After several visits, I'd describe the food at Laziz as traditional, but plentiful and fresh. There were few things on the menu I hadn't encountered elsewhere, and a couple of the dishes were unexpectedly underseasoned. But if you're in need of a hearty breakfast or lunch, or a fun date night, Laziz is an interesting new option, especially if you're not familiar with the city's so-called Central Ninth neighborhood.
The daytime menu includes a dozen small plates, along with salads, wraps, egg dishes and platters. Dinner features five or six entrées in addition to the small plates. Laziz encourages, and I recommend, ordering dishes to share: They're big enough and you get to taste more stuff.
One of my favorite plates was fried cauliflower ($6), which could easily be shared by a table of four. The florets, coated ever so lightly, turn brown and sweet when fried, but need the zing of the provided tahini sauce to realize their full potential. Dip freely and often. Grilled halloumi cheese ($8) is another winner, one that differs slightly from the Greek preparation, which is usually fried and served with lemon juice. At Laziz, it's served with a generous spoonful of pomegranate molasses, whose tangy sweetness is balanced by julienned pickles (which owner/chef Moudi Sbeity plans to make in-house in the near future), plus pita bread that is baked daily in the restaurant.
Stuffed grape leaves (three for $6) were tender and tart, bursting with seasoned rice, tomatoes and the surprising crunch of walnuts. We also loved the kibbeh balls ($7 for two), which are generously sized, fried ovals of ground beef mixed with bulgur and walnuts. They come with the same tangy tahini sauce as the cauliflower as well as a few chopped tomatoes and pickles.
One good way to get a good taste of the range of flavors typical of Middle Eastern cooking is the dip sampler ($12), which comes with a good supply of pita. (You can substitute lettuce and cucumbers for pita on any of the small plates at no charge.) There are five to choose from, and we opted for muhamara, labne and pepper tajen. (Other choices include baba ganoush, made from eggplant and garlic, and Laziz's excellent hummus.) The labne is a soft cheese made from yogurt, which at Laziz is mildly flavored with garlic and mint and topped with a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. My favorite was the tajen because it was bursting with the sweet flavor of red pepper, amplified by tahini and lemon and a crown of fried onions and pine nuts. The muhamara, made from roasted red pepper, is sweetened with that pomegranate molasses and fortified with walnuts. I recommend wrapping it in lettuce for a refreshing, healthy crunch, but pita works nicely, too.
Kafta, which broadly describes any of several variations on ground meat, appears in two iterations on the Laziz menu. At dinner ($15) it's in patty form in kofta bil seneyi, a stewlike dish with potatoes, green peppers and onions over vermicelli. The sauce is memorable, with its echoes of cinnamon and ground lime, or possibly sumac. But I think the kafta platter ($13), where the beef comes in a skewer shape, is even better. There's no sauce, which lets the flavor of the meat and its seasonings shine. It comes with a huge serving of rice or quinoa, pita bread, a salad of lettuce, cabbage, radishes and cucumbers, those tangy pickles, a dish of hummus and a good squiggle of garlic sauce. It's a lot of food for the money.
Less memorable was the shakshouka ($11), a breakfast dish of scrambled eggs that was curiously bland despite the stated additions of tomato, onions, cheese and a spice blend known as zaatar. It required a good dose of salt and hot sauce. A generous helping of potatoes fried with onions and crunchy salad with pickles rounded out the plate. A hummus wrap ($8) was also lacking in flavor, perhaps because most of the sauce migrated downward as it was being eaten. It definitely needs more pickles but, then, I do love those pickles.
And few dishes are overpriced: A dinner entrée of chicken and rice was $20 and included a breast (which was slightly overcooked) and a whole lot of rice, albeit nicely seasoned. I didn't try the cod, which is also served over rice, but it seems a tad steep, too, at $20.
In addition to the regular menu, Laziz serves a daily special soup or stew. A tomato soup ($6 for a large cup) offered one day was excellent, perfectly seasoned and bursting with flavor. It was just one of many vegetarian options, including salads and such dishes as maghmoor($13), with chickpeas, fried eggplant and garlic pesto.
If you're inspired by the Laziz flavors to try a little cooking at home, there's a small market on one wall stocked with olive oils, spice blends, syrups, juices and hummus. It's just one of the many visually interesting elements in this light-filled, pretty space, which features a high ceiling with exposed ductwork, walls with wood or tile accents and colorful cushions on the banquette. And it has an event space for private parties.
The copper-colored chairs are comfortable enough for adults, but they don't work very well with the booster seats available for kids. If you want parents with squirmy infants to feel welcome at your restaurant, you'll need some high chairs.
Laziz Kitchen and its neighbors, which also include the tapas restaurant Meditrina and a second location of the Jade Market, is already drawing crowds to an overlooked area of the city that is becoming ever more vibrant. That's a good thing. Oh, and where else can you get a mimosa made with rose water?