In Westover, there’s a restaurant whose name and fame have far surpassed the tiny Arlington neighborhood. Lebanese Taverna has opened several restaurants and cafes across the Washington, D.C. area, but its original, opened in 1979, can be found in the heart of Westover. The family-run business serves up Lebanese food – from kibbeh to kabobs, and certainly not forgetting hommos – to the D.C. area masses.
Inside its flagship restaurant, a small dining room wraps around an alcove, within which sits a bar and, further back, the kitchen. Diners can watch through decorative frosted-glass panels as the Middle Eastern fare is brought forth into a sparsely decorated dining room set in earthy, rustic brown tones.
Diners are invited to nibble on pita bread – served warm from the kitchen in hollow, crispy rounds concealing a chewy layer ideal for dipping in the oil and sesame seed mixture provided – while perusing the menu. Available options cater to all types of dining – be it a quick lunch of pita-wrapped sandwich offered up on the sandwich platters menu section, or small plate dishes from the Mezza menu section ideal for sharing with friends over drinks or opening a larger meal as an appetizer.
A popular component of any dining experience at Lebanese Taverna is the hommos, that creamy, blended chickpea paste staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. At Lebanese Taverna, the hommos experience is quite customizable. The hommos itself is offered up in three varieties – traditional, garlic-flavored and spicy, at between $6 and $6.50 for a serving with additional costs for add-ons. Each is served with the diner’s choice of toppings – be it roasted pine nuts for a bit of crunch, or ground beef and lamb for a hearty take – and a choice of dipping instrument that goes beyond the table-side pita to include items like vegetables and French fries.
The Mezza dishes give small tastes of the meats and seafoods the restaurant serves, from the $6.50 Sambousik dish of meat pies to the $10 Kibbeh Nayeh dish of lamb tartare. Ordering the Kibbeh ($7.50) dish brings four fried meatballs to the table, a combination of ground beef and lamb thickened with burghul, almonds and pine nuts. The added wheat gives the meatballs a grainy exterior, which gives way to loose bits of meat beneath, a savory taste all made tangy with the drizzle of yogurt applied to the plate.
A full menu section of vegetable-based Mezza picks and some main dish offerings provides for non meat-eaters. Among them is the Mehshi Bel Zeit ($16) entree. The dish plates a trio of hollow vegetables, a plump green pepper and two pieces of squash, all stuffed with herb-seasoned and pine-nut-filled rice in plenty of tomato sauce. The seasoning gives what would otherwise be a simple dish a substantial boost, and the filling contrasts well the naturally flavorful, well-cooked vegetables. Several entree options are available for non-vegetarians, whether the protein of choice is lamb, chicken, or even salmon or sea bass. The obvious choice for those with carnivorous appetites is a kabob platter. Lebanese Taverna offers up a variety of kabob platters – Kafta ($15), chicken ($17) or lamb ($19) – each plated with grilled vegetables. Indecisive diners can try all three for $21. In its lamb variety, cooked to order, the kabob meat pieces are lightly blackened, their outer edges delivering a potent charred flavor.
The desserts menu, with its authentic options like Baklawa and Halawet Jibne, and repeating flavors like pistachio and cardamom ensure that the Lebanese dining experience is carried through to the last sweet bite.
Lebanese Taverna is located at 5900 Washington Blvd., Arlington. For more information, call 703-241-8681 or visit lebanesetaverna.com. Restaurant hours are
Monday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; 5 – 9 p.m.; Tuesday – Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; 5 – 10 p.m.; Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; 5 – 10:30 p.m.; Saturday: Noon – 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday: Noon – 9 p.m.