GIVEAWAY: Enter to Win 2 Tickets to NOLA*Texas Food & Music Festival, This weekend!

In partnership with Cedar Park Center and NOLA*Texas Food & Music Festival, I am delighted to offer area readers both discounted and FREE chances to get a big, happy helping of the Big Easy!

GIVEAWAY: Win 2 tickets to the NOLA Texas Food & Music Festival, in Cedar Park, Texas, this Sunday April 3, AND use code "FARM" to receive a $15 discount on admission for additional tickets! Information on contest entry and promotional discount prior to the comments section, below. 

NO PLACE does a festival quite like South Louisiana and they're sending their finest food and song to Austin this Sunday, April 3, 2016. 

No place combines great food with joyful revelry better than South Louisiana, and the NoLa*TexasFood and Music Festival aims to provide a big taste of the Big Easy with some big names and big plates!

All-you-can-eat CRAWFISH (tickets sold separately) will be provided by THE Crawfish King, Chris “Shaggy” Davis and the musical lineup blends the best of the two worlds with NOLA and ATX local favorites, alike. 

Laissez les bon temps rouler, y'all!

TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE: Tickets for the NOLA*Texas Food & Music Festival are on sale now through Ticketmaster, the Cedar Park Center box office, all Ticketmaster outlets and charge-by-phone at 800-745-3000.

USE PROMO CODE: FARM for $15.00 discount on General Admissions ticket door price, WHEN PURCHASED IN ADVANCE.

Ticket Prices: $30 Advance Tickets; $40 Day of Tickets; $150 VIP
Children 10 years and under are FREE with a paid general admission ticket. * The free general admission child ticket must be obtained from Box Office before entry.
Parking Prices: General $15; Valet $20. Cash only.

Quick Stovetop Jam
Strawberry | Lemon | Rosemary

Home-prepared jams and jellies may conjure thoughts of steamy, day-long canning sessions, but who has time for all of that during the busiest days of Spring? This bright and herbal sweet spread can be prepared in around 30 minutes, for a lighter touch with less sugar, and less sweat, than traditional preserves.

Strawberry | Lemon | Rosemary
Quick Stovetop Jam
yield: 2 pints

Tis the season for plump, sweet jewel-toned berries to show themselves off at the market. I'll be playing around with my favorite fruit and herb combinations this season, beginning with one of my favorites. If this savory green flavor isn't your thing (gasp!), go sweet all the way with the addition of a small strip of vanilla bean. Take it a spicier direction with the addition of sliced jalapeno, or go mysterious and exotic with a splash of rosewater. Let your saucepan be your laboratory!

  • 1 quart ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

In a large mixing bowl, combine strawberries and sugar. Cover, and let macerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Prepare 2 pint jars by washing in hot, soapy water, rinsing well, then placing in a 250° oven on a sheet pan to sterilize while jam cooks.

Transfer sugar and berries to a large saucepan. Add lemon zest, juice, and whole rosemary sprigs, and bring to a low to medium boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mash strawberries slightly as they begin to break down in the boil.

Allow jam to continue its steady medium boil, watching closely, until spread begins to thicken.  

Remove from heat, fish out rosemary sprigs and discard. Ladle into sterilized jars, wipe jar threads clean, and seal with lids. Keep refrigerated and consume within 2 weeks.  If it lasts that long.

About Town: Austin
The Colossal Curry Cook-Off

I'm pulling out all of the spices and working on my Curry game for an upcoming cook-off of which you, too, can be a part! Whether flexing your culinary chops, or joining us as judges and tasters, you're certain to enjoy a spicy great time among Austin food-lovers.

The Colossal Curry Cook-Off, hosted by the Austin Food Blogger Alliance will be held Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 2:00-4:00pm at Shangri-La, in Austin.

What is Curry?

While there is no rigid definition of "a curry," it is frequently used as a generic term for sauce-based dishes that can vary in spice content and heat, and can contain meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, coconut milk, onions, fresh ginger, kaffir lime leaves and other ingredients. 

The origins of Curry begin with the British in India, as a name for the myriad savory dishes they encountered, however the dish, itself, can be traced back hundreds of years, before.

With increased trade across Asia, curry is now prepared in so many cuisines it's difficult to name them all, however they are now popular in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Japan and Ethiopia.

