Cuisine: Lebanese/Middle Eastern/Vegetarian/Vegan/Healthy
Last visited: January 3, 2013
Phone: (604) 688-1655
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown/Downtown)
Address: 207 W Hastings Street
Price Range: $20-30 (Mains $17-19)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 3.5 (based on what I tried)
- 5 independently owned locations
- Halal meats
- Some organic ingredients
- Vegetarian friendly
- Vegan friendly
- Gluten Free friendly
- Good for groups
- Local favourite
- Busy on weekends
- Mon – Fri: 11:30 – 4:30pm
- Sat: 12 – 4:30pm
- Mon – Sun: 5 – Late
**Recommendations: Chicken Tawook Pita, Najib’s Special
Oh gosh. I get super nervous writing about places classified as “Middle Eastern”. I don’t know enough about it to go into detail and in Vancouver we lack a distinction between the different types of cuisine going under the umbrella category of “Middle Eastern”.
Persian, Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian and Lebanese cuisine etc. share similarities but they are all very different. In Vancouver and cities where there are limited options for these cuisines they are often grouped together as “Middle Eastern”. However, in this case I do not have to worry too much about “authenticity” because even though Nuba offers Lebanese cuisine, it is their own modern take on it.
Nuba is a local favourite and this is the original location in Gastown. It now has 5 locations which slightly differ in menus according to area and clientele. For a Vancouver reference I consider it “the Guu Izakaya of Lebanese food”. This post addresses this Nuba Gastown location specifically.
I have been to a few of the Nuba’s before, but it has been a long time since I’ve come back. I had good experiences, but it just falls off my radar and there is a lot to try in Vancouver. Most people know about Nuba already and everyone seems to love it. It offers healthy options and it caters to its clientele very well which is not predominantly Lebanese. And this is where I get kind of indifferent.
I enjoy Nuba more as a healthy restaurant with Mediterranean and Lebanese influences, but not as much as an authentic Lebanese restaurant. We do not have enough Lebanese options in Metro Vancouver to compare, so by default this could be as authentic as it gets; but I have had more authentic Lebanese food. Authenticity aside I did find the food good and it is a nice and cozy lunch or dinner spot for an affordable and healthy meal, but I’m not really the clientele for it.
The menu and execution is very simple and there is nothing wrong with simplicity, but some dishes do lack flavour and can come across as under seasoned. I do have a higher tolerance for sodium from dining out perhaps more often, but even so there are ways to give things flavour without relying on salt. I missed the herbs and spices and “Middle Eastern” flavours, but I do appreciate the fresh ingredients and made from scratch aspect. Another key to their success is being quite consistent.
If you are looking for a traditional Lebanese meal with that Lebanese mom/grandma cooking in the kitchen, or you are experienced with authentic Lebanese food, then Nuba might not satisfy your cravings. However if you want a good healthy meal more interesting and exotic than a green salad, but is still very approachable for many palates, then Nuba would be a great fit.
On the table:
- Creamy roasted eggplant puree with citrus and tahini $7.75
- I love baba ghanooj or baba ghanoush and this one was served with regular pita.
- Traditionally the eggplant would be finely minced or mashed by hand with a motor and pestle, but this was creamy and smooth from a food processor.
- For convenience, using a food processor is very typical of modern day baba ghanooj so it is not a big deal, but I prefer hand mashing for texture.
- It was sprinkled with sumac (sour berry powder seasoning) and a side of Lebanese pickles (pickled turnips).
- The baba ghanooj was thin on the eggplant for me and I couldn’t taste much of it.
- I think this recipe used yogurt as well as tahini because it seemed heavy with yogurt in texture and flavour. Yogurt is not always used for the recipe, but it can be.
- It was not that smoky either and usually the dip is very smoky because it is made from charred eggplant and cumin. I couldn’t really taste either.
- It was a bit tangy from the yogurt (?) and lemon juice and it was good, but I really missed the charred eggplant flavour.
- A drizzle of good quality olive oil would have been great to finish the dip off and present it well.
- It is apples and oranges, but if you like this I would highly recommend trying the Persian version of baba ghanoush which is called Kashke Bademjan. See the one at Zeitoon and at Yaaz Bazaar.
