Countries that hug the Mediterranean Sea pull from diverse, flavorful ingredients to create their cuisine, but there are some crossovers, including an appreciation for honey-soaked baklava, pita bread and tender kebabs.
Ali Baba Middle Eastern Restaurant
Known for: Moroccan, Lebanese and Greek dishes.
Insider tip: Diners, who come from as far away as Baltimore to visit the Albaroki brothers’ restaurant, crave Moroccan chicken with spicy harissa sauce, lamb kebabs and beef kebabs. Finish the meal with a bracing Turkish coffee. (Belly dancers are available for special occasions.)
175 E. Main St., Newark; 738-1111, alibabacuisine.com
Known for: Being the hotspot at the beach for locals seeking coffee and conversation or tapas.
Insider tip: Paella is only served in summer because it’s cooked outside on the patio. Plan ahead because there’s one seating (Wednesdays in Rehoboth and Thursdays in Lewes). Mediterranean chili is a “don’t miss” when offered. Also try the lamb meatballs with a roasted red pepper sauce and the crab cakes, inspired by a recipe from owner Richard Steele’s grandmother. (He opened Café Azafran when his family closed the Lamp Post.)
109 Market St., Lewes, 644-4446; 18 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-8100, cafeazafran.com
Known for: Being the consummate Greek diner. There’s breakfast all day—with Taylor pork roll—“mile high” cream pies and triple-decker clubs. Nostalgic dieters can still get a beef patty with cottage cheese and fruit.
Insider tip: Greek specialties are grouped together. Along with the usual moussaka, there’s Greek spaghetti, topped with brown butter and feta. Save room for house-made rice pudding or baklava. (Dieters can get sherbet!)
316 S. Maryland Ave., Wilmington, 994-0920, cosmos-restaurant.com
Known for: Mixing Italian (veal Parmesan) and French (beef Burgundy) with some of the area’s best Greek dishes.
Insider tip: Golden spanakopita is crisp and full of spinach and imported feta, which you can also buy by the slice. Chicken gyros are an alternative to the usual lamb and beef. Moussaka and pasticcio come with a vegetable and rice or fries. It’s not on the menu but avgolemeno (chicken soup with egg and lemon) is usually the soup of the day.
1710 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 529-7773
Olé Tapas Lounge & Restaurant and Café Olé
Known for: Classic tapas and modern cocktails in its original (and still popular) location on Kirkwood Highway and an all-you-can-eat paella special on Sundays. Olé invades Newark proper with Café Olé, a more casual spot on Main Street.
Insider tip: Classic pub grub dishes like Buffalo wings get a Spanish makeover with spicy harissa sauce and Cabrales blue cheese. Chorizo sliders come with a Manchego fondue and patatas fritas. Ask about the house infusions behind the bar. On a recent visit, we found mango-guava rum, vanilla bean vodka and apple-bacon bourbon.
1126 Capitol Trail, Newark, 224-9378; Café Ole, 170 E. Main St., Newark, 733-7505, oletapaslounge.com
Semra’s Mediterranean Grill
Known for: Dishes created from owners John and Semra Tekmen’s family recipes.
Insider tip: Many ingredients, including pomegranate juice, are mailed from family in Turkey. It’s all about authenticity. Gyros are made from meat that turned on a vertical spit; finely ground Turkish coffee is brewed in a ladle and boiled three times; and baklava and rice pudding are made in-house. Semra, who waited until her children were grown to at last open her business, makes her own tzatziki.
19 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 226-4976, semras.com