One of my favorite places for a delicious meal is Ilili, a contemporary Lebanese restaurant that has a wide range of vegetarian (and vegan) options. The restaurant is no new-comer in the NYC restaurant world – I think it has been around for at least 5 years (please do not quote me, but I do remember eating there as early as 2008). Ilili is one of my favorite restaurants because of the great service, delicious food, and the wide range of vegetarian options.
The dining room is large and so is the bar / lounge area. A few years ago, the host would not seat us until the entire party had arrived, and would instead direct us to the bar. I guess it’s a sign of changing times, because last week, part of our dinner party got seated before the rest arrived. If you do get seated in the lounge area, you can order from the entire dinner menu there and therefore, you are not missing out on anything.
My favorite drink at Ilili is the “Poison Sumac Margarita”. The drink has tequila, orange juice, pomegranate juice (or passion fruit juice at times), and lime – an ideal combination of sweetness from the juices, tartness from the lime, and salty spice from sumac and salt on the rim. Must get this drink, if you ever go to Ilili. I find that the margarita with ice is too cold for me, so I always ask for the drink in a martini glass, just like in the picture below.
My friends and I decided to share everything as always. We ordered a few plates of appetizers, often the best way to enjoy a wide range of vegetarian dishes. We ordered the fattoush salad, mouhamara, labne, falafels, brussels sprouts, shishito peppers, and riz.
Ilili’s freshly made pita bread is excellent. It’s always warm, and completely puffed out – reminds me of a phulka, although it is much thicker.
I love the fattoush salad (vegan / vegetarian) for it’s crispy squares of flat bread that are dusted with a tangy spice (sumac?). It’s a delightfully fresh salad and a perfect way to start a meal and to feel that you are eating healthy, when you are otherwise eating falafels and deep-fried brussels sprouts.
Now for my favorite dishes of the evening.
Some of my other favorite dishes at Ilili are:
- Hindbeh – Dandelion greens with pinenuts, and caramelized onions,
- Chankleesh – feta cheese with tomatoes, onions, and zaatar
- Batata harra – cubed potatoes with kouzbara and aleppo pepper – tastes almost like patatas bravas in some tapas restaurants
- Warm eggplant with tomato, scallions, and tamarind molasses
- Melted haloumi – with cherry tomatoes, nigella seeds, and mint
- Chicken shish taouk – skewered chicken served with a sumac garlic whip. This chicken is the closest one can get to a tandoori chicken tikka in flavor, texture, spices etc.
- Mekanek – lamb sausages sauteed with pine nuts and lemon
Some other vegetarian / vegan dishes at Ilili that seem very promising are:
- Arnabeet Mekle – cauliflower with red finger chili, mint, labne, tahini
- Kashkaval cheese with fresh mint and feta
Take a look at the Ilili menu and you will be tempted to eat there this weekend – for dinner or brunch.
- Wide range of vegetarian (and vegan) dishes
- Delicious dishes and drinks; “must-order” the sumac margarita, brussels sprouts, falafels,and riz
- The restaurant has a restaurant week menu for the ongoing restaurant week in NYC (although the vegetarian / vegan options are limited in the restaurant week menu)
- There are two more weeks to enjoy sampling wine from top vineyards in Lebanon
- Great place to eat dinner before a movie at Kips Bay theater (a short walk from the restaurant, unless it’s raining or snowing, in which case, the walk will seem very long)
- Also a great place to get dinner before you party at the rooftop bar / club next door (or rather a block away) at 230 Fifth
- It’s one of the easiest places to get a cab after dinner; if you are not headed to the rooftop bar / club next door, several other people are, and they often arrive in a cab
- Almayass: Good but not amazing Armenian Lebanese food
- Best falafels, best zucchini cakes, and the best lamb kebabs at Taboon