Taste of Lebanon’s lamb shwarma sandwich, with the mixed appetizer platter in the background.
Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

There is a special place in my heart for Mediterranean food, one of my favorite cuisines and regions of the world.

I still remember the falafel sandwiches of my hometown’s Palestinian market. Soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Or the chicken shawarma wrap I had at a hole-in-the wall kebab shop in Manchester, England. The juiciest chicken I’ve ever eaten. Or the thick and creamy skhug-flavored hummus for sale at Yalla Vermont, an Israeli restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont. Hummus can be boring by itself. Skhug, a Yemeni hot sauce, gives it an interesting kick.

So, I had high hopes when I visited Taste of Lebanon at 553 Main St., West Springfield. I had never eaten Lebanese food before, but the menu had all the familiar faces: falafel, shawarma, pita, kebabs, kufta, baklava, etc.

There was also manaeesh, a levantine pie of pita bread that can be topped with either cheese, meat and the herb mixture za’atar, among other things. They also served muajanat, dough pies stuffed with spinach, cheese or meat.

There was no parking lot, so I had to park on Moseley Avenue. I noticed parking was forbidden at the curb, so be mindful of that if you park there.

The lack of designated parking did not appear to be an issue for the restaurant, as most people visiting were there to pick up a takeout order anyway.

The first thing I noticed about the place was its atmosphere. Soft piano plays in the background. Images of the Lebanese coastline and of ancient Roman ruins hang on the walls, on which Arabic script is painted as decoration. A beaded curtain covers the front windows.

It’s a little kitschy. But, it feels authentic. And after a long, hard day of work, I found it both inviting and relaxing.
You order at the front counter and pick up your food there, as well. I got one of their best sellers, the mixed appetizer platter, which comes with hummus; baba ghanoush; rice-stuffed grape leaves; a mint, parsley and tomato salad called tabbouleh; and a tomato and cucumber salad called fattoush. The platter comes with a side of sliced pita.

These appetizers can be divided into two categories: tangy and refreshing. The tangy appetizers, the hummus and baba ghanoush, are rather liquidy, but have a lot of flavor. A sprinkle of spice on the top adds variety to their texture. The refreshing appetizers, the tabbouleh, grape leaves, and fattoush, are intoxicating. I normally don’t like grape leaves, but I scarfed these down quickly.

All the appetizers are light on the stomach and won’t fill you up.

My main meal, another best seller, was a lamb shawarma sandwich, which had juicy, well-seasoned meat covered in garlic toum sauce, tomatoes and greens, wrapped in a warm pita. The dominant flavor is the toum, which reminded me of tahini. I recommend adding some sriracha to it, a bottle of which is on every table, to give it a little kick.

All this I washed down with laziza, a Lebanese brand of non-alcoholic malt drink that comes in pomegranate or apple flavors. I got the pomegranate one, and it felt like I was drinking juice straight out of the pomegranate. In small sips, it can be sour, but it is nonetheless highly flavorful.

When I realized I couldn’t open the bottle, I approached the front counter and the cashier already had a bottle opener ready. He opened it without me asking him, too. That’s how friendly the staff are.

I finished the meal with a slice of namoura, a syrupy semolina cake topped with an almond. It tasted mostly of sugar. Good, but nothing special, and worked as a palette cleanser.

All the food comes out together on a green serving tray. It took around 20 minutes to cook, and cost me $30.
I recommend Taste of Lebanon to everyone looking for tasty, authentic Lebanese or Mediterranean cuisine in the West Springfield area. Just be mindful of the parking.