Naya Express Is Just Like Chipotle… Except the Food is Lebanese and It’s Awesome

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As much I hate Chipotle, there is no denying that their model has proven to be incredibly successful. The chose your protein, carrying method, and toppings, assembly line structure allows for the high volume, quick service that a popular lunch destination in Midtown needs to be profitable. Meze Grill (on 8th Ave. btw. 55th+56th) opened their “Middle Eastern Chipotle” back in August, and it looks like Pump Energy Food is moving in that direction as well. But my favorite new ode to Chipotle has got to be Naya Express- the new quick service Lebanese spot on 3rd Ave. btw. 43+44th. It’s got the same assembly set up, and customizable menu… but with one noticeable difference. The food is really tasty.

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I’ve never been to Naya, the fancy sit down Lebanese restaurant on 2nd Ave. btw. 55+56th. But clearly they have somebody serious in the kitchen, because this food tastes really good.

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Just like Chipotle, you choose your protein (beef or chicken shawarma, falafel, beef kebab, kafta lamb kebab, chicken shish taouk, or sujuk- a spicy lamb sausage), your delivery method (wrap, bowl, or salad), your toppings (hummus, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, pickled radishes, onions, parsley, and jalapenos), and your sauce (tahini, garlic whip, red sauce, green sauce.) I attempted to try as much as I could fit into my fat face in just one visit…

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Falafel Wrap w/ everything, topped with green sauce. ($6.43) Seeing as how Crisp is on the same block, and was my choice for best Falafel in Midtown this year, you’d think I’d have no need for a new falafel spot on 3rd Ave. Not so. Naya Express’ falafel is the perfect balance of crunchy on the outside, but moist in the middle, and the flavor is excellent. It’s got a nice sweetness in the background and while the thin Lebanese style bread they use is not my favorite, it is a tasty wrap (you may say the secret ingredient is 1 minute in a sandwich press!) The green sauce packs a really big punch, so ask for just a little if you don’t like it super spicy.

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Also had to try the lamb kafta kebab ($7.81), long tubes of ground lamb meat with spices. They recommend a sauce for each protein, or you can just choose whatever you want. I went with the garlic whip… which could turn out to be the ace in the hole for Naya. Essentially a thick super garlicky mayo, the garlic whip is just out of control good (provided you like garlic) and reminded me of the garlic sauce you get at the Lebanese owned Zankou’s Chicken in L.A. (west coast expats will know what I’m taking about.) The kafta kebab was no slouch either, perfectly cooked with a great blend of Lebanese spices.

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Sadly the chicken shawarma wrap ($7.81) was the most disappointing out of everything. The meat was good quality, but completely flavorless (as far as shawarma goes) especially when compared to places like Pick a Pita and Kosher Deluxe. Your co-workers who aren’t into ethnic food will probably love it, but if you’re looking for real Middle Eastern flavors you’ll want to go with one of the other choices.

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Wanted to at least try one bowl, which comes with their “vermicelli” brown rice and your choice of protein- plus whatever toppings you want. It’s a little more food, (and they give you bread as well) but I don’t know if it’s worth the extra $2- unless you’re a light eater and plan on saving half for another meal. (Obviously a wrap won’t keep nearly as well.) The beef shawarma ($9.87) was more flavorful than the chicken, but still not as good as the falafel or kafta kebab. But you do get a lot more hummus, which is tasty (although thicker than some people might be used to.) I’m pretty sure the “salad” is exactly the same, but instead of the rice you get you a full salad underneath your meat and toppings.

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Everything is a tad bit more expensive that it should be (especially the bowls), but some of the food they’re putting out is delicious. Plus I really want to try their lamb sausage, and all the delicious looks pastries they have at the front of the assembly line.  And the garlic whip alone will keep me coming back…

THE +

  • I love Lebanese food, and this is the only fast food version on the East side
  • GARLIC WHIP! GARLIC WHIP! GARLIC WHIP!
  • Their falafel is super tasty
  • Their kafta kebab is good as well
  • Their green sauce is super spicy
  • I like Crisp, and think it’s interesting… but for something more traditional this is better.
  • Did I mention their garlic whip?

THE -

  • Too expensive.  No way I’m paying $7 for a falafel, and $8.50 for shawarma
  • The Kwik Meal cart on 45th and 3rd is better and cheaper
  • The chicken shawarma is flavorless
  • I prefer pita bread or Isreali laffa to Lebanese flat bread
  • They haven’t gotten the assembly line perfected yet, so it can take awhile during peak times.

Naya Express, 686 3rd Ave (btw. 43+44th), 212-257-0007

16 Comments

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    I went here last week and loved it. To me, the garlic whip was more of a whipped butter consistency then mayo, but either way it was delicious! Stuffed grape leaves are also good, but pricey.

  • Anything that recalls the wonder of Zankou chicken merits a try. Even if it’s an eyesore of yellow t-shirt.

  • That looks awesome!!!! I want it. I want it now. All of it…

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    Can somebody PLEASE convince Naya to open up a Naya Express in Midtown WEST???

  • I knew this place was going to be good. And again, I have to chime in that the fancy-schmacy main restaurant on 2nd Ave makes for an excellent date spot… great style and good eats.

  • I second that NYCGuy. 2nd ave is a bit too far from 6th.

  • User has not uploaded an avatar

    “Chipotle method?”

    Step outside the ML world and visit a Subway sometime.

    I’m pretty sure they had the customer directed assembly line waaayyy before Chipotle.

    You wanna see assembly volume – check out the line they service at the underground Rockefeller Center Subway.

    I guess at Subway you choose the conveyance and THEN the protein, so it’s different?

  • Agreed that Naya Express is very good, but too expensive.

    By the way, the garlic whip is called “toum.”

  • man third ave… that’s just far away. i thought a few years ago people were saying those segways would be all the rage. maybe that’s what i need, a segway to go from midtown west to midtown east…

  • i got the falafal…pretty darn good…i think for 7$ you could do ALOT worse….would definitely come back.

    although the techno music was playing so loud they had a hard time listening to your order.

  • Ha, Zach, beat you to the first Zankou Chicken reference of the day by about an hour. It’s usually considered more an Armenian place though. We take what we can get. For example: Cher, Agassi, Kevorkian, the Chipmunks, the Kardashians. Perhaps in that order.

  • RE: The food is “Lebanese and It’s Awesome.”

    It would seem like an oxymoron to an uneducated white cracker here in the South, but then, in my 67 years on the planet, I have NEVER been privileged enough to taste Lebanese food —— thankfully.

  • Thankfully why? Is there something wrong with Lebanese food?

  • @MikeNYC – Subway is a sandwich shop. They might have salads, but it doesn’t hold equal weight on their menu. And they have preconceived sandwich combos. My point about Chipotle is less about the conveyor belt system, or the fact that you can have it your way. It’s more about the menu structure (combined with the conveyor belt assembly.)

    There is no already assembled choices… the menu is entirely just protein/delivery method/toppings.

  • @adamprato:

    Yes

  • Naya’s another foodie gem in Midtown East…got the falafel wrap with garlic whip sauce (which is slammin’) and the works. Delishhh!!! i like it better than Crisp. i’ll be back for the lamb next time. YD

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