Sponsors of the event include American Lamb Board, Wheatsville Co­op, Whole Foods Market, Ace Mart Restaurant Supply, and TRACE at the W.  

Learn how to compete and/or enjoy one of Austin's most flavorful events of the year in the official press release, below, and be sure to follow along with the action on social media under the #ATXCurryOff hashtag.
Colossal Curry Cook-­Off Brings the Community Together to Raise Funds for Local Non-­Profit
AUSTIN, TX (March 22, 2016):​ The Austin Food Blogger Alliance (AFBA) announces their first ­ever Colossal Curry Cook­-Off fundraiser, occurring Saturday, April 16, 2016, from 2:00pm­-4:00pm at Shangri­-La.
Open to the public, this irresistibly spicy event will give Austinites the chance to vie for the coveted title of Curry Champion of Austin. Everyone from professional chefs to home cooking enthusiasts are encouraged to enter the cook-off and compete for prizes by emailing AFBA by April 1, 2016. All curry styles from across the globe are welcome. Entries will be eligible to win People’s Choice awards as well as Judges’ Choice awards (the latter based on taste and originality).
For those who aren’t ready to flex their own curry cooking muscle, tickets to the Colossal Curry Cook­-Off are on sale now on EventBrite and cost $15 per person, or $20 at the door the day of event (venue restrictions limit attendees to 21+ only). Guests of the cook­-off will enjoy tastes of all the curry recipes and tunes from DJ Dolomike, and will cast their votes for the People’s Choice award.
“Everyone in the Austin Food Blogger Alliance is so excited for this cook­-off,” says Kristin Sheppard, President of AFBA. “We think this will be such a fun event for the community and a unique way to raise some funds for a quintessentially Austin non­profit. We appreciate our local friends’ support however they can provide it, whether it's buying tickets to attend the cook­-off or entering as a contestant and showcasing their curry-­cooking chops!”

Sponsored by the American Lamb Board, Wheatsville Co­op, Whole Foods Market, Ace Mart Restaurant Supply, and TRACE at the W, the Colossal Curry Cook-­Off is sure to be a flavorful afternoon no one will forget. To enter or get more information on this event, please email AFBA

About Austin Food Blogger Alliance:
The Austin Food Blogger Alliance (AFBA) seeks to support a local membership of food bloggers and the community through educational initiatives, social events, philanthropic endeavors, and by upholding a commonly shared code of ethics. Formed in 2011, AFBA has over 100 active members blogging on a range of topics, including:
∙ Cooking or baking
∙ Restaurant reviews
∙ Beverages
∙ Special diets, gluten ­free, vegan, vegetarian
∙ Food photography
∙ Food trailers
∙ Farming and gardening
∙ Sustainability
AFBA is a 501(c)7 nonprofit organization led by an all ­volunteer Board of Directors. Membership is available to Central Texans who have a blog that is at least four months old when they submit their application, and who blog at least twice a month on a food ­related topic. Benefits of membership include:
∙ Invitations to members­ only events, classes, and informational panels
∙ Volunteer opportunities within the Austin food community
. Opportunity to contribute to the AFBA City Guide, which averages about 15,000 views per month
∙ Blog promotion via the AFBA website, Twitter feed, and Facebook page
∙ Access to the members ­only Facebook group
∙ Monthly newsletter with news, event announcements, and job opportunities
∙ The opportunity to connect with more than 100 like­minded Austin food writers
. ...and more!
To learn more about what the food­ loving group is up to, follow AFBA on Facebook (Austin Food Blogger Alliance) Twitter (@atxfoodblogs) or Instagram (@atxfoodblogs).

In the Garden: March
Monthly guide for gardening tasks, forecasts, and more

UPDATE: This In the Garden, monthly guide for March, has been updated with new gardening tasks and scheduled plantings. Thinking about starting a new hobby? Maybe grow a bit of your own food or flower this year? Get growing and going with this post from the archives, Preparing Your (New or Existing) Garden.

