The Bedford Street location of Moustache closed at the end of last year and a successor opened a few months into 2023 on a bustling stretch of Seventh Avenue South (27 Seventh Avenue South, near Morton Street). The new interior isn’t much bigger — utilitarian with modern art accents — but the restaurant offers more options for sitting outside. I went with a friend to see if we liked the new place as much as the old.
The original Moustache opened on Atlantic Avenue in 1988, about a decade after Baghdad-born Salam Al-Rawi came to New York City. It was modeled on Lebanese bakeries called furns that turn out fresh pitas and allow customers to bring their own toppings. In Brooklyn, Al-Rawi provided options like za’atar (an herb mixture) and lahm bi ajeen, but also included pizza fixings like mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce. His topped pitas that he calls pitzas caught on and spawned imitators.
The Atlantic Avenue storefront continued to flourish — with it cited as a model of bridge building by way of food during the U.S. invasion of Iraq — meanwhile, among the three restaurants Al-Rawi would open around the city (and one in New Haven), he established a more comfortable and serene outpost on Bedford Street in the West Village.
The enhanced menu was based on dips served with his warm, paper-thin pitas; sandwiches; and chicken kebab, leg of lamb, and falafel platters, yet the pita oven remained the centerpiece of the restaurant. That location closed last year before it moved to where it currently resides.
The Seventh Avenue South location features an expanded menu, with items like mujaddara and foule among starters, and falafel, kebabs, and chicken-stuffed ouzi among specialties. And of course, there are pitzas. Ten dips priced between $10 and $11, define the menu, including one with a guacamole crossover, with avocado scallions, cilantro, jalapeño, tomatoes, and lime. We also got a plate of baba ghanouj with a smoky flavor, artfully arranged on the plate with a reservoir of olive oil in the center; and nivik, chick peas and spinach in a tomato sauce that remained very much in the background.
With pita ($1.50 for regular, $2 for whole wheat), three dips could make a wonderful light meal for two people. In fact, with servings that tend to be on the large side, the dips remain the best part of the Moustache menu, with their unadorned presentation and ability to accommodate any number of hungry diners.
We got a pitza, of course, in this case the one called green ($16): leeks, scallions, and fresh herbs, and for no extra charge you can have it smothered — and I mean smothered — in mozzarella.
Meats like chicken and lamb kebabs, leg of lamb, and merguez can be made into sandwiches or platters, and there are vegetarian baked entrees, too, like moussaka and spinach pie. We picked the most expensive platter, lamb rib ($36), and the roll of glistening meat turned out to look more like a skirt steak than the bony and fatty lamb ribs we were expecting. The entree really needed a serving of rice pilaf to go with it, but this is a bread-only place.
Wine and beer — including Lebanese and Moroccan bottles — are available, but my favorite beverage is a homemade loomi ($4), a refreshingly bitter tea made with dried limes and only slightly sweetened. This is not a place to skip dessert, especially if you’ve just economized with a meal of bread dips. The muhalabia is especially good, a wobbly milk flan crisscrossed with raspberry puree and sprinkled with toasted pistachios. Mastiha, an ice cream made with mastic, has a piney taste and is especially refreshing in hot weather, like an end-of-summer vacation to the Catskills.