|Zaytoon: from the Mid-East 5204 N 10th St
By Ravalyn Valley
Closed Mondays, but open the rest of the week in Zinnia Plaza, Zaytoon’s offers McAllen a taste of mid-eastern cuisine. The alliteration of the two z’s help as a memory tip for this restaurant: grab a bite at Zaytoon on Zinnia.
Characteristic green and black olives accompany nearly every dish matched only by the sudden appearance and taste of tomato or cucumber. Lamb is served alongside beef in a platter or gyro-like wrap—making three places in McAllen alone where one can get a gyro (but at Zaytoon one would order a shawarma wrap)! The lamb platter comes with pita bread wrap and tzatziki cucumber dip which was one of the most pleasant dips I tried there. Tasty grape leaves wrapped with a cabbage leaf and housing rice with meat is featured on the menu as yaprak or dolma.
Veggies and meat are often cooked in clarified butter regionally called smen, or olive oil. Middle Eastern vegetables are proudly featured (i.e., eggplant, grapes, olives, and tomato) and an adaptation of Mid-East dishes to a vegetable specific to the Americas, squash, is also included (e.g., mashi shijar) with tomato sauce. Of course, traditional dishes like shish kabob –the skewers of grilled beef, chicken, veggies, or lamb; tabbouleh the tart lemon-y salad mix akin to salsa with Mexican food flavored with sumac; and baba ghanouj the grilled eggplant with sesame seeds. These are amongst the 22 menu listed delicacies of such nations like Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and others, you can experience whilst listening to cultural music softly play surrounding you beneath silk-like cloth on the ceiling.
Some advice: try the Zaytoon platter for a representative sampling of the cuisine. Also, Spanish speakers, accompanying English menu descriptions are Spanish translations—fitting in well, I’d say, in the RGV! The appetizer section has a prelude with an assurance that all selections are, “made with specially selected Middle Eastern herbs and spices,’ translated immediately after, “hechos con especias del Medio Oriente especialmente seleccionadas.”