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Mediterranean Cuisine (Closed)

4111 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX

Mediterranean Cuisine

Mediterranean Cuisine has been such a big part of my life that it is very difficult to report on it strictly on the basis of the food. I do not remember exactly when I first went to the restaurant, but in the early days Middle Eastern food was somewhat of a novelty to me, and I slowly tried different items until I became more familiar with the cuisine. My first exposure to Middle Eastern food was from the hommus, cabbage rolls, and similar items served at Lebanese steak houses in Oklahoma, and they were delicious but only served as appetizers. Mediterranean Cuisine expanded the menu to include Greek, Middle Eastern, and north African dishes (the owner is from Libya and has some delicious dishes using his family's recipes), and also demonstrated that an entire meal of this type of food could be delicious and satisfying.

'Welcome and be comfortable'
Daily lunch specials are posted on the message board

When I was eating vegetarian food exclusively for a number of years, Mediterranean Cuisine was the best source for nutritious and flavorful food other than some of the Asian restaurants, and I became pretty much of a regular customer. Perhaps because of this experience I still compare the falafel, tabulie, hommus, and labna at all other restaurants with the ones here. Even if I find ones that are better (which is rare), I tend to think of Mediterranean Cuisine as the standard against which anything better should be considered truly exceptional.

When I started adding meat back into my diet I found that the meat items at Mediterranean Cuisine were really the most flavorful and satisfying dishes. However, I still found that few other restaurants could serve a vegetarian meal that was as good as the ones at Mediterranean. In my opinion almost all Middle Eastern restaurants serve flavorful meat, but the fact that many of the vegetables at Mediterranean are almost as good is what really makes it stand out.

Shortly after 2000 I started seeing the quality of all of the food at the restaurant diminish, with a few exceptions such as the soup. I saw less of the owner during that period as he spent more time in his "other" job as a professor at UTEP, and it could be that the quality control diminshed. As of 2010, though, I learned that the owner was personally preparing the food, and I now believe the quality of the food is as good or even better than it was originally. Thus while I have not sampled every item recently, I have the restaurant's early history as a guide.

When I am on a budget, or not extremely hungry, I usually order the Falafel Sandwich on pita bread. The main feature I like about the sandwich is not so much the falafel itself as the yogurt topping (I usually ask for extra yogurt on the sandwich). The pita is much better than I have been able to find in any grocery store, including the Middle Eastern and specialty stores. There is really no comparison between the pita here and the other restaurants I have tried.

Vegetarian platter
Vegetarian platter with hommus, falafel, dolmades, tabulie, and pita bread

The Falafel is probably my favorite item on the vegetarian platter, which also comes with a number of other items. I should point out that the falafel is not greasy and has an excellent flavor, making it one of the best I have tasted. I think some of the Lebanese restaurants in Oklahoma make excellent falafel, and some even better than here, but the spices at Mediterranean Cuisine are probably the best I have tasted.

Dolmades (grape leaves), which also come on the vegetarian platter and other dinners, are very good as well. Some of the city's other Middle Eastern restaurants, though, probably have ones that are just as good.

The Tabulie is excellent, and I like both the one here and the one at Su Casa (although they have different flavors). If I had to guess I would say the one at Mediterranean does not have as much olive oil as the one at Su Casa. Both of these are better than the majority of tabulie I have tried in other cities.

Compared to other restaurants the Hommus at Mediterranean is somewhat lacking in flavor, but I like the texture of it and the generous amount of olive oil on top. This makes an excellent dip, especially considering that I think Mediterranean has the best pita in the city.

Labna, a yogurt appetizer, is another of my favorite appetizers (but I think the flavor is too bland to use as a main dish). For some reason the flavor and texture of the ones I have tried at other restaurants do not compare with the one here, and I do not not know what makes the one here so special. Thus while labna is not my favoite dish, Meditteranean is my favorite place to order it.

Combination platter
Combination platter with tabulie, dolmades, gyros, falafel, hommus, pita, and mango juice in the background

The combination platter has many of Mediterranean's best vegetable dishes, but adds Gyros as a selection. I think this is a good choice, because the beef and lamb meat of the gyros is very tender with a mild flavor and perfectly mixed spices. In fact, gyros may be the best meat served at the restaurant.

Libyan soup
Libyan soup

Libyan Soup, though, is my favorite item at the restaurant. This is made with pureed vegetables, and comes from the owner's family recipe. It is quite spicy, and has all the flavor that comes from a home made soup (and this one is comparable to just about any soup served in fine dining restaurants). The only thing I do not like about the soup is that it does not come with any of the dinners, and thus costs extra, but it is too small to serve as a meal (thus it would be advisable to order something with it). Mediterranean serves a number of sandwiches, though, and for me the falafel sandwich is very good with the soup.

For those who do not like spicy food the Lentil Soup is very similar to the Libyan soup, and is another specialty of the restaurant.

Baklava and Arabic coffee
Baklava and Arabic coffee

The Baklava and other Middle Eastern desserts are great--I never hesitate to spend the extra money as long as I still have some appetite left after the meal.

Arabic Coffee and Turkish coffee are also available as after dinner drinks (or can be served with the meal).

My favorite drink is the Mango Juice, especially in hot weather.

Mediterranean sells Middle Eastern groceries
Mediterranean sells a large variety of Middle Eastern cooking ingredients

Mediterranean also sells a number of Middle Eastern cooking ingredients from its small deli.

Included on the menu are Italian plates, and some Italian cooking items are sold in the deli. One item I would like to try from the Greek menu is the mousaka, since I like the one at Casa Pizza so well. If the Italian and Greek food is as good as the Libyan and Lebanese, this may open up a whole new menu to me at Mediterranean that I have not even tried.

There is an outdoor patio that can be very pleasant when the weather is warm (except for the fact that smoking is permitted). The restaurant now closes at 7:30 p.m., but if you want to come later you can call before closing time and ask the owner if he will still be there when you come. The restaurant is as small, cozy, and quirky as it is delicious and an expansion of the normal El Paso food scene, so I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Restaurant Web Site

Mediterranean Cuisine


RESTAURANT DETAILS

RATING: 23

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit
Apr. 7, 2010

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Items
Libyan Soup, Gyros, Falafel, Tabulie

Special Ratings
Libyan Soup:
Gyros:
Falafel:
Hommus:
Labna:
Dolmades:
Tabulie:
Baklava:



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