This month's In the Garden graphics are in honor of my late mother, Margaret Ann, or Peggy as she was called, who loved quilts, and window boxes, and blooming bulbs. She admired pretty as much as she was pretty. I miss her all year long, but I hear her voice strongest right around her birthday, March 6. If she's watching, she'll be happy to see that I'm planning my flower boxes. This year, I'm planting jonquils in a public garden in her memory. 
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
In like a lion, out like a lamb for much of the country, March will see winter's chilly nights arise to Spring's warmer days, yielding crisp sunny afternoons that just give a peek at the riotous glory to come. It's perfect gardening weather, and that's a great thing, because break's over, friends. It's time to get busy!

Below, find planting information for USDA Zone 8.  Adjust accordingly for the zone in which you garden-- you can find more information about your plant hardiness zone on the map below, and here.

Things To Do In March

Begin monthly feedings of hibiscus after pruning. Start a rose feeding schedule; spray and feed camellias. Begin fertilizing azaleas after they bloom. Fertilize established fruit and nut trees with 1 lb. 15-5-10 per inch of trunk diameter. Berry bushes should receive 1/3 cup per square yard of planting area.

Watch for aphids on new growth, spider mites on older leaves and cut worms on young transplants. Spray peach and plum trees for curculio weevils when 3/4 of the petals have fallen (repeat three times at two week intervals).

Prune hibiscus, also spring flowering shrubs and trees, after they bloom. Prune and train vines. Shape spring-blooming shrubs with light pruning after bloom. Allow bulb foliage to yellow and die before removing.

Set wide the window. Let me drink the day. ― Edith Wharton, Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verses

Things To Plant In March

Flower Plants
achillea (yarrow), ageratum, alyssum, joseph's coat, summer forget-me-not, african daisy, alpine aster, butterfly weed, balloon flower, balsam, blue daze, blue cardinal flower, boltonia, scarlet bouvardia, browallia, calliopsis, candytutft, chocolate plant, chrysanthemum, cigar platn, cleome, cockscomb, coleus, columbine, copper plant, coreopsis, dahlia, dianthus, daisy (michaelmas, shasta and painted). feverfew. gao;;ardoa. geranium, gomphrena, hibiscus, hollyhock, indian blanket, jacobinia, lamb's ear, lantana, liatris, edging lobelia, mexican heather, nasturtium, nierembergia, penstemon, penta, petunia, phlox drummondi, plumbago, oriental poppy, salvia, sedum, spiderwort, stokes' aster, sunflower, torenia, veronica.

Flower Seeds
ageratum, balsam, amethyst flower, candytuft, castor bean, cleome, butterfly pea, cosmos, dahlia, echinacea, feverfew, impatiens, moonflower, cyperss vine, gomphrena, sunflower, nasturtium, flowering tobacco, pinks, portulace, sweet sultan, marigold, tithonia, torenia, verbena.

achimenes, acidanthera, allium, alstromeria, amarcrinum, amaryllis, ground orchid, caladium, calla, canna, crinum, crocosmia, dahlia, daylily, butterfly iris, ginger, gladiolus, gloriosa lily, hosta, spider lily, yellow star grass, liriope, monkey grass, rain lily, society garlic, tigridia, tuberose.

Vegetables: Early—Mid Month: Asparagus crowns, Collards, Turnip. Mid—Late Month: Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Peppers, Pumpkin, Squash, Watermelon. All Month: Beans, Lettuce, Mustard, Radish, Tomato Plants.
Be prepared to protect plants from frosts and freezes. Give transplants a weekly boost the first month with a liquid plant food or "manure tea".

Herbs: anise, star anise, basil, bay, borage, bouncing bet, caraway, catnip, chives, comfrey, costmary, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, scented geranium, germander, horehound, horseradish, lamb's ear, lavender, lemongrass, lemon verbena, mexican mint marigold, monarda, oregano, parsley, perilla, rosemary, sage, santolina, summer savory, winter savory, sesame, sorrel, southernwood, tansy, tarragon, thyme, common wormwood, roman wormwood, yarrow.

Fruit: container grown fruit and nut trees, vines, bushes

Fun Reading:
Add Charm with Window Boxes: Better Homes and Gardens
Creative Window Boxes: Country Living
Window Box Gardening: Organic Gardening

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.  ~Nadine Stair
Planting and gardening information courtesy of the Garden Guide for Austin and Vicinity, published by the Travis County Master Gardener Association.

