Local Flavor: Maza Restaurant

You find something new every day. In my case, I found a restaurant that was three blocks away from my apartment that I had never noticed before: Maza.

My (half eaten) Kellaya dish

This Lebanese restaurant, located on Ashland, is the type of place that have been passing on almost a weekly basis for four years and never really noticing. However, when my brother chose to go there for his birthday after seeing it in Chicago magazine, I was intrigued. I had never had Lebanese food before, so I was eager to give it a shot.

The restaurant had little ambiance, with pleasant music and a french-looking interior. There were paintings on the walls that if I had to venture a guess, I would say they were painted by a relative or friend of the owner.

Oh, the owner. We came to the restaurant around six, and were the first people in there. The owner was perfectly pleasant, if not a little stoic, and we were happy with the service, especially since the meal included an appetizer of lentil soup and complimentary dessert for Steve’s birthday. However, he seemed to be the only employee in the restaurant, and I came to realize that he was the server, busboy and cook all wrapped into one. which was very impressive. However, what impressed me more was the food.

After reading on Yelp very mixed reviews about both the service and the food, I was grateful that we had gotten the owner on a good night. Before the meal, we got hummus and pita bread, and while the pita bread was just okay, the hummus was truly delicious. Then came the lentil soup. I don’t ordinarily consider lentil soup a must-have but this soup, served with lemon, was the perfect amount of spice and savory flavor, and I was pretty upset when my bowl was empty. Luckily, a few minutes later our main dishes came.

I had ordered my dish, Kellaya, based on the owner’s description of it as “spicy”, and it was delicious. I ordered it with beef, which was cooked just right, not too dry, with a mix of green peppers, onions, and tomatoes sauteed with it. On the side there was a rice pilaf, onions adorned with some kind of spice, and an unidentifiable pickled item, which I was not a fan of.

The dish was delicious. It was cooked in a red spicy sauce, which had just the right amount of kick to it to give me taste buds a rush. My family members of three different versions of the cous cous dish, which they described as very tasty. The only dish that didn’t live up to its expectations was my  dad’s seafood grill, which had a variety of spices that just didn’t click.

The owner brought out a vanilla rice pudding with honey and pistachios, and sang happy birthday to my brother. With just a few bites each, it was the perfect after-meal palate cleanser.

As my first experience with Lebanese food, I would love to return to this local restaurant and try other dishes, price permitting. The prices are moderate, better for young professionals people with established incomes than college students. However, Maza impressed me and is going into my permanent file of restaurants to return to.

-Lisa

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