In the sunny corner of the park in Plaza del Cedro in Valencia is a little restaurant with a big taste. The “Oriento – Tapas & Mediterranean Food”, as the name suggests, caters to several pallets but includes at the heart of its menu a nice variety of home-cooked Syrian food. The Oriento is a family-run establishment spanning two generations with most dishes based on unique family recipes. And as a team, the Hanna family pull together to produce some excellent food and service, along with providing a great menu adapted to the Spanish culture.
Most dishes are offered as “tapas-sized” portions and at “tapas-sized” prices, with items on the menu at the 1.50€ range, allowing customers to enjoy a variety of flavor experiences every time they return.
As we walked along the park towards the Oriento, we couldn´t help noticing that the other places along the strip had empty tables. When we arrived to the Oriento, the terrace was full of people (always a good sign in my experience) talking, eating and enjoying the food and the beautiful sunny day. On the corner of the plaza, they are situated at the entrance to the park with the wonderful tall trees and greenery providing background to the dining experience.
The menu is well planned with a good selection of Spanish and original styled “montaditos” (something tasty served on a slice of bread), an ample and growing Syrian menu section offering unique dishes in the same small tapas format, and another section dedicated entirely to a fresh and varied pizza menu (a guaranteed favorite with the area´s university students).
Wanting to try as many flavors as possible, we ordered widely off the menu, choosing several montaditos and a simple pizza, but tried to focus mostly on the house specialties to get a taste of the best range of Syrian cuisine that we could. Without exception, everything was delicious. We ordered things we knew like hummus and falafel, things we´d heard of but had never tried before (baba ghanoush…similar to hummus but with eggplant as the main ingredient instead of chickpea), and some other dishes we´d never heard of. Although everything was a pleasure to consume, what stood out for us the most was the Shawerma (a kind of smoked-pulled chicken) that was just outstanding. Usually, the Shawerma is served as a large sandwich wrapped in Arabian bread – more than a meal for any starving person – but since we had ordered so many other items, the chef made a special “tapas version” of the Shawerma for us on the same fresh yet crispy bread slices served with all of their tapas dishes. It was so good I wanted to suggest they add the mini- Shawerma as a new item to their tapas menu.
Of course the rest of the menu has more to offer and I shouldn´t forget to mention the pizza. A pizza place is only as good as it´s pizza-dough and ingredients, and the Oriento has both areas more than covered. All the pizzas are large size with fresh-topped ingredients and rolled pizza-dough cooked in proper pizza ovens are very popular menu items.
The Hanna family has only been in Valencia for 2 years and through dedication, hard work, and great food they have made the Oriento into a thriving restaurant. Starting out with only half the space and cooking in a tiny kitchen, the continued flow of returning customers has allowed them to expand and double their seating space (“and kitchen space” says a happy Joud Eskifeh, one of the chefs who spends his time in there cooking).
When discussing the menu and plans for the future, Nazir says they want to expand the Syrian section to include many more dishes. “The Syrian food menu has the most popular items” says Nazir´s wife Hiba “we´ve seen over time what our customers want, so we plan to give it to them.”
Even the dessert tray is all carefully selected and adjusted by Nazir and Freddy´s mother in delicious Syrian sweets-tradition. She is quite a dessert artisan in her own right and has a successful shop in the Mercado Central (P240) dedicated to selling these special desserts and sweets as well as other Syrian food ingredients.
I for one am looking forward to coming back again to try the new menu and revisit the wonderful flavors from the first experience.
For great Mediterranean, Spanish and Syrian food in Valencia, check out the Oriento at:
Plaza del Cedro 16, or on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/oriento.vlc