There’s a new Mediterranean restaurant in Waco, and it may just be the best eatery you’ve never heard of.
Laziza Mediterranean Cuisine, a small, casual cafe tucked away next to Crunch Fitness in the Westview Village shopping center, serves up jaw-droppingly good meals cooked to order by owner and chef Mouna El Boustani. Laziza’s sign has yet to be installed, so you’ll feel extra in-the-know when you cruise past the gym bunnies, slip through Laziza’s door, and sidle up to the counter for a memorable meal at the near-hidden location.
A Garlic Lover’s Paradise
You won’t see Mouna El Boustani when you arrive at Laziza. She’s in the back, prepping ingredients, poised and ready to cook your order. Instead, her daughter Remonda will be there to greet you, guide you through the menu, and make suggestions (her favorite wrap is the chicken kafta).
The chicken kafta wrap, a thin, near-crispy pita encasing ground chicken seasoned with over fifteen spices, is garnished with finely diced iceberg lettuce and tomatoes and a healthy dollop of toum, a light, creamy garlic sauce made of fresh crushed garlic and olive oil that graces most dishes on the menu and is essential to Lebanese cooking. The whole thing is grilled in a panini press and arrives warm, chewy-crisp, and inviting.
“For Lebanese, garlic is really, really important,” says Remonda, who came to Waco by way of New York City.
Remonda’s brother Anwar, who stops in daily to visit his mother and sister, chimes in, “Garlic, lemon, parsley, and in the summer, mint. In Brooklyn, there’s a lot of our people out there and they’re not going to show up for the shawarma. They want to go for the garlic.”
And the rest of the menu?
The kibbe balls are divine. Ground beef is mixed with bulgar wheat to form a dough which is then filled with more seasoned ground beef, pine nuts, yet more spices, and herbs. The whole thing is formed into an oblong mound the size of a tennis ball, then deep fried. It is deeply savory, crispy on the outside, studded with tender, creamy nuts, and absolutely fantastic with a side of toum or hummus.
The Laziza stone-grilled chicken is another winner. You can order a whole chicken or a leg quarter, both of which are marinated with over seventeen spices for at least 48 hours, then grilled on a Lebanese stone. It is juicy, fall-apart tender, and bursting with flavor.
Vegetarians will love the options here too. The arnabeet wrap is a tasty concoction of cauliflower florets lightly seasoned to preserve the cauliflower flavor, deep fried, garnished with toum and veg, and wrapped tightly in that lovely thin pita.
The hummus is excellent, but the baba ghanouj is a revelation. Laziza is the only place in town that doesn’t pull any punches with garlic, and the acidity and brightness the raw garlic brings to the dish provides a perfect counterpoint to the intensely smoky, roasted eggplant and creamy, nutty tahini.
But be sure to save room for one of Mouna’s salads, all of which are carefully prepared to order and packed with fresh and dried herbs. The haloumi cheese is a standout (yes, cheese salad is still salad), and Laziza is one of the few restaurants in Waco with perfectly-fried haloumi on the menu.
Haloumi is a grilling cheese that is near-impossible to find in Waco restaurants and grocery stores. When eaten raw, it is dense, salty, and squeaks between the teeth. When pan fried, the salt softens, the exterior gets crisped and caramelized, and the inside transforms into creamy-stretchy perfection. Served on a bed of lemon-and-olive-oil-marinated cucumber, tomato, and lettuce and sprinkled with dried basil, the haloumi cheese appetizer is one of those rare dishes that feels both indulgent and righteously healthy. Order extra and consider pairing it with one of the wonderful flatbreads (the za’atar mankoushe is a great choice).
The Laziza Two-Woman Show
Mouna El Boustani and her daughter Remonda moved to Waco from Brooklyn a few years after Mouna’s son Anwar settled here for a quiet life with his wife and children. Mouna and Remonda were enticed by Waco’s small-town pace and the possibility of cultivating a kitchen garden, a near-impossibility in the New York apartment they used to call home.
“It’s a peaceful place, and the people are different,” says Remonda. “In the beginning, oh my God, I was scared. Like, why are you so nice to me? In New York, if someone talks to you, they want something from you. It’s really sad, especially men. When you come over here and people are just saying, ‘Good morning’ and ‘How are you’—I was like wait, what’s going on? So, they’re such lovely people here. I liked it, and I wanted to come live here.”
In Brooklyn, Remonda’s mother Mouna worked for nineteen years at her brother’s specialty deli, D’Vine Taste, hand-making a slew of delicacies for the Park Slope neighborhood, including eleven different types of hamantaschen with scratch, no-sugar-added fruit fillings and savory items like hummus, tabouleh, latkes, and baba ghanouj. All of the Lebanese specialties are recipes from Mouna’s grandmother, carefully hand-recorded in a notebook that now spans generations. The deli became such a neighborhood treasure that in 2013, the New York Times took note.
