In a city bursting with galleries, parties, neighbourhood walks and last-minute invitations, sometimes pausing for a meal in Beirut means stopping just long enough to grab and go. You’ll be in good company: Beirutis of all walks of life love an al fresco breakfast, lunch or 3am after-party snack, preferably somewhere well placed to eye up passersby.
Beirut’s sidewalks can be rough going – you’ll have to dodge torn-up pavements, uncollected rubbish and illegally parked motorbikes – but combined with ruined Ottoman-era buildings, the scent of jasmine and a sea breeze, the challenges only whet the appetite. Here are six snack spots well worth a stop.
Take a break from strolling, sightseeing or clubbing long enough to enjoy a street-side snack in Beirut © ramzihachicho / Getty
Scarf a shawarma at Barbar
A true Beirut institution, Barbar is open (and busy) 24 hours a day. Go after midnight though and the crowd gets interesting. Stilettoed clubbers and taxi drivers alike ram the place for a sidewalk snack slung by jovial moustachioed men in red aprons and hairnets. Barbar occupies a full city block, offering a smorgasbord of snacking delights, but people come here for the shawarma. Sliced to order from huge rotating spits dripping with melting fat, each morsel of chicken or beef is both crispy and tender and comes with specialised toppings (chicken with lettuce, pickles, tomato and creamy garlic sauce; beef with parsley, onions, sumac and rich tahini).
Barbar has two locations, one on Omar Ben Abdel Aziz St in Hamra and the other on Spears St.
A few scoops of ice cream from Hanna Mitri are worth the 'splurge' © Stephanie d'Arc Taylor / Lonely Planet
Hanna Mitri’s bougie booza
Coming in as the most expensive snack on our list (at a paltry LL5000, or about US$3), an ice cream at Hanna Mitri in Achrafiyeh is an affordable luxury. Hanna Mitri, now joined by his son Mitri Hanna, has been making ice cream in this unassuming, sparkling-clean tiled shop for more than 60 years. Hanna and his family scoop seasonal Arabic-style ice creams and sorbets (called ‘booza’ in the Lebanese dialect) out of coolers into flat cones and brusquely dole them out to slavishly loyal clientele. Standout flavours include crunchy caramelised almond ice cream (croquant) and sweet-tart apricot sorbet studded with pine nuts (amareddine). On a hot summer day, a cone of amareddine is easily more refreshing than air conditioning.
‘Pizza’ for breakfast at Fern Ghattas
The reductive description is that manoushe is the Levant’s answer to pizza. The reality is that manoushe is as cheesy and satisfying as pizza, and it’s totally normal to eat a whole one for breakfast. Manoushe is ubiquitous in Beirut, but Fern Ghattas in Gemmayzeh is the place to go. Regular manoushe can be a doughy affair; order it mashrouha style so it’s stretched thin, which means it gets crispy in the oven and has more surface area for toppings. Try the ‘cocktail’: half bubbling white cheese and half zaatar (olive oil, dried thyme and other herbs, salt and toasted sesame). Go early: Fern Ghattas closes up shop for the day around 3pm.
Don't leave Beirut without trying falafel at the original Sahyoun © Stephanie d'Arc Taylor / Lonely Planet
Sahyoun: king of ‘Falafel Alley’
On Damascus St, along the Green Line that divided the city during the civil war, is the undisputed best falafel in the city. Sahyoun opened 40 years ago, and the miniscule white-tiled restaurant continued serving during the war. There are now two Sahyouns (the result of a family dispute), and other rival falafel restaurants have set up shop next door, creating a 'falafel alley' of sorts. The first Sahyoun (you’ll know it by the ‘original shop no. 1’ decal on the window) remains the best: balls of ground chickpeas and fava beans are fried in oil and then smashed into pita with tomato, mint, parsley, sliced radishes and creamy tahini sauce. Chilli fans can ratchet things up a notch with red chilli paste and pickled green chillies on the side.
Basic baajin at Ichkhanian
Like the other spots on this list, you don’t go to Ichkhanian for the ambiance. There is no sign out front, no tables and chairs, and you have to interrupt the grumpy middle-aged lady by the register watching movies on her iPhone to order and pay. But the sweaty men standing around this oven in Zoqaq al-Blat turn out Beirut’s finest lahme baajin, a speciality brought to Beirut by Armenian refugees 100 years ago. Finely minced beef is flavoured with coriander, hot pepper and other spices, and then baked in a stone oven on dough that becomes light and crispy. Meat eaters should order one, or three, of the pomegranate variety, topped with sweet and delightfully musty pomegranate molasses (for vegetarians there’s a mushroom-based topping). Wash it down with an ayran, a salty yoghurt drink.
Join the 'Frenchie Lebanese' for croissants and macarons at Cannelle © Stephanie d'Arc Taylor / Lonely Planet
French snack fusion at Cannelle
The French influence in Beirut is most strongly felt in Achrafiyeh, where the coiffed-and-coutured sip espresso at sidewalk cafes, cooing in French to their petits chiens. ‘Frenchie Lebanese’ consider zaatar croissants to be suitable only for foreigners – which is great because that means more for you. The zaatar croissant at Cannelle, on Charles Malek St., is a shining pinnacle of fusion food: it’s a classical French butter croissant filled with salty, sandy-textured zaatar, the most Lebanese of flavours. Cannelle’s almond croissant is also the best in the city. Grab one and eat it in the postage stamp-sized park next door, under a Roman statue, as the Beirut traffic whizzes by.
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