Shakshuka at Taboonette
The sandwich that first won us over, made us drop our plans for the evening, and head to Taboonette for dinner. We love the traditional dish of eggs baked in a spiced tomato sauce, but Taboonette's version translated well to pita form. The sauce had ample chunks of tomato, deeply flavored with garlic, onion, and harissa; it's well-calculated to be satisfying and sloppy, but not too wet to soak through the pita.
Sabeech at Taboonette
Substantial strips of eggplant are cooked to a satisfying squish that clearly have help from oil, but they aren't absolutely saturated in it; the sliced egg and rich tahini fill it out. A lighter breakfast on a fluffy pita that still keeps the egg where it counts.
Steak and Egg ($7.00)
Plenty satisfying (and hey, a sirloin sandwich for $7?), but the steak was cooked pretty far past our liking. Still, we liked the pairing with creamy labneh, the runny-middled egg, and the bright chopped salad.
Chicken Shawarma (laffa, $10.95)
Nowhere near as contained as the pita sandwiches, but if you're good with "pile of steaming meat with sauce-soaked bread nibbled up after," it's all fine. The chicken was one of the least subtly spiced things on the menu—cumin really dominated, with the turmeric and paprika barely there—and it's not carved from a spit. But the individual pieces of meat were nicely seared and incredibly juicy, made even more substantial by tiny crisped-up bits of roasted Yukon gold potatoes.
Kebab (pita, $8.95)
This hit an optimal balance between ground lamb and beef—gamy but not overwhelming, bright with mint and parsley, and juicy as you could wish. We liked the inclusion of grilled eggplant and, again, the Israeli salad. These kinds of sandwiches are reliant on a few basic ingredients; but in every case, the salad's bright acidity made even meat-laden bread bombs feel light and balanced.
Golden Potato ($7.25)
And we can't resist carb-on-carb fests like the golden potato, the pita stuffed with baked potato. It really takes on that roasted flavor, and the skins are crisped up with salt and olive oil, so there's a bit of a french fry effect going on; arugula gives it a bit of balance, sour cream binds, sumac brightens. (It's far from bland, but it's a sandwich I liked better with a heaping spoonful of their schoog, a jar of which sits on every table, made of jalapeños, olive oil, and cilantro.)
Pulled Pork ($8.50)
Who needs balance when you have a pile of juicy pork shoulder topped with chicharrones? This one we appreciated as a platter (over jasmine rice with cumin, garlic, and cilantro), the better to appreciate the pork—marinated for a day with allspice, nutmeg, garlic then slow-cooked for eight hours—and the chicharrones too.
The one platter I'd come back and order again in a second is the calamari. Quite a pile of them appear, the little rings sautéed in what Taboonette calls their chimichurri— cilantro, jalapeño, parsley, olive oil—and they emerge golden-edged but still tender, even better dipped in an impossibly rich yogurt sauce. The plate is heaped with that spiced jasmine rice and hummus. Of course there are all sorts of meat-on-rice platters you can get for $8 in the city, but how often do they come with tender calamari?
Haloumi Salad ($7.75)
It sports thick slices of golden-browned goat's milk haloumi cheese that squeaks between the teeth; it's close to too salty, but doesn't cross that line—that is, just as haloumi should be.
Beet Salad ($7.75)
The predictable-sounding beet salad has arugula and onion and creamy clumps of goat cheese, sure, but also crunchy clusters of pistachio candied in the taboon, and a surprising roasted anise and fennel seed vinaigrette. (The overall effect was a bit sweet for some, but I loved it.)
Moroccan Carrot Salad ($4)
A less successful salad. The combination of mint, orange blossom water, and nigella seeds made for a cooling, floral, almost menthol bite, but the texture was undone by floppy shreds of carrot.
Beer Battered Veggies ($3.65)
They could've come straight from a sports bar, but the kind of sports bar that knows how to fry: these puffy, crunchy vegetables (including potato, cauliflower, and okra) in a chili-laced batter are a joy to crunch through, better with the horseradish-sour cream mix they're served with for dunking.
Roasted Corn ($2.75)
A vaguely Mediterranean take on Mexican elotes, but here it's slathered in a spicy cilantro mayo before showers of sesame and parmesan. I didn't know I wanted the nutty crunch of sesame on this kind of corn, but it totally works.
Taboonette is priced like any old stuff-in-a-pita lunch counter. But across the board, their sandwiches and plates are imaginative, boldly spiced, and pretty damn delicious.