- Crispy cauliflower tossed with lemon and sea salt, served with tahini $7.50
- This is the “must try” dish and popular house favourite everyone raves about.
- I liked it and it was good, but it was very simple which is fine, but it didn’t blow me away.
- The cauliflower is deep fried until it is very soft and tender with a nutty crust on the outside.
- It was actually a bit over cooked for me and slightly mushy, but still good.
- They are not quite crispy because they have no batter and the flavour is very natural to a bit bland.
- The spicy green herb sauce and tahini sauce really helped though and together I enjoyed it much more.
- Hawksworth Restaurant also has a “KFC” (Korean Fried Cauliflower) on the menu which is executed almost the same as this, except they marinade the cauliflower in Gochujung (spicy sweet Korean chili soy bean paste). I liked the flavour of it, but the cauliflower was overcooked when I had it.
- I also mentioned Cauliflower as the new kale in Top 10 Food Trends for 2013. I can see this dish getting even more popular than it already is.
- Victor’s secret recipe of organic chickpeas, fava beans, veggies and spices $7.50
- This is typical street food in the Middle East.
- Depending on the origin of the recipe some will use just chickpeas or just fava beans, and sometimes both.
- Sometimes they can be filled with random cheap ingredients giving the inside a brown colour, but these looked well made with a green colour.
- They were a bit overcooked, dry and starchy in the middle rather than moist, but the outside was wonderfully crispy and crunchy.
- Naturally they will be a bit starchy since it is made from a paste of chickpeas and fava beans, but it was still more than it should be.
- It was likely puréed with cilantro and parsley, but I couldn’t really taste it or the herb flavours had lost its freshness.
- It was served with tahini sauce which made it less dry, but I rather the sauce add flavour than give moisture.
- Another version of a falafel I enjoy is Fable restaurant’s Chickpea Fritters.
- My favourite falafels were actually from Montreal (can’t remember the place now, but it was by Fairmount Bagels), and Mona’s Mezza Bistro which has now closed did amazing ones in Vancouver.
**Chicken Tawook – 4/6 (Very good)
- Grilled Mount Lehman chicken breast (not thigh) marinated in paprika, thyme, lemon and garlic confit with hummus and avocado [M] $12.50
- This was actually my favourite dish and it is not because there was meat on it. I am a carnivore, but I do love veggies.
- The chicken kebabs must have been marinated and tenderized overnight in yogurt because they were very tender and moist.
- Do not expect any intensely grilled meats here, this is not a meat focused or grilled meats place.
- The chicken skewers were lightly grilled and very simply seasoned (maybe only lemon juice) and very moist.
- For some reason it almost tasted like fish and it was very soft and juicy especially for being white meat (chicken breast).
- It was drizzled with tahini sauce and they looked almost too perfect and pre made, but they tasted good and fresh.
- I asked for half brown rice and half crispy potatoes which were creamy red potatoes. The potatoes were good and the rice was standard.
- Hummus – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Organic chickpeas blended with garlic, lemon and tahini ($7.50 a la carte)
- It came with a side of hummus which was really simple, but well made, garlicky and flavourful.
- It was creamy smooth with excellent texture, made from fresh chickpeas, and just plain good.
- They finished it off with olive oil too which is ideal.
- Surprisingly the hummus at Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen is also very good. See their – Complimentary Hummus.
- There was a simple salad with organic greens, tomato, cucumber, chickpeas, carrots and green onions with a lemon-sumac dressing.
- I must say I was surprised to see the non-seasonal tomatoes especially for this restaurant.
- The Iranian pickles were the pink pickled turnips and there were also salty black olives.
- The house made hot sauce and olives were some of the most flavourful things on the plate, so that is when I knew everything else was a bit under seasoned. Still good, but slightly bland.
- I could imagine everything on this Chicken Tawook plate being in a wrap and tasting excellent with all the flavours in one bite, so perhaps the wrap is a better option.
- In terms of Lebanese wraps I would also highly recommend the ones at Mangal Kiss Mid East BBQ – see their Shish Kebab.