“I fed everybody on 7th and 8th Avenue,” says Mouna.
With her skills as a cook and baker, it was only natural that Mouna would open a restaurant in Waco with a menu showcasing flavors from her Lebanese childhood. Remonda, who has a master’s degree in child development and psychology, put her career on hold to help her mother get the restaurant off the ground.
“This place is for them,” says Remonda of her family. “I agreed to help them open it, but this is for them. They’re only getting older, and the New York life is so fast and hectic. So, I told them this is a very friendly place to settle in and take a breather. That’s the plan, for the family to come in and take over and run it like a small family restaurant.”
Laziza is currently a two-woman show, with Mouna doing all of the cooking and most of the prep, while Remonda fills in where needed, runs front-of-house, and manages the admin responsibilities. It’s a lot of work, and they’re hoping to have help from their New York family soon, so that they can increase their order volume and speed of service.
“I don’t know how much longer we can operate just the two of us because it’s not fair for someone to wait so long for their food. What they don’t realize is that everything is made fresh. Salads, we don’t make them ahead of time. The tabouleh is chopped to order,” explains Remonda. “The only thing we make in the morning is rice, and if it were up to my uncle, he’d make the rice to order too. If you grill a kebab and leave it there, you won’t be able to chew it. So it takes time to grill the meat to order too.”
Remonda drives to Dallas and Austin weekly to source premium halal meats that are unavailable in Waco, along with hard-to-find spices like sumac. What she can’t find in Texas, she ships from New York.
Beef, lamb, and chicken are marinated for up to 48 hours before grilling or baking. Yogurt is made fresh every few days and then aged to create a more sour flavor profile for labneh, salads, and sides. “We have to do what we have to do to make food that is up to her [Mouna’s] standards,” says Remonda.
Why call Laziza “Mediterranean cuisine” instead of Lebanese or Middle Eastern?
“We’re influenced by all the countries around us, so many different cultures, Syrian, Israeli, Palestinian,” says Remonda of Lebanese cooking. “The style of cooking, the seasoning—there are many similarities.”
Seven languages are spoken in Lebanon, including Mouna’s childhood language of Phoenician, a language that she says is dying out. Both Turkey and France occupied Lebanon for a time, and those cultures left their culinary influences as well.
“Everyone takes something from somebody,” says Mouna, laughing. “Israel and Lebanon are similar because we have competition. We each think hummus is ours.”
Occasionally, Mouna and Remonda receive push-back from Waco’s Middle Eastern community because they feature Israeli couscous on the menu. But Mouna’s mother was Jewish, and her father was Christian. Her mother lived in Argentina before marrying Mouna’s father. Eventually, the couple moved their family from Lebanon to New York in 1984, to escape the Lebanese Civil War. Mouna’s cooking may be rooted in Lebanese traditions, but her cultural influences span continents and religious divides.
“Lebanese people like to travel,” says Mouna.
“We’re everywhere,” laughs Remonda.
If you are fortunate enough to get to know Mouna, this is what she will cook for you as a breakfast or brunch treat. Served with some of her sour pickled cucumbers and radishes, a dish of black olives, warm pita, and a tiny cup of perfectly brewed Turkish coffee, it’s the kind of meal that embodies the El Boustani family’s Lebanese hospitality. It’s homey, transportive, and according to Mouna, filling enough to carry you through a long, busy day.
1 c yogurt
2 T tahini paste
salt to taste
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of white pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Juice from ½ a lemon
3 T pine nuts
3 T ghee
½ tsp dried mint
½ c chickpeas (boiled or pre-cooked from a can)
1-2 c toasted pita chips
In a medium bowl, mix together the yogurt, tahini, garlic, spices, olive oil, and lemon juice. In a small skillet, heat the ghee over medium heat, add the pine nuts, and stir constantly until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove pine nuts from heat and set aside. In a serving bowl, create a layer of toasted pita chips, then add a layer of cooked chickpeas, then top with the yogurt sauce. Pour the toasted pine nuts and ghee over everything, sprinkle with dried mint, and serve warm with a fork and some extra pita.
For a heartier meal, top the entire dish with your favorite type of meat (Mouna uses beef and lamb shawarma when available).
Remonda says her mother seasons food, “with a pinch and with the eye,” and that only Mouna and her brother in New York know how to cook the food just so.
“I learned my cooking from my grandma,” says Mouna, “and in the end she was blind.”
“They have that passion for food, for perfecting it,” says Remonda. “I wish I had that. My uncle knows my mom’s potential, and she knows his. He’ll say, ‘I’m not going to try it ’til you’re satisfied with it.’”
That perfectionism and dedication to craft are evident in every dish on the menu at Laziza, and you’ll leave feeling both satiated and hungry for more.
Learn more about Waco’s local food scene on the Waco Insider podcast Eat, Drink, Repeat, hosted by Angelica Mazé.