Ululating rhythms of the Fertile Crescent blast on the soundtrack, with stylish curves and murals of Bedouin tents on the walls transporting you right to the Wadi Rum. The female servers wear modest-yet-stylish dresses with—yep—arabesque designs; the men sport checkered red keffiyehs, save for the floor manager, resplendent in a fabulous shemagh mhadab, the Jordanian version of the headwrap complete with thick cotton tassels. But that's not the most stunning part of his outfit; that would be the plastic gun-packing holster he wears around his waist while roaming the restaurant to give people free shots of strong coffee.
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Gimmicky? Maybe. But the crowds who've packed Desert Moon Grill, the Rainforest Cafe of Middle Eastern restaurants in Orange County, since it opened last month don't care. Hijabis, Eritrean taxi drivers, refugee families, Lebanese Christian bros, older men still wearing their sandals from mosque prayers—everyone who makes up OC's Middle Eastern community—flock to Desert Moon for the riotous atmosphere, but also for a great menu that zigzags across the Levant like the Tigris and Euphrates. You know you're eating at a serious food spot when the pita not only comes bloated with steam, but is also still dusted in flour. And while the shawerma, wraps and all the usual suspects please, go for the rarities: Start with muthawama, which is basically potato hummus with the garlic turned to 11, or makdous, pickled eggplants stuffed with walnuts and garlic, then sprinkled in olive oil and salt—and as tart as kimchi. Try the Syrian quesadillas called toksha: pitas stuffed with beef or chicken and a salty Syrian cheese. Desert Moon cooks its meats on a wood-fired grill and offers a full seafood menu—a rarity in the lamb/quail/chicken/beef-obsessed Little Arabia. There's even an Egyptian-style casserole that's essentially a hamburger patty slathered in a tomato-tahini sauce—Hamburger Helper by way of Tahrir Square.
There's no alcohol, of course, but that doesn't matter. Instead, order one of Desert Moon's sweet banana-strawberry milk "cocktails," or go back to that mule-kick coffee—salaam!
Desert Moon Grill, 888 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 533-6601; desertmoongrill.com.