Zara’s Mediterranean Kitchen – The authentic Mediterranean experience comes to Spring, TX


Spring, Texas – August 15th, 2015: We went to Zara’s Mediterranean on the recommendation of a friend. For me, the Mediterranean restaurant scene has been really hit or miss in the area…until now.  Owned by the Nawaz family, they use recipes handed down from grandmother.  I am very glad she didn’t keep these recipes for herself, because the Spring/Woodlands area would be missing out on some of the best food I have had in while. This is the real deal and super authentic.  Upon entering, I noticed it was a quaint, small and beautifully decorated restaurant with a Middle Eastern flare. Beautiful wall sconces, a brick wall toward the back, and exquisite hanging light fixtures.  When you go, don’t forget to look up at the ceiling, because each ceiling tile square is wrapped in a different exotic fabric.  

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We sat down and ordered some iced tea, which was really good.  The manager came over and brought each of us a sample of their Zara’s House Iced Tea, which was perfectly sweet and had hints of rose syrup.  The fragrance was almost like the syrup that you would get in an Indian dessert called Gulab Jumun, which was quite unexpected but very cool and refreshing.  I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not, but I kept drinking it and the final verdict was I really like this tea.  We were off to a great start.  Zara’s has a very expansive five-page menu, with appetizers, Zara’s signature entrée’s, Mediterranean sandwiches and wraps, wood fire grilled kabob entrees and desserts. We ordered a variety of appetizers, entrée’s and a mixed grill all to share followed by two desserts. Here is play by play of each dish on this overall winning dinner.

Appetizers

Hallume Fried Cheese – Slices of fresh goat and sheep milk cheese sautéed in olive oil & herbs with olives, cucumbers & tomatoes, served with their house pita bread.

This was my favorite appetizer.  The cheeses were sliced into flat sticks, lightly crispy with a nice melt on the inside. The herbs and olive oil complimented the cheese perfectly, definitely the garlicky goodness dish of the night.  I kept picking at some of the crispy cheese and sautéed crispy garlic left on the plate with my fork.

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Falafel – Crispy vegetarian patties crafted from chickpeas, fava beans, herbs and spices served with tahini sauce

I truly love a good Falafel; and these were definitely made from scratch. They had a very nice crispy outer layer and were just moist enough on the inside, but still a little crumbly.  Well seasoned and the tahini sauce was good. However, I prefer tzatziki sauce with my falafel.  Lucky for me the next appetizer came with some.

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Fried Kibbeh – A handcrafted croquette made with cracked wheat and stuffed with seasoned ground beef, roasted almonds & spices…served with tzatziki sauce.

This was an interesting dish, which was recommended by Muhammad Riaz, one of the owners.  The only way I can describe this is to say it’s has a falafel texture on the outside and a Boudin texture inside. Very flavorful, and of course the spices were different from those used in a Cajun boudin. The slivered roasted almonds gave it a little more crunch.

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Trio Hummus Sampler – Generous portions of traditional, basil pesto and red pepper hummus served with warm pita.

I could tell this was not bucket-o-hummus; it was definitely blended in-house from scratch. Out of all three I liked the red pepper hummus the best because it was very fresh tasting and had the best flavor, in my opinion.  The topping of Feta, walnuts and olive oil just sent this hummus over the top. The basil pesto was also good and the traditional didn’t have the overpowering garlic many other places serve. I love garlic, but don’t care for it when the whole dish tastes of nothing but garlic.

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Spanakopita (Spinach Pie) – Pastry filled with sautéed Spinach, herbs & feta, baked to perfection and served with tzatziki dip sauce.

I have had better elsewhere. The phyllo dough was nice and crisp, and the spinach had a nice creamy texture, but it had too much of a dill taste. I probably wouldn’t order this again, but only because all of the other appetizers were so much more to my liking.

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Entrées

From the “Wood Fire Grilled Kabob” section of the menu: “Our signature kabobs are made using fresh Halal meat, marinated for at least 24 hours for maximum flavors”. In other words, they are doing them up right!

Zara’s Mixed Grill – A skewer of chicken shish kebob, beef kobiedeh, kufta kabob, and juicy chicken and beef Shawarma…served with basmati rice, house feta salad, grilled onion & tomato, creamy garlic sauce and warm pita bread.

This dish can easily be split among two or three people. The star of the dish for me was definitely the chicken shish kabob, which is boneless chicken breast marinated in a special yogurt sauce and herbs and char-grilled to perfection. Zara’s Chicken Kebob was by far the best I have had anywhere.  The char was just right, the flavors popped and the chicken was not to dry and not too moist, exactly as a good kebob should be.  The Beef and Chicken Sharwarma was a little drier, which it usually is everywhere and is a characteristic of this dish, the flavor was definitely marinated into the meat very well.  Both the Kufta Kabob and Beef Koobideh were great too; I would have liked it to come with a wedge of lemon to bring out some more of the flavors.  

