For nearly 35 years on SE Grand Avenue, Nicholas Restaurant served mezza platters, lamb kabobs, chicken and saffron rice plates, and pita breads served still steaming hot from an imported Lebanese oven. Its owners, husband and wife Nicholas and Linda Dibe, had escaped the violence of the 1982 Lebanon War, eventually settling in town and opening Nicholas, introducing Portlanders to all manner of new dishes. In 2021 it moved from its cozy — even cramped — location on SE Grand to a new, more spacious building just on SE Madison Street. Now, after standing empty for a year, the team has returned to the original building. Beirut Bites opened last week with a fresh coat of yellow paint; a casual, counter-service model; and Lebanese street foods including pizzas, shawarma wraps, salad bowls, and gyros.
Owner Hilda Dibe says that Beirut Bites is another opportunity to introduce Portland to new tastes of Lebanon, just as her parents did in 1986 when they opened Nicholas. While the restaurant will serve more familiar fare like hummus and falafel, it will also feature dishes rarely seen outside of the streets of Beirut. A staple of the restaurant is the menu of Lebanese street pizzas, which are baked in the same vintage oven her parents imported to the US — unlike many conventional ovens, and even pizza ovens, this can get up to 700 and even 800-degrees. The shatta pizza is made with roasted and fermented red pepper sauce, stuffed with a house blend of imported Lebanese cheese, while the ayeress sees pita stuffed with lamb sausage made in-house, and served with a tomato broth.
Another featured menu item is a build-a-bowl selection; diners can select items like falafel, shawarma, or Beirut grilled chicken in turmeric cream sauce. They then choose between salad greens or vermicelli jasmine rice, a Lebanese dish of mixed wheat noodles and rice. There’s also an option for sauces to top the bowls.
Other dishes include cauliflower shwarama wraps —which include cauliflower and eggplant roasted in the same heavy duty oven — as well as lamb gyro, falafel served a la carte or wrapped, and chocolate iced Turkish coffee. Desserts, Dibe explains, aren’t strictly Lebanese street food, but rather items that the team enjoyed, like pistachio baklava rolled into “cigars.”
Regulars to the old Nicholas space will find it pretty different, with an added counter for ordering — while diners can dine-in, there’s an emphasis on quick grab and go lunches.
Dibe and her family, having been refugees themselves, have long been involved with organizations like the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). “We became refugees in 1982,” says Dibe. “I’ve always been involved with IRCO. We hire people from them, we donate food.”
To that end, Dibe says that Beirut Bites will be donating 10-percent of its proceeds every Tuesday to the organization. The fundraiser will go through May and into June, and Dibe says possibly further.
“Owning a restaurant, you have the platform to help,” she explains. “It gives you a sense of purpose.”
Beirut Bites is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 318 SE Grand Avenue.