Farmers Market Favorite |
Eat the Rainbow Seasonal Salad
with three dressings

Saturday at the farmers market saw sunny weather, but blustery wind more like the winter we never saw than the day before Spring. A stew of chorizo was scheduled, but try as I might, no flame would hold under the morning's gusts. Clearly, the weather did not get the memo, so a change of plans was called for. Luckily, with the available bounty of fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables from market farmers, as well as prepared foods from local vendors, I was able to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak-- I made 3 quick and delicious salad dressings that you can duplicate at home with minimal fuss, and dressed just about the prettiest, colorful salad you'll see all year round. Spring has sprung at the market and look how lovely she's decorated our plate!
Eating a rainbow of foods is a big plus on the healthy scale, but do you know why eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is good for you? Consuming different color foods plays a role in insuring you are getting enough essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and more. Eating this way can help to protect against many potential body ailments and chronic diseases such as illnesses like the flu, cancers, digestive issues, declining vision, loss of bone density, and can even help with weight management. Besides, your mood will most likely be lifted when your plate is full of a variety of visually appealing bright colors versus covered in a dull, white, and plain blandness. Brighten up your plate and you will brighten up your health! --One Green Planet
Below, find the ingredients we used for this particular salad, and the dressings created, but don't be limited by these suggestions. Springtime is the BEST season of the growing year for salad ingredients, and I hope you'll find inspiration for your own home-prepared salads beyond the lettuce/tomato/cucumber/ranch combo found on dinner tables all over the countryside. Not that there's too much wrong with that--I love it, too. But it can be so much more! You can have new and different combinations, quickly, every day of the week. I encourage you to consult this post as more of a jumping off point, than and exact and definite recipe. Find the freshest, most wholesome peak-of-season ingredients at YOUR market and see how they nourish both your body spirit.

After the recipes, please find the Texas Farmers' Market vendor sources.

Eat the Rainbow Salad

Mixed Greens, including arugula
Red carrots, sliced
Purple cabbage, shredded
Radishes, sliced
Mint, ½ bunch, leaves chopped
Parsley, flat-leaf, ½ bunch, leaves chopped
Fennel, small bulb, shaved


The ingredients for each dressing prepared were sourced from Texas Farmers’ Market farmers and vendors.  Each dressing can be prepared simply—whisk together ingredients in a mixing bowl, or shake them together in a large covered jar, allow flavors to marry about 30 minutes, then dress any salad of your choice. Dressing will keep several days, refrigerated.

Pesto and Feta Cheese
4 oz prepared pesto
4 oz oil-marinated feta
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 small bulb young garlic, peeled, minced
Salt, as needed

Curried Maple
1 8oz container maple-flavored yogurt
1tsp curry powder, to taste
1tsp honey, to taste
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1T fresh mint, minced (optional)
Dash of sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Strawberry Fennel
½ pint strawberries, sliced
1T strawberry jam
1T fennel  frond, minced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
Freshly-ground black pepper, sea salt, to taste

Texas Farmers' Market farmer and vendor resources:

Johnson's Backyard Garden: vegetables and herbs
Bernhardts Farm: strawberries and pesto
Brazos Valley Cheese: oil-marinated feta cheese
Texas Hill Country Olive Company: vinegar and oil
Tecolote Farm: green garlic
Mother Culture: yogurt
Austin Honey Company: honey
Stellar Gourmet Foods: strawberry moscato jam

Later this week, find the recipe for for another dish prepared over the weekend for the Texas Farmers' Market Mueller: Portuguese Migas prepared with Belle Vie Farm's newest charcuterie-- chorizo, a full-flavored robustly seasoned pork sausage sure to become another customer favorite.

Learn more about our local farmers markets, including day and hours of operation and location by visiting my 2016 #ATXBestEats city guide, On the Grow | Austin's Farmers Markets.

About Town: Austin
Tartinette | Whole Foods Market Test Kitchen

Disclosure: I was a guest of Whole Foods Market at a media preview event where samples of menu items were served, at no expense to me. The press release, below, is provided by Whole Foods Market. Photos and commentary are my own.

Whole Foods Market recently launched a Food Truck Test Kitchen at their flagship store, and I was honored to attend an introduction and menu media preview of its first project, Tartinette.

Man, am I lucky to be its neighbor!

