Deep Ellum's restaurant boom in the last six months has given us a lot of really remarkable eateries, so we were intrigued to see a decidedly stylish Lebanese spot open at Commerce and Malcolm X. With a haute buildout complete with marble tabletops and grey and lime green accents, we were a bit skeptical about the cuisine since the decor felt a little trendier than we were expecting from a Lebanese restaurant.
Were we wrong.
The long-teased opening of Zatar Lebanese Tapas & Bar brings us the traditional Middle Eastern fare done well — grape leaves (waraq enab), multicolored hummus options, pita that will bring you to your knees, and falafel ... so much falafel. But Zatar goes beyond with options that are a bit more unique yet still true to the cuisine. Like their burger — a kafta patty topped with chicken shawarma, Swiss cheese, grilled tomatoes, onions, hummus and house garlic sauce — and an upside-down lamb pilaf said to be made from the owner's mom's recipe, which is adorable.
Expect plenty of smaller portioned options which, for us, means an opportunity to try more items. We will be back (maybe tomorrow) for the moujadara croquette (lentils, caramelized onion, mint yogurt sauce) and the completely unexpected kibbet karaz (pitted sour cherry, walnut and scallions in a fried meat shell). You may not have room for any real food if you try the pita because, well, it's damn delicious paired with a sesame, garlic and oil dip. We may or may not have gone through three baskets. (This is a judgement-free zone, right?)
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The drink menu is surprising, with several Lebanese wine options and a cocktail list filled with intriguing ingredients like rose water, orange blossom and arak, a traditional licorice spirit (similar to ouzo) seen often in the Middle East. While strongly flavored anise spirits are difficult to work with, we'd recommend trying the Arak Chili Sour (arak, pineapple juice, chili and sage) purely for the experience. If you're a bit less adventurous, go for the Lebanese Mule (cognac, apricot liquor, honey syrup and ginger beer).
If you're into the hookah situation, they offer a large enclosed patio for you to puff your little heart out on. If you're not into hookah, rest assured that the spaces are completely separate and someone else's "Blue Mist" vapor won't disturb your enjoyment of a white coffee.
On the whole, the dining experience at Zatar is spot on with excellent food, a clean restaurant and quick, friendly service. So much more than just another attempt at authentic international cuisine, Deep Ellum scored big here, and good riddance to the bar whose space it took over.
Zatar Lebanese Tapas & Bar, 2825 Commerce St.