Roasted pumpkin and ginger purée topped with gently spiced chickpeas. The north African recipe comes from Chef Mesika's grandmother.
Crazy Baba ($5)
Smoke-tastic eggplant purée mixed with pungent feta for a dip that combines Middle Eastern baba ganoush with Greek tyrokafeterie.
Pita and Tahini
A plate of this starts your meal; don't be shy about asking for refills. The pita is among the best you'll find in New York, not made in-house but available for purchase right at the restaurant. Chef Mesika is particular about his tahini, and it shows: it's incredible, thankfully both a mother sauce at the restaurant and another item available for purchase.
Aunt Trippo's Falafel ($6)
The equal of our very favorites across the city. It's oblong with a greaseless crust that takes browning to heart while keeping the insides moist and bright. "It's all very simple," chef Mesika says, "just chickpeas, coriander, cumin, cilantro, and lemon." But that doesn't capture the coriander's, the cumin's warmth, the lemon and herbal lift. The falafel cairn is topped with curry-enriched tahini, charred onions, pickled cabbage, and a smoky tomato relish. Who needs pita? It'd only mask the fun.
Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar ($7)
Of all the small plates we tried, only the burek with its subdued mozzarella-almond filling disappoints. But even there the phyllo wrapper, glistening with honey, is shatter-crisp the way it should be, the way so few others in New York are.
The spacious dining room is homey and casual, with Led Zeppelin and The xx humming in the background. Among the many charms that Zizi offers, a great one is the service, which treats you with unrushed kindness and genuine hospitality.
Sabih Croissant ($10 at lunch; $11 at dinner)
Eggplant and egg on a croissant? With potato salad and harissa? But it works—beautifully—and it's a worthy croissant as well. Read more here »
More plant than pita, with cherry tomatoes, more of that tangy feta, roasted peppers, and charred onions ("charred" is a good omen for the menu items that offer it). The kicker is a spoonful of tapenade on top, flecked with za'atar, that makes this crunch-forward salad something to talk about.
Zizi Sub Moroccan-Style ($10)
Filled with juicy chicken, smoked eggplant, tahini, and preserved lemons. It's as fun to eat as it is to think about.
Charred Beet & Lentil Salad ($11)
It sure sounds ordinary, but its sexy dressing of sweet carrots, ginger, tahini, and dates runs laps around the salad bar staple.
Shawarma Wrap ($10)
Similar to the sub, but with lamb instead of eggplant and a greater emphasis on the excellent preserved lemons.
Shakshuka ($10; with steak, $18)
The best of the larger plates may be the Shakshuka ($10), a breakfast staple reformulated for dinner with a solitary egg afloat in a sea of gently spiced tomato that melts into more of that creamy tahini. It's sauce for dinner, so ask for extra pita (excellent, by the way) and get to cleaning that plate. For an additonal $8 you get upgraded to Cowshuka with a sizable portion of skirt steak on top. It's a cute take on steak and eggs, but the meat is cooked past the medium-rare sweet spot, which makes for awkward knifework with all the surrounding sauce.
Stuffed Root Veggies ($15)
We enjoyed the cinnamon-tinged chickpea stew and yogurt dollops in this dish more than the kofta-stuffed beets and zucchini. But hardly a chore to finish it.
Five Hour Boureka ($15)
The spiraled pastry is filled with unctuous braised oxtail, but the meat lacks the vibrancy of other dishes on the menu. Accompanying sides of loose tomato purée and tahini do help.
It's just beer and wine for now, but they hope to start cocktails soon once with liquor license comes in.
If Baklava is on the menu when you visit, make that your order. Mesika emphasizes crisp phyllo and a multitude of nuts over heavy spices and over-sweet syrups.
Basbosa Semolina Cake ($7)
The homemade vanilla ice cream in this dessert, really a scoop of vanilla with halvah crumbles on top, could stand to be creamier, and those sesame crumbs are just too dense.
Turkish Coffee ($2.50)
It's more like an Americano in taste and volume, which you'll find welcome or frustrating depending on your coffee tastes.