Follow me, my love!

As an individual that grew up exposed to authentic Mediterranean food, I arrived at Yalla Habibi a bit hesitant and thinking, “Authentic? We’ll see about that.” The restaurant claims to provide an authentic Mediterranean dining experience. It came highly recommended by some friends from Monterrey who are frequent SPI visitors. In that area of Nuevo Leon, the Mediterranean community has thrived for generations, so good, authentic food from those cultures is fairly easy to come by. I took their recommendations to heart and decided to check this place out for myself. As soon as I opened the door, the aromas from the kitchen hit me, and I thought to myself, “Honey, I’m home.”

We were greeted by the owners who, for the most part, do all the cooking and supervise the entire operation. The restaurant is family-owned. Carlos and Odetth, a brother and sister, cook and manage Yalla Habibi with the help of their extended family members. Together, they have succeeded in creating a unique cultural dining experience. The eatery boasts a bistro-type feel that is both captivating and warm.

To start, we ordered a side dish of hummus accompanied by homemade pita slices and herbs. It was delicious. The owner suggested we order the Lebanese Plate, which includes lamb kebabs, a side order of Tabbouleh and a gyro sandwich (a local favorite). The dish arrived, and I was pulled into a dreamy haze of exotic foods. An assortment of other tasty treats like stuffed grape leaves, cabbage rolls, kibbeh (kipe) and two empanadas filled the plate. My only problem with the dish was not being able to decide what to eat first!

I dipped every bite into their special sauce, and each was as delicious as the previous one. The basmati rice was a perfect accent to all the foods with almonds, pine nuts and fresh garlic. Finally, the tabbouleh was the most amazing style I have had in years. It was fresh, aromatic and delectable with a blend of cracked wheat and other traditional ingredients.

My companion devoured her lamb gyro in complete silence, not wanting to distract from enjoying the rich flavors enveloped in the sandwich. She found the mix of meat, veggies and tzatziki sauce to be a perfect combination. The grand finale was sharing a traditional pastry called Baklava, a delicacy dating back to the time of the Ottomans. As we say, “Panza llena, corazón contento”.

We were notified that the bistro would be closing for a few months during the winter, or during the island’s low traffic season. So, if you’re in the mood for some truly amazing authentic Mediterranean food, I suggest you call ahead. The owners are scouting the greater McAllen area for a possible new location in an effort to share their cuisine with all of the RGV.

P.S., Yalla Habibi is an Arabic phrase that can be roughly translated to English as “follow me, my love”. What a lovely and unique name for a quaint bistro on the beaches of South Texas.

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I like to consider myself a “Jack-of-all-trades”, an “apprentice of everything, master of nothing” type of guy. I’ve dabbled in many a profession. You name it, I’ve done it. My colorful professional past includes stints as a chef, banker, license stockbroker, restauranteur, day trader, and everything in between. Alas, my zeal for food and my interest in the future of the web outweighed my liking of every other industry.