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Roasted Lamb Shank – Tender oven roasted lamb shank simmered for 24 hours in special house spices.

Wow! It was fall of the bone and full of flavor, fork tender. It was a huge hunk of meat.  My wife was a happy camper, because she is Croatian and grew up eating lamb shanks with her grandfather at church picnics.  She was brought back to a simpler time and said this lamb shank was as good as the ones she was used to.

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Zara’s Lamb Chops (4 pieces) – Mouthwatering, meaty lamb chops marinated in a special blend of house spices and sizzled in garlic and olive oil then grilled to order.

These lamb chops were extremely flavorful. They might have been the best lamb chops I have had except that they were just a little overcooked.  Easy to do when they are thinner cuts. I would recommend telling the waiter the degree of doneness you would like.

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Dessert

Baklava – traditional phyllo dough and honey syrup dessert.

Good stuff! Nice and flaky; I could taste the honey and cinnamon and it was not so sweet that all you can taste is sugar.  Zara’s version is made with walnuts instead of pistachios.

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Zara’s Chi Chewy

This dessert was fan-freaking –tastic! I loved everything about it.  I will let the owner describe this in the interview below, because I really want to know more about it.

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I got to have a quick Q & A with the Nawaz family about Zara’s …here is what they had to say:

Where did the name of your restaurant come from? The name “Zara” comes from our Mediterranean ancestors and has been in our family for a long time. Our great grandmother’s name was Zara and now we have a niece by that name.

What made you decide to open in the Spring/Woodlands area? For the love of Mediterranean cuisine and culture, which itself embodies love, life and community and recipes passed down generations. We had a dream of sharing the lifestyle experience with everyone one day. When we became part of the vibrant community of Spring/Woodlands, it was time to share the dream and turn it into a beautiful reality, which is now Zara’s. Our mission is to offer a cultural and family oriented environment and dining experience “where every dish becomes your wish”.

This is a family run business. Who in the family owns Zara’s? We all do. It’s a culmination of efforts by every member of the Nawaz family. From the interior design, choice of music, and color scheme to developing a nutritionally balanced flavorful menu. Everything was very thoughtfully planned so that our guests can have the best dining experience and can enjoy the authentic Mediterranean cuisine we have to offer.

Tell me about theme of your place and the décor. By the way, the ceiling is beautiful. The theme of the restaurant is in keeping with the Mediterranean culture and food. As soon as you step into the restaurant, the idea is to transport you to an enchanted land, with the arches depicting the architecture and heritage of the Mediterranean region. The color scheme of the ceiling is inspired by the beautiful Mediterranean artifacts, along with the hand crafted wooden benches that give a casual earthy feel to the place. Add the aroma of fresh herbs from our authentic cuisine and you have a complete Mediterranean ambiance and food experience.

What sets you apart from all the other Mediterranean restaurants around town? We take pride in cooking with the finest and freshest of ingredients, so that we can offer the most ‘authentic’ flavors of Mediterranean cuisine to our community. From the selection of olive oil, in house ground spices, halal meats and produce for our appetizers, sandwiches or signature entrée’s to our very own chi chewy or baklava for desserts, everything is authentic. Every dish is prepared in our kitchen and provides all the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. This way of eating is known to promote longevity and is now universally recognized as the “gold standard” eating pattern that promotes lifelong good health. Our menu incorporates all the elements of the Mediterranean diet pyramid at an affordable price.

Where does your recipes come from and how much of the menu is made from scratch? Our recipes come from our great grandmother’s kitchen. They have been passed down from one generation to the next as a special gift to be cherished, treasured and now shared with the community we consider family. Every item of our menu is made from scratch in our kitchen under the supervision and guidance of our chef. We take authenticity and the quality of our food very seriously and ensure that proper controls are in place both in our kitchen and dining area to provide the most memorable of a dining experience.

I noticed that your menu has some very interesting dishes. What dishes would you consider exclusive to Zara’s? Each dish on our menu is exclusive. One cannot pick and choose to do justice with all the dishes. What makes them exclusive is not only the family secret ingredients that brings authenticity and differentiates Zara’s dishes from others, but also the effort from our staff and their approach in creating each dish. This brings to our guests the flavors one can only experience when everything is made fresh and in an authentic manner. The names may sound familiar but each family has a different recipe for making the same dish with their own spin on it. Just like the apple pie your mom makes does not taste the same as your neighbor’s does. Above all, the most important ingredient is the love that goes into creating each dish, which makes it unique.

