Levantine LOVIN’

There’s just something irresistible about the fresh, rich flavors of Middle Eastern, Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine. And San Marco’s NOURA CAFE presents these flavors well.

If you ask me (and that’s why I write these every week!), the best way to test a Lebanese place is to start at falafel. For the ultimate evaluation, make it a platter ($10.99) so you can try hummus and tabouli. The falafel are made fresh to order at Noura, so expect to wait a few while they fry it–no carping, it’s worth it! You’ll see–crack open a fresh, hot falafel, dip it in creamy, creamy hummus and top it with fresh tabouli. I thought the hummus lacked a bit of flavor (maybe too little tahini?) but I wasn’t too miffed to leave any in the bowl.

Kafta Kabob platter ($11), a major yes, includes two skewers of ground beef, seasoned and grilled to perfection, accompanied by a mountain of fluffy yellow rice. Your grumbling belly will rejoice.

The baba ghanoush ($5.99/side) at Noura is among my faves in this area. It doesn’t have that smoky taste that sometimes characterizes the spread, and it sure does pack a lot of eggplant flavor in a small dollop. Put it liberally on everything.

I recommend my regular go-to: Fattoush salad (entrée $8.45). I call it “regular,” because there’s lettuce involved, but it’s way more than that. There are lots of tomato, cucumber and crunchy thin pieces of pita; like a crouton but better, ’cause, unlike it is with croutons, you won’t fear breaking a tooth. It’s all dressed in olive oil with a tart lemony finish. That unexpected plus is from the sumac berry, a staple Middle Eastern spice.

We went on a Thursday, so we got the Thursday night special: A stack of eggplant, tomato and potato with lentil rice ($12.99). It’s a nice presentation and tastes even better than it looks; if you go on a Thursday, order it. Should be a house rule.

There’s a little market along one wall of Noura, stocked with basics like olive oil, spices and sweet treats–halva and baklava. Noura sells cold case items by the pound; you can grab a bowl of baba ghanoush and a pack of pita for that holiday party where the host, aka the boss, expects y’all to bring something wonderful. And you will! No one will narc on you for going the easy route because it’s not nice to talk with your mouth full of pita’n’ghanoush.

Noura Cafe is a family effort–Raymond and Noura show how much they care about the food and their customers. They are blessed with twin daughters; we hope the girls are taking notes on how to be restaurateurs. And you will get your money’s worth. With offerings ranging from pita wraps for on-the-go meals like the traditional gyro or falafel, to full entrées, to sides of all sizes, you’ll be happy and full. And scheduling your next visit to Noura.