Shown from top left, Carrot Tartare, Roasted Mushrooms, Slow Roasted Beets, Crushed Peas, Grilled Cauliflower, Figs a la Plancha, the off-menu Kale topped tartine, and spiralized vegetables with fresh herbs. Not shown, sweet potato bacon-hash hush puppies are also offered as another affordable side. 

Whole Foods Market's flagship store is located in downtown Austin, at 6th and Lamar, and plays an active role in the local food community. Among it's long list of contributions, Whole Foods often serves as an incubator for developing culinary concepts, like the new WFM Test Kitchen, under the tutelage of new Global Vice President of Culinary and Hospitality, Tien Ho, who is "kicking off his tenure at Whole Foods Market with a food truck concept that will launch during Austin’s annual SXSW Festival. Tien and his team will use the food truck as a delicious way to test new food concepts for our Whole Foods Market prepared foods and bakery departments. The menu and concept will change every two months, testing new dishes and flavors that could become favorites nationwide. First on the docket are open-faced sandwiches, or tartines".

A tartine, traditionally, is a French open-faced sandwich with various toppings. The uber-popular avocado toast is an example. Tartinette elevates the concept with the Roasted Mushroom tartine served with a silky pistachio puree, a melt of taleggio cheese, with a lively sauce vierge and razor-thin radish shavings enhancing rich, earthy flavors. The sweet and spicy Carrot Tartare boasts tender green notes from fennel and a slow-heat finish of harissa. A personal favorite, the Slow Roasted Beets tartine is a sophisticate, perfectly pairing the deep red cubes with blue cheese, pears, pecans, and mildly spicy arugula greens. 

The menu is unabashedly vegetable-forward, but adding proteins is an option. Salmon brochette was served with an off-menu kale-topped tartine, punched with peppery flavors, and roasted chicken pumped up the Crushed Peas tartine, seasoned classically with pecorino, lemon, and mint. The vegetable darling of the year, Grilled Cauliflower, became a belle of the ball with the addition of a perfectly fried egg, and imaginative pickled lemon and romesco sauce dazzled as complements. 

Sweet-cravers will not be disappointed-- Figs a la Plancha, served with honey, goat cheese, watercress, and hazelnuts and a cup of tea-- sounds like the perfect antidote for a midday slump. Wait. That's a great idea. 

Be back soon, y'all. 

Note: As noted in the press release, below, Tartinette will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Whole Foods Market will update the concept, menu and name of the truck every two months to explore food trends, seasonal flavors and vendor partnerships, so get there quick to get a taste of their inaugural offerings. 

There's a pretty good chance you'll run into me. 


Press Release


Truck opens March 10 with Momofuku alum chef Tien Ho serving new food concepts, testing ideas for stores
AUSTIN, Texas (Feb. 22, 2016) – Whole Foods Market is launching a food truck test kitchen at the retailer’s flagship store in Austin, Texas, to experiment with new ideas for store eateries, and to explore collaborations with chefs and supplier partners. The concept was created by Tien Ho, the company’s global vice president of culinary and hospitality, along with Whole Foods Market’s prepared foods team.
The truck will open on Thursday, March 10, under the name Tartinette, and will offer a selection of open-faced sandwiches and creative salads prepared by Ho, and served from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Whole Foods Market will update the concept, menu and name of the truck every two months to explore food trends, seasonal flavors and vendor partnerships.
“This test kitchen is so exciting because we get to include Whole Foods Market customers in the process, using their input to create dishes that could become new favorites across the country,” Ho said. “Guests visiting the truck can expect the same high-quality, fresh ingredients found in our stores, and a menu that’s completely revamped each season. Changing it up will give us the chance to collaborate with local chefs and suppliers to create eating experiences you won’t find in any other grocery store.”
Two percent of sales from the test kitchen’s first eatery concept will benefit Whole Foods Market’s longstanding nonprofit partner, Austin Food & Wine Alliance. Funds will support the organization’s efforts to foster culinary innovation in Central Texas through grants, educational programming and events. With each new test kitchen concept, Whole Foods Market will partner with a new nonprofit beneficiary.
Ho recently joined Whole Foods Market after stints at many prestigious and trend-setting restaurants, including Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Má Pêche, Little Wisco,Café Boulud and, most recently, Morgans Hotel group. He plans to bring this innovative style to the food truck test kitchen, and is considering partnerships with other national and local chefs who can bring even more new ideas to Whole Foods Market shoppers.  
Tartinette’s full menu is available here, 

Saffron & Sesame | Middle Eastern Food Trucks in Austin.

