Marhaba Middle Eastern restaurant: a space transformed on Nassau Street

The latest addition to the restaurant scene in Princeton is Marhaba, the long-awaited Middle Eastern restaurant at 182 Nassau Street that is located in the space that once housed Cheeburger Cheeburger and, before that, the Carousel Luncheonette.

Prior to Marhaba’s arrival, the space was uninviting. Carousel patrons felt like they were dining in a retail shop. As one Yelp reviewer wrote, “the first reaction is confusion: Is this a shoe store masquerading as a luncheonette?” Cheeburger Cheeburger, part of a national chain, featured faux 1950s decor and pink neon lights that appealed to teenagers.

Marhaba’s owners have transformed the space, which is now full of rich, dark, carved wooden furniture, soft lighting, tapestries and photos. The restaurant also features a large pita bread making station.

The original Marhaba, a regional favorite for Middle Eastern food, is located in Lambertville in a much smaller and more casual space that is always full on weekend nights.

“About 25 percent of my customers from Lambertville are now coming to the Princeton restaurant,” owner Karim Elsharabasi said on a busy Wednesday night at the Princeton location as he headed back to help out in the kitchen.

Marhaba serves traditional Middle Eastern food including kebabs, chicken shawarma, kufta, falafel, hummus, fetush salad, stuffed grape leaves, baklava, Turkish coffee, and more. The restaurant serves some Egyptian specialties like sugok (spicy Egyptian sausage with roasted red peppers and onions in tomato sauce) and koshari (black lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, and rice topped with fried onions, hardboiled egg, and tomato sauce). Other traditional menu items that are not found in many Middle Eastern restaurants in the United States include ouzi (a filo-wrapped pie filled with basmati rice, peas, carrots, almonds, raisins. and veggies or meat) and a Lebanese meat pie called lahambajin.

The restaurant, which opened in October, seats about 100 people, can accommodate large groups, and is BYOB. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.

Marhhaba is an Arabic greeting in the Middle East that means hello or welcome. For local diners in who are looking for new options and something a little different, Marhaba is a welcome addition to downtown Princeton.