Ranking the Best (and Worst) Mediterranean Restaurants in Las Vegas
I love Mediterranean cuisine.
Loosely defined as Lebanese, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Moroccan, Israeli, and Persian (Iranian) cooking, Mediterranean cuisine is relatively new to most American tastes, exploding in popularity only within the past 20 years or so. Now, different varieties of Mediterranean-themed restaurants can be found in most major cities, including Las Vegas.
I’m partial to Mediterranean cooking because the most common reactions to it are either very good or great. It’s also very healthy. I’ve experienced relatively few disappointments in the hundreds of meals enjoyed over the years, not only here in Las Vegas, but throughout the world. The only other two varieties of food where I can make this claim are: (1) Italian restaurants and (2) Thai cuisine. See my list of TOP TEN THAI RESTAURANTS IN LAS VEGAS here.
What follows are my favorite (and least favorite) Mediterranean restaurants in Las Vegas. In some cases, I’ve dined at the selected establishment dozens of times. In order to be ranked, I had to have eaten there at least twice. Note there are several restaurants which I have not visited more than one time, which were not graded.
On most of visits, I ordered a standard meat and rice dish, along with a salad and appetizer. Restaurants were judged primarily based on food quality and originality. Atmosphere and service were also included as part of my rankings. I also took price and value into consideration. After all, it’s not really fair to grade a cheap take-out joint along the same lines as an expensive restaurant. My overall experience at each restaurant was judged and the winners and losers rank as follows:
Khoury’s (on S. Fort Apache Rd.) [Lebanese Cuisine] — This is the best Mediterranean cuisine in the city for the money. Family owned and operated, this small Lebanese restaurant opened on the far west side of town about ten years ago and has been a favorite for locals ever since. Food is consistently outstanding and affordable. Atmosphere is quaint and relaxed. Casual by day and more upscale at night. Lunch specials, with full platters which are reasonably priced. Great attention to detail — always with fresh ingredients (fresh squeezed lemonade, for instance). Lebanese pita bread comes piping hot out of a stone oven, served with real butter and/or olive oil and spices. Recommendations include Kafta Kabob and (my personal favorite) the Kibbeh (aka Kibbi), which is spicy ground beef mixed with pine nuts encased in a fried wheat shell. Salads served with every dish. Some Americanized dishes are also available, with fresh-cut fries. Try the Kafta Kabob sandwich with fries for lunch for just $9. One side note: I’ve made perhaps 50-60 visits here, starting when they first opened. Over the years, regulars saw the family steadily put money back into the restaurant with more food options, more tasteful décor, a big wine list, and expansion to include outdoor seating. This shows family pride. Khoury’s is a gem.
Zaytoon Market Restaurant (on S. Durango Rd.) [Persian Cuisine] — This restaurant has only about six tables, but also does a busy takeout business, especially at night. It’s part of a larger international market which sells Middle Eastern food products. That said, the food and service are as good as you will find. You can’t go wrong with any of the traditional Persian meat and rice dishes. The Koobideh (ground beef kabob) is my favorite, which is skewered with spices and comes with saffron rice, grilled tomato, and chopped raw onions. The soups are also highly unusual and full of flavor. Nothing fancy. But great food and good service.
Cleo (SLS Resort / Las Vegas Strip) [General Middle Eastern] — This upscale Middle Eastern restaurant opened about six months ago when Las Vegas’ newest casino-resort opened up its doors. It now appears to be struggling to find a loyal base, which is too bad, because the food here is both uniquely authentic and outstanding. Wide variety of menu dishes to chose from which lean towards a Moroccan theme, with beef, lamb, seafood, poultry all offered, plus lots of vegetable dishes not commonly associated with Mediterranean restaurants. Wood burning oven. Specialty cocktails. Fast and attentive service. Only downside is being a big pricey, to be expected because of the premium one now pays for dining on The Strip, which seems intent on chasing away locals. Recommendations include any of the mezzes or vegetarian items. Great restaurant for ordering multiple appetizers and sharing.
Yassou Greek Grill Cafe (on W. Charleston Blvd.) [Greek Cuisine] — Loosely translated, “Yassou” means “good health.” This is a family run restaurant on the far west side of town, near Summerlin. Dine it or take out, the food comes out quick and is inexpensive. Standard Greek fare, with generous platters which all come with salad topped with feta cheese and olives, rice, and meat. Several other salads and sandwiches are also optional. Greek pizzas are excellent. Reason why Yassou receives a grade higher than many more upscale restaurants (this place is pretty Spartan by comparison, with plastic forks and knives) is the quality of meat, which is clearly a cut above most restaurants. I’ve ordered the filet kabobs many times, which were as tender as a premium $42 steak (and spiced to perfection). The owner also comes out and checks on his customers, making sure everyone is happy. The attention to details makes Yassou a standout.
Ali Baba Cuisine (on S. Eastern in Henderson) [Lebanese Cuisine] — Not to be confused with an Armenian restaurant with the same name, which used to be on S. Maryland Pkwy (now closed down) this Lebanese establishment meets expectation, but is just a little too pricey. Located far south of The Strip in Henderson, Ali Baba tries to be all things to its customers — including brunch, upscale dining at night, smoking lounge (Hookah), and live entertainment. There’s sometimes a singer on weekends. Standard fare one expects with Lebanese cuisine, but also cuts some corners (frozen French fries with lunch items, for instance whereas the better restaurants cut them fresh). There are some excellent entrees (and hummus might be the best in the city), but a few shortcomings and value for price make this closer to average than great. Something’s amiss when a cocktail costs $10.
