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With walls the color of a warm summer ocean and a simple dining spice adored with quaint ornaments, Turquoise Grill exudes a type of simple familial charm that makes it a welcome refuge from the surrounding drab corporate office buildings and generically decorated shopping plazas. For more than a decade, the restaurant has been a haven for Turkish expats as well as Houston muslims eager to break their Ramadan fasting with the next-best-thing to a home-cooked meal. But its clientele is by no means limited to these groups as the broad culinary selection and accommodating waitstaff draw and sustain a diverse patronage.

As you might expect, food offerings at Turquoise Grill include Turkish and Mediterranean staples such as cold mezze (baba ghanoush, hummus, tabouli) and various kebab platter and gyro sandwiches. The menu, however, strays from this theme—sometimes confusingly (fried shrimp? philly cheesesteak?) but more often pleasantly in the form of fusion dishes such as the hearty gyros calzone and caesar salad topped with falafel.

For this reason, Turquoise Grill is a terrific place to go when you’re craving Mediterranean cuisine but your octogenarian uncle won’t touch “ethnic food.” He can satisfy his appetite with the Grill’s respectable cold-cut sandwiches and you can savor some of the more sophisticated traditional entrees, of which there are about a handful that are executed truly spectacularly.

First, the sigara boregi, deep-fried cylinders of delicate phyllo dough encasing a succulent mixture of warm feta and herbs. An appetizer order is supposed to contain four boregi, but don’t be surprised if your kind hostess sneaks in a fifth. Then, for your primi, try the manti, Turkish dumpling stuffed with ground beef that resemble tortellini in structure and composition but boast more piquant botanical flavors thanks to creamy sauce made of mint, yogurt, and fiery paprika.

Next, consider splitting an order of lahmajun for the table. Many restaurants, Turquoise Grill, describe this dish as “Turkish pizza” but let’s skip the occidental-centric nomenclature (why isn’t pizza “American lahmajun”) and appreciate it in its own right. A thin bed of dough, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, is layered with onions, tomatoes, ground beef, red pepper, and olive to produce a flatbread par excellence that will make you rethink the “necessity” of cheese.

You won’t need that dairy protein, anyway, if you order the sultan beyti kebab, a sumptuous mixture of fatty lamb and beef heavily spiced, wrapped in lavash bread, and dressed with a tomato-yogurt sauce. The vibrant hues of its components lead this dish to present as a sort of edible oiling painting and you’re likely to pause to admire the colors before digging in.

Prices have stayed surprisingly reasonably over the years at Turquoise Grill despite skyrocketing real estate values in the Upper Kirby and West University areas and hearty two-course dinner (sans booze) can easily be had for around or under $20. Although the limited number of small tables make dining in a large group difficult, takeout or even catering can easily resolve this issue for those that want to enjoy a Turkish feast with the whole extended family.

Turquoise Grill
3701 Kirby Dr
Houston, TX 77098

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Joanna O'Leary

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