Food Review: Mazza
1515 South 1500 East Salt Lake City, UT 84105
Monday–Thursday 4:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.
Friday–Saturday4:30 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
801.484.9259 | mazzacafe.com
A Utah staple since 2000, Mazza is arguably the best Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurant in town. Mazza started as a family eatery, serving their food on paper plates out of the small 15th and 15th location. By 2007, demand was high enough for owner Ali Sabbah to open a second restaurant—an upscale, fine-dining establishment at 9th and 9th. Mazza’s meat dishes use all-natural, vegetarian-fed and mainly locally sourced chicken, beef and lamb, raised without added hormones or antibiotics. The website includes specialized vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menus, making it easy for those with specialized diets and restrictions. It’s rare and delightful to see a restaurant website with so much attention given to details like this. While many restaurants provide meals that meet the needs of the diner, Mazza goes a step further, anticipating those needs in thoughtful and distinct ways, such as providing lettuce leaves in place of pita for gluten-free diners.
The 15th and 15th location, which is open all day, provides a small and cozy dining experience, with only a few tables and homey decorations. The 9th and 9th location is closed for two hours between lunch and dinner, but the atmosphere is gorgeous, with huge windows across the front and Lebanese inlaid wood, lamps and fabric decorations. The main drawback of the location is that in the afternoon, the large windows allow the sun to shine in, which can make for an uncomfortable experience, and the shades are difficult to reach and don’t always help. Avoid the window seats if the glaring sun bothers you. Both locations could do with a little bit of rearranging to improve seating, although they may not want to lose capacity. With the food as good as it is, they don’t need to do much to keep customers coming back.
Mazza features an extensive wine, beer and liquor menu, including a number of Lebanese wines and beers from Lebanon, Armenia and Morocco, but we opted to start our meal with the homemade Orange Blossom Limeade ($3), a perfect, bittersweet and tart thirst quencher.
If the beer and wine menu is extensive, it barely holds a candle to the huge number of options and choices on the food menu. You could eat here every day for a month and still find new things to try. Picking out a starter is tough, but they make it easier with their three-item ($11) and four-item ($14) samplers, served with ample pita bread. The twice-cooked Fries ($5) are some of the best I’ve ever had. Try the spicy, pan-fried Potatoes Harra ($6) with the lentils and rice Mujaddara ($6) and the smoky, stunning Baba Ganooj ($7), and you won’t have room for your main course. The Spinach Fatayer ($3.50) is big enough to share with a friend, but you’ll want to keep the sweet, golden pastry all to yourself. Better for sharing are the Vegetarian Grape Leaves ($6 for four), stuffed with rice and cooked in lemon and tomato herb broth. Mazza even serves fava beans cooked two different ways: with mallow leaves as part of a slightly bitter, savory Beesarah ($6.50) or shelled and cooked down with spices ($7.50). And that’s just about half of the starters and sides listed on the menu.
For lunch or an early dinner, try the fantastic lentil soups (with tomatoes or with spinach, $4 per cup, $6.50 per bowl) and one of Mazza’s delicious, lighter meals—each item can be made as a sandwich ($7.50 – $10), a salad ($11.50 – $14.50) or served over rice ($10 – $13). The Morgan Valley Lamb Sausage ($8) is sweet and spicy, while the Cheese and Zaatar (a Mediterranean spice mixture, $7.50) is spicy and satisfying.
If you’re hungry, the house specialties are large servings of exquisitely cooked meat and vegetarian dishes. The Vegetarian Kabseh ($17) is a filling stew of mushrooms and cauliflower, served over delicately spiced rice, with a chicken version ($17) available as well. For a heartier meal, try the Chicken and Potatoes Mutabbak ($18), with slices of fried potatoes arranged around moist, tender chicken breast over moist basmati rice, drizzled with a tangy, sweet tamarind sauce. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for broke with the Lamb Shank ($23), a huge serving of braised meat cooked in an array of ingredients that fairly falls off the bone onto the saffron couscous and herbed green fava beans.
Finish up your meal with an Apricot Cream Turnover ($5), a flaky pastry stuffed with creamy pudding and apricots and doused with orange blossom syrup. Ask for them to hold one for you when you sit down—these go fast, especially at the 15th and 15th location. Or, try the saffron-flavored Kanafeh ($6) pudding, garnished with phyllo shreds and pistachios. The Turkish Coffee ($3) was one disappointment, though. Although the flavor—studded with cardamom—was good, it was served barely warm and did not include the traditional layer of grounds at the bottom.
With so much information on their website and such an extensive and diverse menu, Mazza is a perfect place for a group with varied tastes, and the 9th and 9th location makes a wonderful place for a romantic date.