Lebanon’s Cafe, located at 1500 S Carrolton Ave, has earned a reputation as the #1 Middle Eastern dining destination in New Orleans. They offer a variety of traditional middle eastern dishes ranging from Lamb with Hummus, their top rated dish, to vegetarian stuffed grape leaves. Lebanon’s has been described by Gambit Weekly as having a youthful vibe, good-natured service, and affordable food. However, one must go beyond just reading the reviews and take a trip to Lebanon’s to truly experience what all this little cafe has to offer.
A trip to Lebanon’s feeds every part of my being. With unlimited pita and a delectable menu, I have never, in my many trips to Lebanon’s, left without being stuffed to the brim. While Lebanon’s brings physical fulfillment, it also brings spiritual and emotional fulfillment, an experience that truly transcends the menu.
As a young woman in my 20’s, I get lonely. I’m in a time where I am constantly learning about myself and the world around me, trying to navigate my life path while I simultaneously am trying to learn who I am. There are days when the constant uncertainty of the next day becomes so overwhelming and lonely that I must escape. Those are the days that bring me to Lebanon’s. I somehow muster up the courage to drag myself on the nearly 20 minute walk to Lebanon’s. As soon as I open the doors, I melt into the warm atmosphere of the restaurants make my way over to my favorite table.
My favorite table is in the back right corner of the restaurant. It is a corner table, allowing for maximum space. There are times when I have packed 10 people into this four-person table, and other times where I have spread my school work out and spent the whole day alone, finishing my work. No matter what I use the table for, it always feels like my table; my table that I love; my table that I am comfortable at; my table that I come back to each and every time. This table is part of my Lebanon’s routine, and I wouldn’t want Lebanon’s without this table. Sitting at this table gives me a sense of control. It is a constant in my life that I can always count on. More often than not, I go to Lebanon’s at times of stress and uncertainty. The routine of sitting down at my table and eating allows me to assert control over my life, which intern allows me to regain focus, organization, and productivity. As I settle into my little corner table, I move on to my next part of my Lebanon’s experience: admiring the atmosphere.
The decorations at Lebanon’s are reminiscent of my childhood. Antiques line one wall of the restaurant, with each being one of a kind. Some of the antiques tower at 3 feet tall while others peek out from behind. Each antique tells a story of past times and distant worlds. A day at Lebanon’s could easily double as a trip to a museum since every time I go the restaurant, I end up entranced by the antiques. The most entrancing antique is a vertically standing, dull, gold platter that is in the center of the line of antiques. The platter is decorated with an ornate pattern that changes as you move from the outside towards the inside. On the brim, the pattern is smaller with much less detail. However, as you reach the center, the details become much greater and more defined. You can see every carving, every hand stroke, and every minor mistake that went into making the platter. In the center is a symbol. I have no idea what the symbol means, but I spend much of my time at Lebanon’s staring at the symbol, trying to figure out its meaning.
For me, as a woman of middle eastern descent, the antiques remind me of my great grandmother. My great grandmother, who only spoke Farsi, the language of Iran, and I did not speak a common language. We had to move beyond spoken words and find other ways to communicate. She would show me pictures of her family and loved ones. She would point to people in the photo and then point to her heart, signifying this was a person she loved dearly. Much like the antiques, she would tell me stories of past times and distant worlds without ever saying a word. Additionally, her house was also decorated with antiques, similar those at Lebanon’s. These antiques were my only connection to my ancestors and gave me a sense of heritage even though the land I was connecting to was far away. Heritage is so important for humans; It allows us to identify those things of value to be kept for future generations. The idea of passing things of value, whether it be a bracelet or survival skills, reinforce community and belonging within that community. Heritage is one of the most important human traits, because without it, we would have no knowledge for future generations and no sense of community.
Being in the same room as the staff at Lebanon’s feel like being in a room with all my best friends. The staff is mostly young waiters and waitresses that treat one as if they were family. On my first trip to Lebanon’s, my two friends and I sat at a table outside. A friendly, and quite attractive, waiter greeted us. He smiled and joked with us for the whole meal and spoke with us as though we were old friends. After many rounds of jokes, we finally placed our order: two chicken shawarma plates and an eggplant sandwich for myself. Knowing that I would be feasting, I made sure to arrive at Lebanon’s hungry. Therefore, when the food came out, I promptly demolished my sandwich. Our waiter soon returned to refill our waters. When he saw that I had devoured my sandwich, he was shocked. He joked with me, saying, “Damn, you can really eat!”. Perhaps he was shocked that someone of my petite size could finish a sandwich that large, or perhaps he had never seen someone finish a sandwich that quickly. Either way, he joked with me in the same way I would expect a family member or close friend to do so. As he walked away with my empty plates, both his and my laughs echoed among the tables. Shared laughter is very important for belonging. It signals that people perceive the world in the same way, a very important part of relationships.
Lebanon’s is many things: Top rated Middle Eastern Food in New Orleans, my favorite spot for hummus, readers of Best of the Big Easy’s favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. But above all, Lebanon’s is a home. Spend the day at Lebanon’s and you will see all different types of people with different lives, beliefs, and personalities. However, this doesn’t matter at Lebanon’s, for the sense of belonging that one feels as soon as they walk through the red doors of Lebanon’s transcends any difference people may have and unites people for a meal.