Explain Zara’s Iced Tea to someone that has never been here. Also, what are some of your other signature beverages? Imagine walking in the heat of a desert and reaching an oasis, which is cool, breezy, calming and soothing; that’s how we would describe Zara’s iced tea. It helps to sooth and calms your mind. The aromatic, flavorful infusion of herbs with house blend tea gives a boost to your immune health with richness of flavonoids, antioxidants and tannins.

Our fresh Mint Mojito (non-alcoholic) is perfect for pairing with Kabob platters and shawarma /gyro sandwiches. With its refreshing taste, it enhances the flavors of the meats and cleanses your palate in between bites, so you can savor the meal to the fullest.

The yogurt drink is a winner when looking for a light protein-packed concoction.

Turkish coffee brewed in the traditional style is a must when craving the joys of an authentic dark roast.

What do you want Zara’s to be known for? We want Zara’s to be known as a place where the locals come to experience an authentic Mediterranean cuisine right in their own neighborhood. Where every guest becomes part of the Zara’s family tradition of hospitality and community. A place that serves great quality food within a cultural environment and with professional service. A place you dine in with family and friends to build long lasting memories and ‘where every dish becomes your wish’.

What is your perfect meal here from start to finish, and what are some other family favoritesA perfect meal can start with a cup of lentil soup and a glass of Zara’s iced tea or mojito. On a rainy day or a winter evening, Turkish coffee or a pot of traditional hot tea may be the choice. Add on the Mohammarah Dip or the hummus trio with some fresh warm pita bread and you are on a journey of immense flavor. Our handcrafted appetizers such as grape leaves, Spanakopita, fried kibbeh are all delicious and nutritious and you will not be able to resist the perfect crisp and taste of a freshly made falafel. The Maa! Maa! Goat cheese and the hallume-fried cheese are all-time favorite to everyone, especially kids.

Given the time of the day or depending on the mood, one cannot go wrong with our Greek Feta Salad or Tabuleh. All of the salads are packed with nutritious, healthy ingredients from arugula, to lettuce, baby spinach, parsley, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, walnuts, strawberries and more.

In for a quick lunch on a busy workday? What’s better than a filling and delicious, healthy pita wrap with a choice of either chicken or beef Shawarma, gyros, falafel, kefta and chicken shish. Add some sweet potato fries and drink and you are set for the day.

For entrées Zara’s is a meat lovers heaven. We serve fork tender Lamb shank, juicy and well marinated Lamb chops, top sirloin beef, lamb or chicken shish kabobs, kufta kabob made with minced beef and lamb or our healthy meat moussaka (a three layered casserole of baked eggplant, beef, vine tomatoes and cheese. The Ummah grill platter is great for family dinners and groups of friends.

We haven’t forgotten our vegetarians or guest requesting gluten free menu items, either. There are so many options in every category for you to enjoy as a full meal with appetizers such as spanakopita, lentil soup, red pepper, basil pesto or traditional/Mediterranean hummus and falafel to grape leaves and the combination as vegetarian mezza. Our aromatic and well-seasoned basmati rice is everyone’s favorite when combined with the vegetarian moussaka (baked eggplant cooked with herbs and traditional spices). The Marhaba pasta with sun dried tomatoes, olives, artichokes and portabella mushrooms with basil and feta cheese will become one of your favorites.

Craving a taste of the seas? We have the Mediterranean shrimp po’boy and the Alaskan Salmon served with fresh Tabuleh.

Have a sweet tooth? Try any of our homemade desserts; baklava, tiramisu, rice pudding and/or Zara’s chi chewy for a perfect experience sweet and freshness to finish your meal.

I was going to try to explain the Zara’s Chi Chewy dessert, but I didn’t want to mess it up. Where did the name come from? Also, please explain the layers and complexity of this most wonderful dessert. Lusciously moist wit a fluffy crust, infused with perfectly toasted pecans and then enrobed in rich, cream cheese and blueberries topped with whip cream and strawberries. The name chi chewy was given because that would be the only thing I would wake up to eat in the morning rather than my daily fruit tart after yarning and requesting shai (Arabic tea). My mom then named it chi chewy.

 

What are Zara’s hours of operation?

We are open for service, Sunday –Thursday: 11:00am -9:30 pm

Friday & Saturday: 11:00am -10:00 pm
For Dine In – Take Out and we also cater to private parties and/or corporate events/gatherings.

 

If you had to describe Zara’s in 5 words what would they be? Authentic, Healthy – Family Oriented environment, freshly prepared dishes, affordable, Local owned and operated.

 

Zara’s Mediterranean Kitchen

415 Rayford Rd #300, Spring, TX 77386   (713) 575-9272

Click here to like Zara’s on Facebook.

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