When I came to America in 2014, I knew that this country was going to be my new home. However, I did not know that I was going to miss home as much as I did. As a Lebanese girl who lived most of her life in the Middle East, particularly between Beirut and Doha, the first things I wanted to find were a store that sold Middle Eastern products and a restaurant that served Middle Eastern food; A place that would take me back home, even if only in a figurative sense. I looked online for a guide that would list some of those places but I could not find any.
Therefore, my husband (who is an American citizen of Taiwanese and African-American descent) and I, who are residents in the Northern Virginia area, decided to start our quest to find these places. We were lucky enough to stumble upon some establishments that have become our “go-to” spots when we feel like taking a trip back to Middle East.
If you are of Middle-Eastern descent, and you reside in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area, you’ll find this guide very useful and you will realize that living in America doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning your culture. Embracing the American lifestyle doesn’t lead to forgetting your roots, and having an American spouse doesn’t mean rejecting the people of your own country. It is simply an amalgam of two cultures or more resulting in a beautiful combination and a diverse lifestyle.
Long story short, here is a list of my favorite Lebanese/Middle-Eastern places in Virginia:
— Mediterranean Gourmet: (6122 Franconia Rd, Alexandria, VA 22310) my husband found this store by chance one day while going to his bank. Since then, we have become regulars. This store has everything you need including Labne, Cortas Hummus cans, Almaza beer, Tarboosh chocolate, etc… They also sell our favorite Man’oushe, Shawarma, and Knefeh. I can find any ingredient I need to cook my favorite Lebanese dishes, and the owners (who are immigrants from Zahle, Lebanon) couldn’t be more friendly. What I like the most about this place is that every time I walk in and hear the Lebanese channel playing over the television, along with seeing people who look like me and hearing loud Arabic conversations, I automatically travel back home and imagine myself in one of the stores in Lebanon near my parent’s house. This 15-minute trip to Mediterranean Gourmet refuels my soul and is my boarding pass back to “home.”
— Zikrayet Lebanese Restaurant: (2006 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA 22314) I found this place when I browsing Groupon to find deals on restaurants near me, and my husband and I fell in love with Zikrayet from the first visit. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed their delicious and authentic Lebanese food. We also smoked shisha and it was so good. We met the owner, Charbel, who is such a kind and hospitable man; The staff is just as friendly (especially Mohammad, the shisha guy). Zikrayet provides a perfect atmosphere to hang with friends and enjoy great food any day of the week. Old-school Lebanese and Arabic music plays in the background as you smoke your shisha. Wednesday night is Oud night, while Friday and Saturday are the party nights. This is when you can experience a Lebanese style party with a one-man show and a band, delicious food, shisha, and dancing all night long. Make sure you visit Zikrayet and introduce your non-Arab friends to this amazing place.
— Darna Restaurant and Lounge: (946 N Jackson St, Arlington, VA 22201) The first time I went to Darna was when my family from Lebanon came to visit in 2014. Darna can best be described as an upscale hookah lounge located near Clarendon, a bustling area of bars and clubs within Arlington, VA. The ambiance is chic, with Arabic music serving as the background to your drinks and dinner. During the week, there are live Arabic bands which play music to all regions of the Middle East. On the Thursday through Saturday nights, DJs and a light show turn Darna into a live nightclub where everyone young and old parties to a wide variety of music (Hip Hop, R&B, EDM, and Middle Eastern). The hookah selection is exciting as well; You can get fruit heads and lots of exotic flavors.
— Tobacco Plus: (6127 Backlick Rd, Springfield, VA 22150) For all shisha lovers who are looking for a place that sells Al-Fakher tobacco, shisha hoses, Coco Nara charcoal, and more this store has all of these items at reasonable prices. The staff is friendly and helpful… Especially Marwan, who is an immigrant from Morocco.
— Lebanese Taverna: (Pentagon Row, 1101 S Joyce St, Arlington, VA 22202) This restaurant has become a chain in the United States. You can find it in Virginia (Tysons, Arlington) and Maryland (Baltimore, Bethesda). This restaurant serves a menu of traditional Lebanese dishes & wine in a contemporary setting. It does not have shisha, but it offers you a modern ambiance and a new twist on Lebanese and Middle Eastern food. My favorite location is at Pentagon Row. I love sitting at the tables by the window where I can people-watch and take in the sights.
— Mediterranean Bakery: (352 S Pickett St, Alexandria, VA 22304) This store is another great find. It has a wide variety of products that we all liked back home including (but not limited to) our favorite Digestive and HobsNobs cookies. The store also sells fresh breads & sweet pastries, groceries & Middle Eastern take-out foods. The atmosphere is amazing, especially when you see Middle Eastern families with their kids picking up an order of pies or Baklava. You can also find an aisle full of spices that will remind you of the Middle Eastern souks such as Souk Waqif in Doha or Maraash Street in Beirut.
—Babylon Futbol Café: (Leesburg Pike Plaza, 3501 S Jefferson St, Falls Church, VA 22041) This sports-bar/nightclub is for soccer (or what we know as “football”) lovers. This restaurant is a very low-key spot, where you can enjoy great food, good shisha, and fun atmosphere especially if you are accompanied by a group of friends. My husband and I have been to Babylon many times, and our favorite dish by far is Chicken Marsala. During the day, Babylon shows all the soccer games on big screens throughout the restaurant. At night, it turns into a nightclub, where the DJ plays a mix of International music including Arabic songs by Nancy Ajram and Amr Diab.
— Giani Hair Salon (5926 Kingstowne Center, Alexandria, VA 22315): For all my Lebanese and Middle Eastern ladies and gentlemen who would like a haircut, a blow-dry, or a hair dye I recommend this salon. The owner, Fares, is from Lebanon. The other master hairdresser, Mike, is from Greece. The staff is mostly Middle Eastern and one of my favorite hair stylists is Ghouzlan from Morocco. The service is excellent, as they are used to dealing with our types of hair and the prices are very reasonable. Every time I visit Giani Salon to get my hair done, I receive the best treatment and I always leave satisfied. If you try Giani salon you won’t be disappointed.
In a nutshell, living abroad doesn’t mean being away from home. There is always a way to adjust to the lifestyle of the country you moved to while staying connected to your homeland. Lebanon will always be my homeland but when I decided to give my heart to the man I love, I vowed to be with him and consider his home as mine. We were meant to be together, therefore our household is beautiful Lebanese-American blend.
If you have a favorite place that you have discovered, feel free to leave a comment below and us know.