Muncheez, the casual Lebanese restaurant known for late-night shawarma, curly fries, and crepes, has rolled out a new ghost kitchen (takeout- or delivery- only) that combines Mexican and Middle Eastern street foods. Taqueria de Beirut started accepting online orders from the Muncheez in Dupont Circle (1317 Connecticut Avenue NW) a little over a week ago, owner David Nammour says.
Pita-based tacos include combos like chicken shawarma with rajas (Poblano chile strips) and whipped garlic toum; beef shawarma with a “taqueria tahini;” ground meat kafta kebabs with smoked paprika labneh; and grilled or fried chicken skewers (taouk). Vegetarians can click on grilled cauliflower or fried eggplant varieties. Other toppings include harissa aioli, red cabbage slaw, scallions, radishes, tomatoes, pickles, and cilantro. All tacos come with a side of sumac pico that amps up the acidic flavor of the raw salsa.
Prices range from $3.50 to $4 per taco, or $10 for a choice of three. Customers can order online only for pickup or Uber Eats delivery from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Muncheez, a longtime favorite for Georgetown students, opened its third, and largest, location to date last summer inside the former DGS Delicatessen space. There’s also an outpost in Tenleytown.
“We have the infrastructure, so for us it makes sense,” Nammour says of the new project. “We have the kitchen, equipment and staff. It was just about coming up with new recipes and food.”
While Nammour’s debut taqueria is a separate entity from Muncheez, he says, there is some cross-utilization of ingredients. The new venture, like many ghost kitchens popping up during the pandemic, is testing the waters to see if opening a standalone location would make sense down the road.
Nammour tapped Louis Yammine, a chef who’s consulted across Lebanon, Europe, and the U.S., to craft the opening menu. The longtime friends went to high school together in Beirut, he says, and Yammine has communicated from Kuwait while running a large family of restaurants there.
A wave of Lebanese and Middle Eastern immigrants arrived in Mexico in the late 1800s and early 1900s, bringing with them vertical spits that are still used to make cumin-dusted pork tacos Arabes and achiote-tinged tacos al pastor. Nammour said those tacos made their way back to Lebanon, too: “It’s why everyone eats tacos.”
At Taqueira de Beirut, taco meats also go into bowls built on a bed of turmeric rice or lettuce. Sides include roasted red pepper and hummus, guacamole, roasted corn, and curly fries. The latter dish, a Muncheez staple, gets dressed in lime, cilantro, and chili powder Thyme chips are served with the same smoked paprika labneh dip that helps build its grilled kafta kabob taco.
Both Muncheez and Taqueria de Beirut will soon offer “Lebanese care packages” that import products from small merchants there, with plans to donate 10 percent back to Lebanon to aid in recovery efforts following a devastating chemical explosion this summer.
Nammour, a civil engineer-turned-restaurateur, has also flipped the loft space inside the Dupont Muncheez into an expanded space for Residents, the espresso martini-making bar and all-day cafe he co-owns on the same block. Muncheez has also added a souk (market) section with packaged meze, dips, and kits for cook-at-home flatbreads.