eats to share among friends.

What’s more, the mezza options abound and touch on many tastes, certainly pleasing for both vegetarians and their meat-eating kindred. Shorba addas ($4.50) is a traditional favorite; an exquisite soup of stock, lentils, potato and chard, which pairs well with a vegetarian mezza platter ($10.50). The combination platter offers a broad taste of what the Taverna’s kitchen produces – spinach pie, fattoush (a mixed salad à la Lebanon), falafel, the ubiquitous hummos, lebneh tabouleh, stuffed grape leaves, olives and tahini sauce. For similar prices, one can sample the meat mezza, too, like shawarma – sliced rotisserie lamb and beef or chicken.

As a fan of Mediterranean-style yogurts, I must note the lebneh, a creamy farmers cheese made from strained yogurt and olive oil; it provides a scintillating bite and a delicate finish, nothing overwhelmingly creamy – a distinct reminder of now-distant travels to the Near East. Try it as part of the mezza platters or as an individual dish ($5.50), with an accompanying plate of toasty, soft pita bread.

Although easy to fill up on a healthy serving of mezza, the Taverna’s scrumptious sandwiches and main dishes are gustatory pleasures. For the pescetarian or for someone looking for a less ordinary dish, try the samak ($13.50), a warm pita stuffed with marinated grilled fish, lettuce, tomato and tahini sauce. Like any of the Taverna’s meals, it’s a real treat.

In addition to Westover’s culinary treasure in the Taverna, the restaurant affords some space to enliven the cultural aura of the market area, too. During the month of January the restaurant is hosting a series of performers on Wednesdays, who will entertain children with stories, music and puppet shows. The performances begin at 10 a.m., last an hour and, after the show, children enjoy a free lunch with an adult’s purchase of a sandwich, mezza platter or meal.

Superior cuisine and family atmosphere guarantee that the Lebanese Taverna will remain a landmark in the classic Arlington neighborhood or at any of its satellite restaurants across the region.

Lebanese Taverna

5900 Washington Blvd., Arlington

Open daily, Monday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5:30 – 10 p.m.

Saturday, noon – 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon – 9 p.m.