If you find yourself in Austin with a jones for Middle Eastern Food, (okay, one is Moroccan, but that's close and it's delicious) Austin's got you covered. Whether for South by Southwest, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Circuit of the America's F1 races, or simply the sweet dumb luck of living here, try these 10 great options for mobile food when you're on the move.

*Word to the wise: Sometimes these mobile venues are on their own move. Especially during special city-wide events, but probably a best practice for food trailers in general, give these spots a shout via social media or the number provided to confirm days, hours, and location of operation.

Looking for,say, more permanent fixtures? Check out my guide to all of Austin's best brick and mortar Middle Eastern food right here.

Have I missed a favorite? Do tell! Please clue me in via the comments section, below. I love a good tip!

Abo Youssef Mediterranean Food
2101 Manor Rd, Austin, TX 78722

photo source: maggie c perkins

Austin's Habibi
817 W 5th St, Austin, TX 78703

photo source: maggie c perkins

Beirut Austin Food Trailer
409 Jessie St, Austin, TX 78704
Beirut Austin Facebook

photo source: Beirut, facebook

Flying Carpet Moroccan Souk Food
504 W Oltorf St, Austin, TX 78704

photo source: Flying Carpet, facebook

Halal Bros
419 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78701

photo source: maggie c perkins
Halal Time
1501 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
Halal Time Yelp

photo source: Halal Time, Yelp
Kebabalicious (2 mobile locations)
3rd & Congress, Austin, TX 78707 & 1720 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704
+1 512-394-6562
photo source: Kebablicious, facebook

Shawarma Point
519 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78753
Shawarma Point Facebook

photo source: maggie c perkins

Syriano Shawarma
2730 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702

photo source: maggie c perkins

Wholly Kabob
1104 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702
Wholly Kabob Facebook

photo source: Wholly Kabob, facebook

Saffron & Sesame | Middle Eastern Food in Austin
2016 #ATXBESTEATS City Guide

UPDATE: This City Guide has been updated with new locations, hours, addresses and more. Find the 2017 #ATXBESTEATS guide to Middle Eastern Food in Austin, here.  

Amused, I was, to find a recent Twitter complaint by a local that Austin had no Middle Eastern food. I believe I read it as I stuffed yet another pillowy pita stuffed with vibrant flavors of a luxe sauce draping crusty falafel and lemony-fresh vegetables into my face. A meal similar to what I had eaten frequently all month long, and the year leading up to it, upon devoting myself to covering Middle Eastern fare for the 2016 #ATXBESTEATS City Guide.

I may have bitten off a bit more than I could chew.

I thought I'd throw out the best places I frequented-- couldn't be more than 5 or 6, right? Wrong. Mediterranean food is being prepared in Austin and its suburbs in mom and pop cafes, food stands, established eateries, fancy restaurants, hipster food trucks, alongside hookah parties, tucked into strip malls, parked beside gas stations-- ALL OVER the place. And there are new spots popping up all of the time. Even as I thought I'd dined with every place on the map, two others arrived on my radar screen as I was completing this guide. It may take departing the beaten path a bit, but I'm here to assure you. There's a robust, and expanding Middle Eastern food scene and I encourage you to venture out.

Inching timidly into the fray of folks opining, sometimes heatedly, about the 'most authentic' establishments can be an unnerving experience. I'm no expert (but 5 minutes on Yelp will suggest there are so many already). I just like what I like and enjoy exchanging food experiences with my peers. As average American diners go, I'm a pretty adventurous sort and I've been enjoying Middle Eastern food for 20 years or more. I eat at local Mediterranean restaurants weekly, on average. Save for those few new establishments, I've tried every Middle Eastern restaurant in town. But I'm still a neophyte. (For an expert opinion, check out my friend's guide from several years back. She knows her stuff.)

