Byblos Falafel and Deli

Attention to detail, excellent flavors, and authenticity

Buffet sampler
Buffet sampler (Photo By John Anderson)

Byblos Falafel & Deli

13000 N. I-35 #12-204, 490-1212

Monday-Saturday, 11am-8:30pm;Sunday, 11am-5pm

On Jan. 1, 2005, 20-year Austin resident Elias Azam and his partner, Lebanese restaurateur and chef Paul Nader, opened the doors of Byblos Deli. The space is long, narrow, and tastefully decorated, with a cafeteria-style line running along one side in front of the open kitchen. "We wanted to let everyone see how the food is prepared," Azam says. "It's something we're proud of."

What makes Byblos stand out is the attention to detail, the excellent flavors, and the authenticity. All meats are cooked to order with the exception of the shawarma, which is spinning slowly, waiting for the knife. Everything is made fresh, even the phyllo dough.

You grab a tray and select from the dozen or so side items displayed (and yes, there are ample choices for the vegans). You can select an accompanying meat at that point, choosing from beef or chicken shawarma, spicy beef or chicken sujuk, beef kabab or chicken tawouk, ground beef kafta, or the coarse-ground makanek sausage. All beef is halal; the chicken is fresh breast, and the shawarma beef is marinated skirt steak (not a compressed gyro log). All meat plates are $7.95, and the pita sandwich versions are $5.45.

We started with a combo plate of chicken tawouk, beef kabab, beef kafta, and makanek sausage, with humus, taboleh, saffron rice, and grape leaves. The chicken cubes are marinated, moist, and delicious, and come on a sliced cabbage bed with a luscious garlic dressing. Both the kabab and the kafta are superb: tender, complex, and lightly charred. The sausage is coarsely ground and without casing, lightly seasoned and smoky from the grill. Each huge plate comes with a salad, red onions, sour pickles, pickled turnip (dyed red by beets), and pita.

All of the sides are amazing: The humus is nutty, with strong garlic and richness from olive oil; tabouleh is tart and herbal and light on the bulgur; fatoush is a wonderful wilted salad; the eggplant is smoky and garlicky, with a fluffy texture; the mixed vegetables with kafta balls is a savory blend with perfect balance; saffron rice is rich and fluffy, with a few black beans cooked in for visual interest; falafel here is crisp and golden brown, with a nutty taste and an herbal finish, topped with a garlic yogurt sauce; the beans (favas when they can get them) are creamy, with lots of depth; grape leaves are tart and (thankfully) light on the rice. You can get a six-side combo for $6.95; four sides come with every meat plate.

We tried Sfpheha Tart ($1), a mix of squash, tomatoes, and onion in a light pastry shell and loved it. We got a Pita Wrap ($5.45), half spicy beef, half spicy chicken, stuffed in a double pita, with pickles, tomato, onion, parsley, lettuce, and garlic sauce. "We started with a couple of pounds of each meat, because we weren't sure how it would go. Now we prepare 50 pounds a week of each," Nader says. "They love it."

The baklava ($1.50) is the definitive version: flaky, with rich, sweet walnuts and a light drizzle of honey. They were out of the namovra – semolina squares with coconut and syrup – but we'll be back for that one. A strong coffee with cardamom would have been perfect with either. We've eaten almost everything on the menu and loved every delicious bite. This is true tabikh (Lebanese comfort food) and well worth the drive.

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