A walk around Jamaica Plain’s Centre Street reveals the neighborhood’s odd combination of bland modernization and homey community. The area is a contradiction of quirky clothing stores and fun mom-and-pop restaurants sandwiched in between drug stores with overpriced concealer and what’s got to be the fifth bank in a half-mile radius. Among the more delightful and unique parts of Centre Street is Cafe Beirut, a small, locally-owned Lebanese restaurant.
Founded in 2012 when owner Sami Saba wanted to rebrand and expand his restaurant Sami’s Falafel, Cafe Beirut is a Lebanese restaurant that proudly embraces the culture with the authenticity of its food. Their website notes that all their food is Halal (permitted by the teachings of Islam) and that head chef Ali Hachem uses Lebanese flavors without making any changes to better fit a Western palette. Along with this authenticity, Cafe Beirut claims to have fresh ingredients and delicious food that anyone, Lebanese or not, can enjoy.
This welcoming nature becomes obvious with a simple glance at the restaurant. It has soft linen curtains, menu items written in Arabic and English, and Lebanese music playing in the background. My favorite feature of this communal feeling is the local artwork along the walls and the community-made Black Lives Matter paintings that hang in each window. These decorations allow Cafe Beirut to fully embrace the voices that make up the neighborhood. Anyone can put up a BLM sign, but only someone who really cares will give a local artist a chance to express themselves and give voice to an important cause. It’s details like this that cement Cafe Beirut into the community and gives every dining experience a feeling of care and connectedness.
The menu at Cafe Beirut is an expansive list of appetizers, salads, wraps, and entrees, along with a small selection of soda and tea to drink and a single option of baklava for dessert. I ordered that baklava, along with a falafel wrap full of Beirut veggies (romaine, cucumber, kalamata, mint, and pickles) and a cucumber mint dressing. Upon the first bite, I found that the meal, while good, was not as unique and special as the environment of Cafe Beirut would lead you to expect.
Don’t get me wrong, it was good food. The falafel was crunchy and well seasoned, the pita was warm, the vegetables were crisp and juicy, the olives gave nice kicks of sourness, the mint dressing was cool and refreshing, and the baklava was sweet without being overwhelming. Everything tasted good, as good as you’d expect a $15 meal to taste. But nothing was special. Nothing made this wrap different from similar wraps that I’ve had at food trucks or Falafel King.
But the lack of uniqueness in Cafe Beirut’s food does not detract from what makes the restaurant truly special. The friendly nature of the staff, the culture of the environment, and the feelings of community remain present despite the unremarkable nature of the food and it’s these factors that make the restaurant truly worth visiting. You can get a falafel wrap anywhere, but it’s not anywhere that the staff will sound genuine when they ask “how ya doin’?,” or that you’ll see artwork by your neighbors completely covering the walls. This restaurant might not be the best place to go to if you’re looking for a transformative, fine-dining, unique Lebanese cuisine experience. But if you’re just looking for a cheap bite to eat and craving Middle Eastern food, I’d recommend heading to Cafe Beirut. It’s there that you’ll find good food, affordable prices, and a special touch of care from the restaurant’s community.
654 Centre St
Boston, MA 02130
Open Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.