Raya’s Lebanese Restaurant

Go to that quaint hole-in-the-wall you dearly love and ask to see the cook’s hands. Most likely their fingers have not been worked to the bone making something simple, like baklava. You’ll probably find it’s made in Cleveland, Chicago, or Detroit. So it’s refreshing to find a place where the owner makes the baklava with honey and cinnamon she ground by hand. At Raya’s Lebanese Restaurant, Sam Raya makes everything herself. I swear, she must have chickens, a lamb, and a Mediterranean garden out back. Heck, for all I know she keeps bees in the kitchen to make her own honey. Raya says she serves healthy, Mediterranean fast food. You do get served quickly, but everything truly is slaved over by Raya herself. And the menu is not simply falafel, kebabs, and shawarma of the genus you usually find at a typical gyro stand. There are a number of specialties—such as kafta (a spicy ground steak), and mac louba and m’shaghan (both grilled chicken)—that you probably have never confronted on a menu before. Despite all her hours in the kitchen, Raya still makes time to talk to everyone and find out what you really think about her cooking. And maybe let you in on the fact that she made something extra today, like a nice kenafa dessert, similar to cheesecake filling. Every single customer I talked to felt like they were her one favorite customer. And while Raya is over at your table, prove to yourself how much time she puts in. Check out her hands.

Raya’s Lebanese Restaurant

801 Elm St., downtown
(513) 421-0049
Prices: $5–$10
Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat


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