The Arlington Files: Tabouleh Mediterranean Cafe
My favorite thing about food writing is finding a restaurant that is under-appreciated. Tucked away in a blocky strip mall on Merrill Road, one might drive past Tabouleh every day for years without noticing it. One would be missing out.
If you insist upon being wooed by belly dancers as you smoke a giant hookah on velvet cushions, Tabouleh will be a disappointment. This is a Mom & Pop operation, complete with community flyers and a refrigerated take-home cooler in the back. It’s not glamorous, but it is extremely clean and, most importantly, home to some of the finest Mediterranean food in Jacksonville. Come to Arlington. We have gyros!
The Man and I started with the hand-rolled Stuffed Grape Leaves. ($4.95 for 6)
I’ve had stuffed grape leaves all over Jax and these were by far the best because they were very fresh. All too often stuffed grape leaves are obviously mass produced then left to stew for days on end which always ends in bland mushiness. Tabouleh does not make this mistake. These were snappy-fresh with just the right amount of seasoning, so they were a great way to start the meal.
We visited at lunch, so shawarma sounded just right to me. I’m always a sucker for lamb with tahini. It would be terribly convenient if evolution would work on making lamb pre-tahinied.
Lamb Shawarma with Mediterranean Salad (7.95)
I kept it light with the Mediterranean Salad, a really nice chunky little salad that was fresh as a daisy. The shawarma was perfectly grilled and seasoned. The veg on the wrap was fresh and crunchy. The hits kept on coming with The Man’s gyro.
Greek Gyro Wrap with hummus ($6.95)
The Man’s gyro was just as high-quality as my wrap had been. Tender bits of lamb and beef, well seasoned and nicely dressed in crisp veggies with cool tzatziki. At this point, I think it’s important to pull you aside, Dear Reader, and address the large exotic animal in the room. You know that thing that happens on the third or fourth bite of a really good Mediterranean wrap where you bite into a hunk of gristle and your sheer pleasure and bliss are interrupted? That didn’t happen. Tabouleh provided lovely wraps with none of the disappointment of hunks of icky fat or gristle I’ve gotten at other establishments. That made me extra-happy.
We’re not rich travelin’ folk, but The Man did go to Greece on a big gray boat back in the 90s. He’s a real super-snoot about gyros because he got to have real ones over there between ouzo blackouts. (He even says “GHEEEER-ohs” when he orders. I try.) He declared Tabouleh excellent, so I’m going to trust that it’s pretty darn close to authentic. I’m no expert in Greek food, but when I find myself craving grilled lamb in soft bread with fresh veggies, I don’t have to make a reservation or put on a fringe-y skirt. I just go right down the street next door to a doc-in-the-box and an off-brand video game shop that smells vaguely of pot. Arlington rocks.
Visit Tabouleh at 7645 Merrill Road, Jacksonville, Florida. Check out their website for menu info and hours.
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