Beirut Cafe — tucked inside a Murray convenience store — is an unexpected gem

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Baked pita bread at Beirut Cafe in Murray.

Murray • The Sunburst Food Mart and Car Wash has been a fixture on the corner of 1300 East and 5600 South for years.

So, it was a neighborhood surprise when a Lebanese restaurant opened in a renovated portion of the building — better known for its auto repairs, gas, propane and sundries.

Beirut Cafe — as delighted guests have discovered — is an unexpected gem, serving Middle Eastern favorites with quality ingredients at affordable prices. In fact, this unassuming, fast-casual spot serves some of the best Lebanese food I’ve tasted.

Staples like hummus ($4.99), a smooth chickpea dip, are served as a side with entrees or as an appetizer. The pureed chickpeas are blended with a tangy mix of sesame tahini and lemon juice for a texture that’s second to none. Fresh fired pita bread comes alongside for dipping. Add juicy chicken or beef shawarma ($6.49) to the appetizer portion for a meal.

The Greek salad ($5.99) is far superior to versions served at some Greek eateries. Chunks of fresh cucumber, onions and tomatoes — and plenty of feta and black olives — are mixed with salad greens and just the right amount of dressing. I added a skewer of succulent lamb ($3.99) to make a lunch entrée.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Baba ghanouj with pita at Beirut Cafe in Murray.

Beirut Cafe’s smokey baba ghanouj ($4.99) was my ideal representation of the traditional eggplant dip. Tahini, garlic, olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice blend harmoniously, and the creamy combination lends just the right amount of roasted eggplant and brightness to fresh-from-the-oven pita bread.

Labne ($4.99), fried kibbeh ($1.99 each) and vegetarian stuffed grape leaves ($4.99) round out the appetizing picks of Lebanese shared items.

There are lesser-known dishes on the menu, like foul mudammas ($5.99), made with stewed fava beans and chickpeas and served with puffy pita, a variety of pickles and vegetables for dipping.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The spinach and cheese pie at Beirut Cafe in Murray.

We split several of the Beirut pies, although they would be suitable for a lunchtime entrée. Both the spinach ($2.99) and spinach and cheese ($3.49) pies have a flavorful filling of leafy greens and onions. The former pie folded inside a chewy housemade dough while the cheese version presented as a flatbread. The meat pie ($3.49) is covered with a choice of beef or lamb and tomatoes and onions for a hearty wintertime starter.

Grilled meats and proteins are where Beirut Café really shines. The mixed grill entrée ($13.99) has generous kabab skewers of marinated chicken, perfectly pink lamb and kafta (ground beef) plus two sides. Basmati rice, unexciting frozen mixed vegetables, the aforementioned hummus or an extra pita bread are all options.

I was delighted to see the rotating meat cones of chicken and beef behind the grill. Shawarma is carved from the standing grill onto a plate ($10.99) or into a wrap/sandwich ($6.99). Falafel also is available as an appetizer or sandwich ($6.99) or as an entree ($10.99)

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Habib Soweidan prepares an order at Beirut Cafe, in Murray.

Roasted chicken is another nice addition to the Beirut Café menu. A whole ($13.99) or half ($9.99) bird is marinated and then slow-roasted, sealing in the juices, and enjoyed with pungent garlic dipping sauce, rice and a side of pickles.

Traditional phyllo dough desserts include honey-nut baklava ($2.99) or cheese kunafa ($4.99) — a cheese-filled pastry soaked in rose and orange blossom water.

There also is ice cream from one of Utah’s oldest creameries — Farr Better Ice Cream. It shares space with Beirut Café and caters to high school students next door at Cottonwood High School.

Beirut Café is designed as a fast-casual establishment operating from a number system, yet service is more than affable. As a family-owned establishment, everyone behind the counter was happy to answer questions about the dishes, make adjustments as needed, prepared takeout orders with all the provided sides and sauces and ensured that the timing of our food was to our liking over several visits.

Beirut Café may be in an unexpected location, but it is a treat for those who enjoy Middle Eastern flavors made with care at easy-on-the-wallet prices.

Heather L. King also owns www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches

Beirut Café • ★★★ (out of ★★★★) Tucked next to a high school, this fast-casual restaurant delivers savory Middle Eastern flavors from hummus and shawarma to Beirut pies and baklava.

Food • ★★★

Mood • ★★

Service • ★★★

Location • 1326 E. 5600 South, Salt Lake City; 801-679-1688.

Online • www.beirutcafe.com.

Hours • Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday noon to 9 p.m.

Entrée Price • $-$$

Children’s Menu • No.

Liquor • No.

Reservations • No.

Takeout • Yes.

Wheelchair access • Yes.

Outdoor dining • Yes.

On-site parking • Yes.

Credit cards • All.