In this city, restaurants come and go faster than you can say "sustainable locavore burger." And even though there are great new additions to the culinary landscape popping up every week, you've gotta give kudos to anyone who can stick it out for over a year. With that in mind, we bring you Still Got It, our tribute to establishments that continue to serve mouthwatering meals and drinks long after the buzz has faded—or if the lingering hype is still justified.
Gazala Halabi opened up this little Druze eatery in Hells Kitchen in 2007, making it one of very few (if any) restaurants in the country to serve the ethnic Middle Eastern cuisine. Since then, Halabi's opened up a second outpost on the Upper West Side, but the 9th Avenue original is still a solid, casual spot to taste flavorful bourekas, mezes and kebabs.
There's not a lot of seating at Gazala Place, and you might find yourself cramped at a tiny candlelit table close to a couple on a Very Important Date Night. Luckily, the restuarant is BYOB, so have the waiter or waitress crack open a beer or bottle of wine you've brought in with you, ignore your neighbors and dive into the menu.
The Druze hail from Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, and their dishes are influenced by those different Middle Eastern cuisines, with a twist: instead of serving regular pita, for instance, Gazala serves a super-thin whole wheat flatbread, which you can dip into cold starter plates. Skip the uninspired hummus ($6) and opt for the spicy Turkish salad ($6.50) instead. For a warm starter, check out the falafel ($5.50), which has a crunchy exterior and is flavored with a distinct hint of parsley; there's also a tasty zatar and cheese pie ($8.50) topped with spices and homemade goat cheese.
Bigger entrees of note include the Halabi, a chopped meat dish serves in a tomato sauce over rice ($15.50) and a garlicky platter of fried orata (M/P), which former Village Voice critic Robert Sietsema raved about a few years ago, and is still just as good. For dessert, try the baklava ($6.50), which is a compact burst of pistachio and honey-lemon syrup served in a small flaky phyllo pastry.
If you go for brunch, Gazala Place is known for its bourekas, which are flaky pastries topped with sesame seeds and filled with cheeses, meats and spices ($16). But do be warned: the dishes are small, and though they're meant for sharing, you'll probably find yourself ordering far less than will fill you up on a first visit.
Gazala Place is located at 709 9th Ave between 48th and 49th Street in Hells Kitchen (212- 245-0709, gazalasplace.com.