Best Restaurants No. 8: Phoenician Taverna Elevates Classic Mediterranean Dishes

New twists on old Mediterranean favorites and a passion for excellence turn meals into feasts at Phoenician Taverna.

No matter how much restraint you go into the restaurant with, meals at Phoenician Taverna quickly become feasts. There is just too much that’s good, and everything is meant to be shared. With fresh pita bread continuously arriving from the ovens, and a table of quickly multiplying meze (hummus, falafel, muhammara), there is a warmth and depth to the cooking that envelops you.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

With such traditional cuisine, you may think there isn’t much left to discover beyond simply executed classics prepared according to time-tested methods. There is no formula, though, to great food, and a visit to Phoenician Taverna soon demonstrates how owner Wassim Matar is constantly refining his menu, whether experimenting with new combinations of chile peppers to make the harissa (he uses the guajillo, commonly used in Mexican cuisine, which has a certain sweetness and roundness that makes the sauce more than merely hot) or introducing a deeply browned arnabeet, a traditional fried cauliflower dish with a delicious lemon tahini sauce.

Even when you have eaten a dish at Phoenician Taverna a dozen times, there are always new discoveries as the flavors mingle from plate to plate: the tabbouleh with the hummus, mixed with a touch of harissa, or the smoky baba ghanoush (several friends have said it is the best they’ve ever tasted) spooned onto falafel. A great cuisine is an enormous tree, drawing strength from deep roots; but high up in the branches, what makes the tree thrive is each twig reaching for a bit more light. In the same way, Phoenician Taverna keeps taking these classics a little further. There is no better place in our area, and possibly far beyond, to experience this culinary tradition.

7944 Mason Montgomery Rd., Mason, (513) 770-0027, phoeniciantaverna.com

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