Middle Eastern food-- its customs, flavors, ingredients, varies from region to region. It is rich and diverse with tradition, culture, religion, and geography playing important roles at the dinner table. The hummus/houmous/humus/hommos you eat in Iran may not be the hummus/houmous/humus/hommos you enjoy in Turkey, yet every spelling is correct for the ubiquitous chickpea/tahini/olive oil spread. The Persian restaurant you visit may have your familiar falafel to keep the customers satisfied, but their specialties will be various types of khoresh, or stew. The more I learn, the more I discover how much I don't know.

This is a work in progress. In fact it may be a new obsession. I mean that's what you'd call it if it kept you up past 3 in the morning studying world maps and searching for the differences in regional cuisines in lands you heretofore did not know exist? Or perhaps followed the migration of pomegranate across the Mediterranean, (and down the rabbit hole). So let's call it. I'm traveling the world from my dinner plate. Flights depart at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I've always been drawn to the common flavors of all of the Middle Eastern regional cuisines-- the bright lemon and sumac, the fresh mint, parsley and coriander, the occasional slow sting of peppers, the aromatic cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and cumin, the creamy sesames and full flavored tangy yogurt, the nutty basmati pilafs and mellow saffron. I enjoy the crisp bulgar wheat, the buttery pine nuts, the savory stewed meats, the slightly gamey lamb, the spit-roasted beef and chicken, the exotic orange blossom, rose, pistachio and pomegranate. If you're reading this now, chances are you've taken a shine to them, too.

Or you're at least curious. And that's great. Below, find my favorite brick and mortar spots, and at this link, a quick list of Middle Eastern food trucks peppered around town to begin, or continue your exploration, you culinary adventurer, you.

Alborz Persian Cuisine
Address: 3300 W Anderson Ln, Austin, TX 78757
Phone:(512) 420-2222
Hours: Sun-Th, 11:30-9:30pm, Fri-Sat until 10pm
Enjoy a leisurely lunch, because this bountiful, economical buffet is available until 4pm, with dinner served from the menu, afterwards.

Currently craving: sour cherry rice, or Albalu Polow, Persian-favorite Gormeh Sabzi, an herb and beef stew with kidney beans and dried lemon, creamy, fragrant rice pudding, Sholeh Zard.

Caspian Grill
Address: 12518 Research Blvd Ste. J, Austin, TX 78759
Phone:(512) 382-1454
Hours: Open 11:30-2:30 and 5-9 M-Th, all day F-Sat. Closed Sunday.
A new kid on the block tucked into a corner strip mall, this jewel is worth the trek. Vegan friendly, and devoted to serving nutritious meals, honoring principles of food as medicine. They were the brightest surprise in my research, delicious, and darned nice folks, to boot.

Currently craving: Must-o-Mousir a tangy yogurt and young shallot dip served with flatbread, the vaguely sweet Fesenjan, chicken, stewed in a pomegranate walnut sauce, and mellow saffron'd rice embellished with pomegranate.

Dimassi's Mediterranean Buffet
Address: 12636 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78759
Phone:(512) 996-8900
Hours: 11-9, Sun-Th, 11-10, F-Sat
An affordable option for trying a variety of Lebanese and Mediterranean specialties, this Texas chain offers an all day buffet.

Currently craving: Perfectly crusty falafel, lemony-fresh tabbouleh, smoky baba ghanouj, fall-off the bone lamb shank. And seconds on every salad. Brick oven pita right in your face.

Address: 1311 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702
Phone:(512) 394-6562
Hours: M-Th 11-10p, F-Sat 11-1am, Sun 11-9p
See website for mobile locations downtown. The life of the party, these guys offer a munchy-friendly menu for some of the best late night eats on the East side. If you're in town for a festival, keep Kebabalicious on your radar.

Currently craving: The Mezza platter if I'm sharing, Saffron Rice Bowl with lamb, and Boss Fries. That Ka-Baam sauce, aptly named, is the bomb.

Phoenicia Bakery & Deli 
Address: 2912 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
Phone:(512) 447-4444
Hours: M-F 9:30-7p, Sat 9:30-6p
If they're not baking it in house, chances are your pita bread served at restaurants around town came from this bakery. International groceries, prepared foods, a bounty of the best briny olives in town, and a deli with no sandwich over $5. Take-out, only, and a second location north, on Burnet Road.

Currently craving: a Chicken Shawerma wrap with garlic sauce subbed, outstanding Kibbeh when they have it, that lemon mint Tuna White Bean salad from the case, a tiny sugar-dusted square of Turkish Delight, and pickled turnips from the shelves.

