Get Your Mediterranean Fix in the Middle of the Flatiron District

With so many awesome restaurants in New York, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We’re here to help you find the best hidden (and sometimes not hidden) gems in Manhattan, and ilili is definitely one of them… and we’ve got a recipe to prove it.

ilili Main Dining Room West View

ilili is a Lebanese / Eastern Mediterranean resto that is the perfect location for an occasion dinner or brunch. Plus, they take reservations and accommodate big groups, which is always a plus in Manhattan. It’s a great spot for a business dinner (or brunch), a birthday or a nice place to go with family for, say, your parents 40th anniversary. The big open space is warm and trendy without feeling stuffy, and the waitstaff is super friendly (and able to recommend in a non-annoying way). But the best part, of course, is the creative and tasty food. One thing’s for sure, if you visit ilili, you will leave completely satisfied.

HOOD: Flatiron [5th Ave between 27th and 28th]

CUISINE: Lebanese

PRICE: Moderate

DRESS CODE: Smart dressy

DRINKS: ilili has a full bar, complete with wine, beer and liquor. And you know what that means… it has a killer cocktail menu. If you want something extra refreshing, their Fresh Meadow cocktail is the best choice. Made with gin, St. Germain, mint, cucumber and ginger, this one is not too sweet and tastes similar to a mojito. But you really can’t go wrong with any of the in-house drinks here, as they’re a really appetizing complement to the yummy meal you’re about to eat. This is also an ideal place to come with co-workers for a happy hour to celebrate someone’s birthday (or to celebrate Tuesday… either way).

ilili brunch

FOOD: ilili is open for weekend brunch, daytime lunch, happy hour and dinner. We had the opportunity to visit for both brunch and dinner — we’ll give you the standouts. But first, let’s talk about the menu as a whole. The nice part it is that there are a ton of options for everyone. There are traditional street food options like shawarma and kabobs, but then there are really unique dishes like brussels sprouts with grapes and lobster hummus. You definitely don’t want to skip the side dishes and apps, no matter what meal you’re enjoying.

Zaatar EB - Evan Sung

At brunch time, the Za’atar Benedict is *the* dish to get if you want eggs. Aside from the fact that the fluffy muffins are baked in-house, they’re topped with roasted tomatoes, sautéed greens, perfectly cooked eggs and a light hollandaise. Seriously, this Eggs Benedict dish is a game-changer. If you want something a little more lunch-like, the lamb burger is incredible. Again, it’s on a house-baked bun with arugula and topped with crispy basterma (a bacon-like meat made from lamb).

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You may think ordering apps at breakfast or lunch time sounds a bit strange, but you can’t leave without trying these three crazy good sides. One is the melted haloumi. If you’ve never had haloumi cheese, you’re seriously missing out. This dish is baked in a cast iron dish and served top with mint, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Even if you’re not a cheese monger, you’ll love these little bites of heaven. Another is the steak tartare served with onion, mint and radish. When the dish arrives, press it down with your fork and drizzle it with olive oil. Then, put a heaping tablespoon on a warm pita or eat it by the spoonful. Another standout is the manouche, which is a flatbread topped with spices. They serve it warm with two dips: tahini labne (strained Greek yogurt) and a garlic whip. Aside from the fluffy goodness of the flatbread, the dips are worth eating on their own. We pretty much topped everything we ate with them — they’re that good. One of the best bites you’ll have is if you top the manouche with the tartare, labne and garlic whip. So good! Oh, and PS… all of these items are also offered at dinner time. Score!

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Appetizers are the star of the dinner menu at ilili as well. Aside from the aforementioned, we’d recommend the shrimp hummus. It’s topped with juicy shrimp sautéed in white wine, spicy jalapeños and fresh tomatoes. We would eat this stuff by the bowlful if we could. An unusual dish that’s unique to ilili is the Lebanese pancakes with veal bacon. They are like bite sized pancake sandwiches stuffed with what tastes like pulled pork and a semi-spicy mayo (but it’s not). And for the veggie-lover, you’ve got to try the brussels sprouts app. Roasted sprouts are tossed with walnuts, grapes, fig jam and mint yogurt. We never thought it would be such a truly tasty combo. For something on the lighter side, opt for the Lebanese Thyme Salad: mixed greens tossed in lemon, herbs and olive oil.

ilili Manouche

Clearly, we’d go as far as to say that if you’re in for a light, satisfying meal, stick with all apps and share ’em! But if you’re one of those eaters that needs a main course, a great one to share is the mixed grill. This is supposed to feed two, but it’s big enough for three peeps. The do-it-yourself platter comes with chicken, beef and lamb kabobs, vegetables, pita and garlic whip. And if you want something more traditional (and made for you), the beef shawarma is a really yummy option.

Brussels Sprouts

And the cherry on top of this delicious meal is the dessert. You cannot skip the warm date cake: a chocolate “lava” cake filled with warm butterscotch cream and topped with coconut sorbet and cookie crumbles. The strawberry rhubarb cheesecake with hibiscus sauce with strawberry sorbet is an alternative choice for the non-chocolate lover.

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And if you don’t have time for a sit down dinner, be sure to check out ilili box, the take out shack in Madison Square Park that offers a kick ass salad with chicken and delish shawarma wraps – both which are topped with our fave dips (labne and garlic whip).

We know you can’t wait to get your butt over to ilili, but in the meantime, the chefs have shared their famous hummus recipe with us!

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Traditional Hummus

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups dried garbanzo beans
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 5/8 cup tahini
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup of ice water (for pureeing)
  • 8 tbsp of olive oil
  • sprinkle of paprika

Directions:

  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight. The following morning, change the water and add the baking soda. Continue to soak until you reach 24 hours.
  2. Rinse and drain the chickpeas. Place them in a pot and cover with twice the amount of water.
  3. Bring them to a boil and reduce to a low simmer, cooking for 2 hours.
  4. After an additional hour, remove from the heat and rinse with cold water. Strain and put ’em in the fridge (covered) for 2 more hours.
  5. Put everything in the food processor with the chickpeas until smooth.
  6. Sprinkle with paprika, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Note: You can add sautéed pine nuts, sliced jalapeños or sautéed shrimp.

Enjoy!