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Atlantic Avenue's Newest Entry Serves up Lebanese Tacos

El Cedro melds Lebanese and Mexican cuisine, highlighting a long — and often unknown — history between the two countries.

Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, longtime home to Arabic businesses, just welcomed its newest restaurant concept: Lebanese tacos.

Maher Chebaro, chef and co-owner at El Cedro, is from Lebanon, and has spent years learning about where Lebanese and Mexican food intersect. 

“I fell in love with Mexican food, then I fell in love with the country, and then I started discovering there's so many intersections in the history between them,” Chebaro shared. “If you take al pastor, it came from a taco called taco arabes, which came from shawarma.” 

The bandera dip at El Cedro is muhammara, labne and guacamole, in the colors of both the Lebanese and Mexican flags. Photo by Hannah Berman for BK Reader

The Lebanese taco idea won’t come as a shock to people who know about the large Lebanese community in parts of Mexico. Starting in the early 1900s, Mexico saw an influx of Lebanese immigrants fleeing widespread famine, the effects of World War I, and the 1948 Israel-Lebanon War. Many Lebanese settled in Baja California, Puebla, and Veracruz, among other places. 

And according to Chebaro, the relationship between the cultures reaches back even further. 

“Historically, since the Spanish were the Moorish, you know, that's when the Arabic influence came [to Mexico,]” Chebaro said. 

These influences factored heavily into the menu at El Cedro.

“I tried to feature where [the cultures] intersect more than fusion,” Chebaro said. “The acidity, the herbs. I love both cuisines.” 

Makanek batata at El Cedro. Photo by Hannah Berman for BK Reader

Chebaro’s restaurant now joins the older and more famous Arabic businesses on the street, which include the legendary Sahadi’s, opened by a Lebanese family that moved to its Atlantic Avenue location in 1948, and Yemen Cafe, which has served Yemeni food on the block since 1986.

“[The street] had that flavor to start with,” Chebaro said. “A lot of the neighbors, they know our food, it's like their second cuisine, you know? So it's really fun to be in an area where they already know most of the food.” 

Chebaro's culinary journey is vast. He ran several restaurants in Lebanon and Chicago, including Falafill in Illionois. Then he took a 13-year hiatus from restaurants while working for wholesaler Ziyad Brothers Importing and moved to New York in the meantime.

Chebaro said he strongly believes in keeping his restaurants casual. 

“I have no interest in that environment,” Chebaro said of expensive eateries. “I've done that for years, I've done really high-end restaurants. … Even though people are elevating tacos, you know, you can go and get our $200 taco, to me, I just want to keep tacos simple. Great ingredients, but the idea of a taco still, not elevated, but well done. A little bit innovative and good ingredients and a fun place to eat it.”

Accordingly, all the food at El Cedro can be ordered at the counter. 

Lamb kamounia torta ahogada at El Cedro. Photo by Hannah Berman for BK Reader

On the menu, there are five types of tacos, several intriguing tortas, and an inventive meze plates list. This includes the bandera dip, a trio of guacamole, labneh and muhammara dips, which are red, white and green, like the flags of both Mexico and Lebanon. The dips are served with both chips and pita. 

One of the most fascinating dishes at El Cedro is the makanek batata, a dish featuring tiny, tangy beef sausages in a lemon and pomegranate molasses sauce, served on top of potatoes with caramelized onions, where every bite is a meaty, sour-sweet knockout.

The lamb kamounia torta ahogada also stands out — it’s a big fat torta, stuffed with braised meat with a strong cumin flavor. It’s served in a bowl, and labeled on the menu as “drowned in sauce” for a reason. 

Chebaro said his favorite dish is the quesadilla with the basturma, or cured beef: “This is my childhood, too, eating basturma sandwiches on the streets.”

El Cedro is located at 144 Atlantic Ave, and open Tues–Sun, 11:30am – 9pm.

Hannah Berman

About the Author: Hannah Berman

Hannah Berman is a Brooklyn-born freelance writer. She writes about food, culture, and nonprofit news, and runs her own grumpy food newsletter called Hannah is Eating.
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