Address: 84 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, Austin, TX 78701
Phone:(512) 712-5904
Hours: M-Th 11-10p, F-Sat 11-11p, Sun 11-9p
The over-the-top exterior is hard to miss just off I-35, bordering the jumping Rainey Street scene, but inside find a warm welcome, and food prepared with care. Appropriately open late, so stumble on in and find your Lebanese and Mediterranean favorites.

Currently craving: Phoenician Eggplant, topped with a cloud of tangy yogurt, creamy Baba Ghannouj, and a perfectly herbal Tabouli, heavy on the parsley and just the way I like it.

Pars Deli
Address: 8820 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78757
Phone:(512) 452-4888
Hours: M-Sat 11-10p, Sun 12-8p
This unassuming location in north central Austin is an insiders favorite for Persian specialties, and a few Mediterranean standards thrown in for good measure, Hospitable owner/husband and wife team that offer dishes cooked with care and pride.

Currently craving: a tall glass of rose tea to wash down barberry, almond, and walnut-studded rice of Zereshk Polow, and it's herbal-nuanced stewed chicken in broth, served separately.

Peace Bakery & Deli
Address: 11220 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753
Phone:(512) 386-1152
Hours: M-F 10-9p, S&S 10-10p
Spacious and bright cafeteria style eatery popular for gracious hospitality and a wide variety of dishes offered from every Middle Eastern region, shares equal space with an impressive bakery chock-full of Middle Eastern sweets.

Currently craving: a little bit of everything, like the Vegetarian Platter, offering as many as 15 samples of salads, sides, and dips.

Tarbouch Lebanese Grill & Hookah
Address: 534 E Oltorf St, Austin, TX 78704
Phone:(512) 326-2001
Hours: M-Sat 11-10pm, Sun 11-9pm

Family-owned South Austin favorite serving Lebanese food prepared with pride by the owner and head chef. Hookah on the patio.

Currently craving: The vegetarian plate's homemade sesame-dotted Falafel, tangy Laban-Wi-Khiyar, Tabboulleh, and the very reason they've been included-- the best Baba Ghannouj in South Austin, An off-menu side of Chicken Shawarma if I'm ravished.

Several Middle Eastern and a few fusion restaurants of note not named above, have loyal followings and satisfied customers, that for the most part include me. They deserve a very honorable mention, and a lengthier discussion in the months to come, and include in no particular order Shandeez Grill, Dream Bakery, Marakesh Grill & Cafe, Sarah's Mediterranean and Market, Arpeggio Grill, Athenian Grill, Phara's, Halal Brothers, Kismet Cafe, The Halal CornerMaoz Vegetarian, VertsKebap, Troy, Davod's Mediterranean MarketTaboolery, Zarab's Kabobsand Shahi Cafe

You may also be interested in branching out from exclusively Middle Eastern cuisine into local Greek and Mediterranean establishments which include Zorba GreekTino's Greek, Opa! Coffee and Wine Bar, Plaka Greek Cafe (Georgetown), Pita Fusion, The Mediterranean Chef CafeZoe's Kitchen (national chain), Milto's Mediterranean Cafe, and Cafe Malta.

As I mentioned above, new places popped up on my radar as I researched this guide. A few spots I'm curious about are International Food Austin, Hot Mama's CafeAlmarah Grill,  and I'm keeping my an eye out for the opening Mezze Meexpected to be located in the Triangle. (If I've missed a treasured corner cafe or diamond in the rough, please chime in!)

Looking to go mobile? Take a look at the many Middle Eastern food trucks concentrated primarily in the center of Austin. Great options for grabbing a meal on the run while touring the city can be found at Saffron & Sesame | Middle Eastern Food Trucks in Austin. 

If you've found this guide to be helpful and informative in navigating the food scene around Austin, perhaps you'll be interested in the other #ATXBESTEATS City Guides for 2016 I've curated:

Be sure to check out the entirety of the #ATXBESTEATS 2016 AFBA City Guide to the Best Places to Eat in Austin where savvy local bloggers give you the skinny on almost every restaurant, cuisine, and favorite food experiences in Austin. And WELCOME TO AUSTIN!

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