Marrahkech Moroccan Restaurant (on Paradise Road) [Moroccan Cuisine] — Probably the fanciest Middle Eastern restaurant in the city, this place is quite popular with tourists, and some locals. On the small side, and always crowded at night, expect to play $70-80 per person, with main entre, a drink, and tip — which is worth the cost if you’re into atmosphere and an experience (I’m not — I just want good food and reliable service). There’s also a fixed-price menu for less than $50, which I believe includes 5 or 6 courses. Only open for dinner, belly dancing is part of the show, which I suppose can be fun. Just not my thing.
Hedary’s (on W. Sahara Blvd.) [Lebanese Cuisine] — Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Hedary’s has experienced a sad and steep decline over the past decade, falling from one of the top three Mediterranean restaurants in the city to just a “satisfactory” grade which now risks falling into the “worst” category. Unfortunately, previous ownership which made this casual attraction such a hit with many locals — particularly at lunch — is now gone. The restaurant was sold off to an American (not of Middle Eastern decent). We learned of this from the new owner and thought it wouldn’t matter. But the food has certainly changed within the last year and fallen off in both quality and originality (despite new ownership’s assurances the new staff were trained by the old regime to cook meals the exact same way). Several dishes we’ve tried in the last 12 months were either too bland, or way too salty. Nothing seemed nearly as good as before. That said, perhaps Hedary’s will eventually come around. This used to be a great restaurant with fresh ingredients, enticing lunch specials, and affordable prices. Strangely enough, the service used to be absolutely abysmal in this place under the old management (a few clueless Russian girls ran the floor and must have been inhaling too much Hookah smoke — they always forgot things and never seemed to get the orders right). Now, the service is much better. But the food isn’t. Go figure.
Maza (on S. Rainbow Rd) [Turkish Cuisine] — I’d like to grade this restaurant somewhat higher, because of friend of mine from Los Angeles (George) opened it recently and I’d like to see him succeed. Maza took over where “Opa” (formally a Greek restaurant) used to be, which is now closed. Maza offers the typical variety of Middle Eastern dishes, which seem geared slightly towards Turkish-style cooking and flavoring (there are exceptions on the menu). Reasonable prices, friendly service from a mostly Eastern European staff, but not particularly memorable. I’ll give Maza a few more tries since it’s only been open about six months now. We’ll see how this restaurant progresses and might update the grade, since I’m rooting for my friend’s restaurant to be a smashing success. That said, I can’t group it among the best in town (yet).
Shish Kabob House (on W. Flamingo Blvd.) [Armenian Cuisine] — Armenian-themed restaurant with a full in-house bakery attached next door. The good — very generous portions, bargain prices, discount coupons available online, live nightly entertainment, pleasant atmosphere. That would seem to give Shish Kabob House a high grade. The bad — Trouble is, the food just isn’t as flavorful as some of the other places on this list. Everything is okay or good, but nothing I’ve tried here in about a dozen visits really stood out. Service can be erratic also, with kitchen sometimes slow. I tend to like Armenian cuisine’s twist on this type of cooking, it’s just that I’ve had better in other places.
Crazy Pita (multiple locations) [Lebanese Cuisine] — Not bad for takeout or a meal on the run. Nothing spectacular, but serviceable. Much like Shish Kabob House aboce, this is a plastic fork and knife and paper plate kinda’ place, which offers decent value. However, the food is pretty average based on the three meals I’ve tried (at the Green Valley Ranch location).
Habib’s (on S. Decatur) [Persian Cuisine] — Habib’s was once the place to go in Las Vegas for good Mediterranean cuisine. It advertised heavily in all the casino handouts, and attracted a steady clientele of tourists and locals alike, just a few miles off The Strip. Then, the location was moved inexplicably from a nice courtyard setting a short distance away and the establishment now appears to be struggling. Great international market connected to the restaurant, but dining room has been nearly empty on the occasions when I’ve visited. That’s probably due to the prices, which are higher than average. Habib’s suffers from its location and deserves better. The food is good. But its days might be numbered.
Sababa (on S. Durango Rd.) [Israeli Cuisine/Kosher] — I’ve tried four Israeli restaurants in Las Vegas. Inexplicably, the two places that I really loved (one was on S. Jones, the other in Village Square Mall) closed down. The two that survived are disappointing by comparison (Jerusalem Grill is the other). Sababa is about a half mile from my home and I wish it were better. But the food is terribly bland, without any atmosphere. The service also leaves something to be desired. Four dinners here over the past 6-7 years resulted in progressively disappointing experiences, and the takeout meal was terrible. Best way to describe the food is utterly tasteless. I’ll correct this if someone proves me wrong, but the pita bread is right out of a bag served at room temperature, like you’d get in a grocery store. Nothing of note to recommend. Closed Saturdays in keeping with Kosher customs. Note: I’ve heard there is new management, so this place might be worth another try, but I’m still reluctant after so many poor experiences.
Paymon’s Mediterranean Café (two locations — on East Side on S. Maryland Pkwy. and West Side on W. Sahara Blvd.) [Lebanese Cuisine] — This is the worst, most overrated restaurant of this type in the city. It’s terrible! Four visits over the past 12 years, and three were far less than satisfactory. One was staggeringly bad. First meal I tried at Paymon’s was at the Maryland Pkwy. location. Food was acceptable, but that was way back in 2002. Then, Paymon’s opened a restaurant much closer to me and I tried it three times over the course of times, usually with someone who insisted we dine there. The last visit was the last straw. Meat was so undercooked it seemed more like tartar, and (predictably) caused an upset stomach. Food has no defining characteristics. Service was slow, despite few customers. Atmosphere is pleasant and authentic, but what’s the point of a nice dining room if the food is lousy and the service sucks? Paymon’s is a horrible restaurant.