Review: A taste of nostalgia for Lebanon

Mazahr Lebanese Kitchen’s way of heightening flavours is to use good quality, fresh ingredients.

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Mazahr Lebanese Kitchen

Where: 1488 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver

When: Tuesday to Thursday, 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 12 noon to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon to 3:30 p.m.;

Info: 604-733-2211,

Mohammad Halawi has followed a long and winding road but here he is, right where he wants to be.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a party pooper for him when he opened Mazahr Lebanese Kitchen last July, but he persevered as the Lebanese chef he’d planned to partner with couldn’t move to Canada, the business wasn’t able to qualify for government assistance as it was so new and then, of course, the ban indoor dining.

But a small patio and great word of mouth has kept his dream going.

Before opening Mazahr, he was a partner at Jamjar, the Lebanese restaurant in the same location. His partners wanted to sell, so he bought. Before that, he worked in advertising in Dubai and as a child, lived in Nigeria.


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“I was always interested in cooking and was always with my mom while she cooked. In Dubai, I cooked for friends. I had this passion. It was meditative for me. When I landed in Vancouver, I had wanted to open a Lebanese restaurant.”

Mazahr means blossom water, an emotional touchpoint for Halawi.

“It takes me to my grandma’s village and makes me nostalgic. I have countless memories of blossom water. It’s from citrus trees, thyme, sage, rose, mint. To me, it’s authenticity and tradition. It would be added to the spray water before ironing my clothes. We added it to our water, our sweets, our tea.”

Rolling with the pandemic’s punches, he hired a kitchen manager and oversaw the food himself.

“This is my home food, my recipes. Lebanese food is simple, has a little technique but it’s more about flavours,” Halawi says.

And key to bright flavours is good ingredients.

“That’s what makes a good dish. We use medium to high quality rather than low to medium, balancing the final cost of a dish,” he says.

Halawi’s chicken is antibiotic and hormone free; the grilled beef is Triple A certified and he uses costlier chicken breasts, not thighs. Lebanese food loves lemons, loads of them, and while many places cut costs with citric acid he spends $160 a week on lemons.

“We cook everything fresh and don’t mix anything ahead of time,” he says.

Considering the topsy turvy year in which Mazahr made its entrance, it’s doing well and it’s no wonder that one of the regulars sent me an email some months ago saying I had to try it. First impressions start well before the food arrives. I felt the welcome and warmth right after we’d scored a patio table. Our server, half Lebanese, had eaten at the restaurant, loved the food and sought out work there, says Halawi. Restaurant manager Shadi Sharran brings polished hospitality skills from his previous work in hotels and he’s soon to be a partner.


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The food is cleanly, casually presented but there’s nothing slapdash. There are cold and hot mezzas, ranging from $9 for hummus to $18 for the beef shawarma and $6 to $13 for soups and salads. The more substantial grilled mezza dishes are $17 to $25 and there are lots of vegan dishes on the menu.

We started with fried cauliflower — almost a whole head of florets — flash fried to “golden” as described on the menu and served with tahini and pomegranate dressing.

The Mutabbal from Mazarh Lebanese Kitchen in Vancouver is a cousin to baba ghanouj.
The Mutabbal from Mazarh Lebanese Kitchen in Vancouver is a cousin to baba ghanouj. Photo by Mia Stainsby /PNG

Mutabbal is a cousin to baba ghanouj — the chargrilled eggplant is blended with walnuts, not bell pepper, and topped with olive oil which, by the way, is also from Lebanon.

“I did tastings from different countries and kept going back to the Lebanese one. There’s a certain taste, an aftertaste that goes into the throat and slightly burns. We (Lebanese) like that and some are more bitter than others,” he says.

Halawi is determined to stay true to his Lebanese palate.

“I need to do my own cuisine and see if people like it.”

Muhammara,  a robustly flavoured dip, is originally a Syrian dish. He’s tweaked it.

“Syrians do it with roasted red peppers. I wanted more freshness and flavour so I use the peppers without roasting and it’s turned out to be a bestseller.”

Beef shawarma isn’t the donair kind of shawarma. It’s tender, juicy and flavourful and made with Triple A halal beef “as good as from a top steak house,” he says.

“I feel I need to say that because people might not understand why it’s $18.”


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It’s cut into strips and flavoured with a marinade containing spices, onions and tahini before sautéing.

Mixed grill with chicken, lamb, beef kebabs from Mazarh Lebanese Kitchen in Vancouver.
Mixed grill with chicken, lamb, beef kebabs from Mazarh Lebanese Kitchen in Vancouver. Photo by Mia Stainsby /jpg

The mixed grill offers a combo of marinated and grilled chicken breast kebabs, ground lamb and beef tenderloin with grilled onions, tomato flatbread and fries, and is a good dish to share. The meats are all tender and flavourful.

Other dishes include hummus, of course, makdous — pickled baby eggplants stuffed with red peppers and walnuts over labneh — kibbeh — deep fried cracked wheat and beef, stuffed with ground lamb, pine nuts and onions — and fattoush salad.

Good Lebanese hummus should taste of chickpeas and tahini, says Halawi.

“Some say it’s got too much tahini but I say it needs to stand out.”

He also points out Lebanon produces good wine and so he special orders bottles of Chateau Musar. It’s the only Middle Eastern wine offered at Napa Valley’s famous French Laundry restaurant. At Manhattan’s Terroir Tribeca, known for its amazing wine list, it gets a special section called All Hail the Almighty Chateau.

Otherwise, Mazahr’s wine list isn’t inspiring but the wines are very inexpensive. As a Middle Eastern restaurant, it’s probably fitting that the tea list is more exciting. But in Lebanon, he says, the main social drink is arak, a distilled spirit in the family of anise drinks.

“I don’t claim to have the best food but I feel the combination of food, ambience and service all blends well. It’s about socializing and connecting through food. When we eat with each other, we bond.”


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So true.

SIDE DISHES: Gratitude wines

People in the hospitality industry has had a rough year and the B.C. Hospitality Foundation has been there for those in financial crisis due to health issues.

Okanagan Crush Pad and JAK’s Beer Wine Spirits launched a June fundraiser with a collaborative release, a limited edition Gratitude Wine Collection with a 2018 Chardonnay, 2019 Rosé, 2019 Red and 2019 Bubbles. A dollar from each bottle will be donated to BCHF.

West Coast illustrator Alex Maertz created the whimsical labels for the bottles.

Gratitude wines are sold at all JAK’s locations through the month of June.

Lost & Found

Well, just how cool is this? Windfall Cider’s Lost & Found cider is made from apples foraged in backyards and urban orchards and from a lost heritage orchard in the Fraser Valley. Owners Nathaly and Jeff Nairn partnered with Vancouver Fruit Tree Harvest, a non-profit which harvests backyard fruit trees.

The cidery uses the surplus Baldwin, Orange Pippin and Gravenstein varieties to make their “seriously dry cider, full bodied with complex acidity and delicate earthy notes.”

It’s a great aperitif and pairs well with strong cheeses, grilled meats and root veg. Since 1999, Vancouver Fruit Tree Harvest has picked over 72,000 pounds of foraged fruit, reducing food waste and improving local food security.

Windfall, meanwhile, supports local apple growers and helps revive heritage crops that were lost to grape-growing and even longer ago, to Prohibition. Windfall ciders can be found in private liquor stores, some breweries, select restaurants and bars. See

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