Foreign food whisks away taste buds to exotic locales, such as the coast of Tuscany or the Mediterranean Sea, which is made entirely of hummus traveled upon by boats with pita sails. Dive into a sumptuous sojourn with today's Groupon: for $20, you get $40 worth of Lebanese cuisine at Lebanese Taverna Restaurant, valid at the Bethesda location, the newest of six locations.
As light filters through the colored glass lanterns lining the dining room of Lebanese Taverna Restaurant, visitors send fork tines into traditional Lebanese eats. Kibbeh, or stuffed meatballs ($6.50 for lunch; $7.50 for dinner), blend ground beef, lamb, almonds, and pine nuts into fried spheres perfect for felling miniature bowling pins on top of the table before entrees arrive. A full vegetarian menu fills herbivorous bellies with sumac- and onion-speckled spinach pie ($6–$6.50) or a stew of broad beans simmered with cinnamon, garlic, and tomato ($5.50–$6). A hummus trio ($10.50–$11.50) welcomes spelunking vegetables and pita pieces, with traditional hummus accompanied by ground beef and lamb, garlic hummus joined by chicken shawarma, and spicy hummus, whose tomatoes and feta reenact the story of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus. Diners can also enjoy meaty dishes such as free-range, natural chicken ($17–$19), grilled with skewered vegetables and fried potatoes.
In the dead of night in 1976, the Abi-Najm family boarded a cargo ship bringing only what they could carry; an escape from Civil War in Lebanon called for a quick getaway. They traveled across the ocean to safety in Arlington, Virginia, where they were able to open a small cafe in 1979. To save money, they changed the eatery’s name from “Athenian Taverna” to “Lebanese Taverna” so that they only had to update one word on the eatery’s marquee.
From these modest beginnings grew a series of eateries that today comprises of six cafes and four quick-service cafés, all still operated by the Abi-Najm clan. One look at the menu explains the success: chicken shawarma, spicy hummus, lamb tartare—all Lebanese staples that helped the restaurant earn a spot on Northern Virginia magazine's list of 25 Iconic Eats. There's even kibbeh, or stuffed meatballs, which blend ground beef, lamb, almonds, and pine nuts into fried spheres suitable for felling miniature bowling pins on top of the table before entrees arrive. The decor is as striking as the cuisine; inside the Bethesda location, light filters through the colored glass lanterns that decorate the dining room.