Levantine food refers to the delicacies of the Eastern Mediterranean, an ancient and absolutely delicious cuisine that has permeated modern and mainstream restaurants everywhere. If you like falafel or fattoush, the green salad studded with pita bread, consider yourself indoctrinated.
A lesser-known favorite, at least here in the Bay Area, is manoush (manakish is the plural), a hand-stretched flatbread made from pita dough and adorned with bright toppings, like za’atar. A new fast-casual eatery has brought these Middle Eastern “pizzas” to Walnut Creek and added specialty cheeses, like whipped labne, marinated meats and more to the warm, brick-oven baked dough.
Located at the busy intersection of Treat Boulevard and North Main Street, Manakish Oven & Grill is the brainchild of self-proclaimed serial entrepreneurs Adam Taleb and Feras Ghaban. The recipes are based on their childhood favorites growing up in the United Arab Emirates. We visited on a recent (and very busy) weeknight. Here’s how it went:
THE VIBE: Totally casual yet stylish. The counter-service restaurant has high ceilings with candlestick-inspired chandeliers and Persian-style blue and yellow tiles. There are a few tables inside, as well as a large outdoor patio with heat lamps, but based on dining trends — and the number of people wearing pajama pants on this particular evening — at least half of Manakish’s business is pick-up and take-out.
Staff is friendly, knowledgable and still in soft opening mode, so be patient if they run out of dough and have to make more. They sure know how to handle it. Despite being a fast-casual operation, servers checked on us several times and offered a complimentary appetizer or dessert while we were waiting for our manakish.
THE FOOD: The soft-opening menu is subject to change but currently features eight soft and chewy manakish ($9.50-$15.50) topped with everything from cauliflower and eggplant to tri-tip shawarma and lahm-bajin. Lahm-baijin — which can also be spelled lahmajoun — is ground beef that’s typically mixed with pomegranate molasses, parsley and peppers. We loved the intensely-flavored, almost crunchy za’atar manoush, which you can get with whipped labneh ($11) or mozzarella ($10.50).
There’s also a delightful chicken shawarma version built on a zesty yogurt sauce — in lieu of cheese — and sprinkled with pickled veggies. Nice mix of flavors.
A la carte mezzes ($3.50-$5) and fatteh bowls, featuring shawarma atop rice or mixed greens ($12.50-$14.50), round out the menu. We found the lentil soup ($3.50) a bit thin but enjoyed the housemade hummus ($5), which also comes in a jalapeno version, and tangy tabouleh ($5).
DON’T MISS: Grab-and-go pastries and desserts. Only two were available during our visit — walnut baklava and a semolina cake — but the menu lists seven, including savory boreks and a rosewater-laced rice pudding parfait. If they can pull it off, it will be one of the largest selections of Arab-inspired desserts in the area.
PERFECT FOR: Manakish lunch or casual dinner; shawarma bowls; lahm bajin cravings; to-go and pick-up orders; Middle Eastern desserts beyond baklava.
DETAILS: Open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday: and until 8 p.m. Sundays at 2905 N. Main St., Walnut Creek