Tucked behind the Universal Orlando Resort and surrounded by office buildings on the corner of Universal Boulevard and Production Plaza Boulevard, Taboon Bistro is a hidden gem for those in the neighborhood and for visitors from around town. On any given day, you can hear the rush of the roller coasters and screams of delighted thrill seekers from Taboon’s patio. Its close proximity to the park makes this restaurant an easy choice for lunch before you go or dinner when you’re done.
Owner Michael Hilal brings authentic Middle Eastern cuisine to this little-known corner of theme park land. With that comes a large variety of vegetarian items and Halal ingredients that cater to a broader market.
Taboon Bistro was named after a traditional Palestinian oven made of clay that contains rocks at the bottom to help maintain the heat. Hilal and his team fashioned their own taboon in the restaurant’s kitchen with a more modern style, using a typical commercial oven but adding sheet trays lined with black stones at the bottom. The pita bread that is served with many of Taboon’s dishes are actually baked on top of the seasoned stones, creating little craters in the soft bread.
You can take a seat in the main dining room, which is splashed in warm tones and remnants of the Japanese restaurant that resided there before including a bamboo wall, or there is ample seating on the patio. Outside diners can partake in the hookah with assorted al-fakher flavors (many combined with mint) and a choice of coconut coal or natural charcoal, which does not include any chemicals.
When it comes to Taboon’s menu, the choices are varied. Try the Mezza Platter if you want a taste of several starters. Perfect for sharing with the table, this colorful appetizer sampler includes familiar flavors from the Middle East. Take advantage of the warm pita bread by dunking it into the platter’s trio of creamy dips: smooth, garlicky hummus; a blend of grilled eggplant, lemon, garlic and tahini called Baba Ghannouge; and lemony Labneh, a drained yogurt mixture with garlic and dried mint that is topped with black olives. Each of the dips is made a day before serving to give it optimal time for the flavors to combine.
Cleanse your palate with a bite of Tabbouleh, finely chopped parsley, tomato and onions with cracked wheat, dried mint and a touch of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice then dig into the Falafel dipped in tahini sauce or the Grape Leaves. While Taboon’s grape leaves appetizer is typically of the vegetarian variety, there is a hand-rolled beef option available for substitution. The grape leaves used in this dish come from California because its desert climate is so similar to the region in which this dish originated, creating a truly authentic taste.
On the entrée portion of the menu, you’ll find lamb and chicken dishes produced in a Shawarma style where the meat is marinated and roasted, and you will also find these meats on charbroiled kabobs. A Vegetarian Mix Plate that resembles the Mezza Platter stands out as a vegetarian option.
Hugely popular with Taboon’s customer base, though, is the Lamb Chops. Five tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb lollipops, which are cooked simply by seasoning, searing and grilling the meat, line the plate. They are served on a bed of sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms with sides of rice and a Tabbouleh Side Salad drizzled with a tangy lemon juice and olive oil dressing.
The dessert menu at Taboon is vast, covering any craving with classic American flavors on the Banana Split and a French flair in the sweet crepes, but it also represents the traditional desserts of the region. The Knafeh is a blend of two sweet cheeses that is then topped with shredded phyllo dough, drizzled with a house-made simple syrup, and garnished with chopped pistachios for an added crunch. An expert tip from Hilal: Cut off a slice and stuff it into a piece of the warm pita bread. You’ll have a sweet and savory dessert sandwich that you’ll find yourself craving all the time.
While Taboon Bistro may be difficult to spot, the food and ambiance make it well worth the search. It might even become your new go-to spot once you find it.