Cafe Reviews

Mesa's Green Corner is a Hidden Gem for Middle Eastern Food

The hummus at Green Corner is fresh and flavorful.
The hummus at Green Corner is fresh and flavorful. Jackie Mercandetti

Probably the best way to approach a meal at Green Corner, an under-the-radar Middle Eastern restaurant in Mesa, is to arrive with an empty stomach and a full, unbridled appetite.

The average serving here is hefty. A typical entrée plate might come with a mound of hummus dappled with olive oil, some Greek salad, spears of highly seasoned meats draped across mountainous heaps of yellow rice — food on top of other food. And just when you’ve gotten close to scraping your plate clean, along comes a cheerful server with one more offering: a complimentary piece of baklava, a crispy golden triangle crammed with chopped nuts and shellacked with just enough honey to give your blood glucose level a pleasant, hypnotic bump. It’s a very good baklava.

There’s a natural generosity and abundance about a meal at Green Corner, one that rewards large appetites and sort of makes you wish every corner was a little more like this particular Green Corner. The name, if you’re wondering, is a reference to the restaurant’s emphasis on “fresh Mediterranean” fare — even takeout orders are carried away in signature green plastic bags. And indeed, the restaurant is situated on a corner, although it’s not exactly a traffic-choked scene. Green Corner is near the middle section of the sprawling, half-deserted Fiesta Commons Shopping Center on Southern Avenue near Alma School Road, parts of which look like a tumbleweed might blow through.

click to enlarge Green Corner is tucked away in a Mesa strip mall - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Green Corner is tucked away in a Mesa strip mall
Jackie Mercandetti

The small, counter-service dining room at Green Corner is largely sun-filled and sleepy. But there’s a pleasing steadiness to the room, a constant stream of takeout orders, the low-level buzz of pop tunes playing somewhere in the background, and the occasional employee, making a sweep of the dining room, checking to see if you’re enjoying your meal. When you explain how pleased you are with your order of dolmas or crispy falafel, the response might be an old-fashioned thumbs-up. Service, which does not end at the counter, feels genuinely perky and attentive.

The relatively small menu is steeped in the long, rich traditions of Levantine cooking, a culinary heritage found across Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, which is the native country of chef-owner Ebrahim Takkem. The menu is also decidedly mainstream, replete with things like kebabs, gyro, and chicken shawarma. You’ll also find specialties like kibbeh — fragrant, crackly bulgur-beef croquettes — and knafeh, the wonderful syrup-soaked cheese pastry that’s baked in enormous sheet pans. Green Corner seems to do a fair amount of private catering, too, so you might catch a glimpse of the kitchen prepping large pans of lamb, the meat perfumed with spices and nuts.

There are the normal meze starters, including a baba ghanoush that may appeal to even avowed non-baba ghanoush eaters. The freshly blended eggplant is slightly less smoky than other interpretations. This version has an almost decadent creaminess that makes it an ideal foil for a dense, dry slice of pita bread.

Hummus and falafel, meanwhile, achieve peak form at Green Corner — the hummus is extra creamy and fresh, bearing none of the grit or heaviness you may find in lesser renditions. And falafel is so cleanly fried, you might never guess the crackly, crunchy well-seasoned nuggets ever touched hot oil.

A noteworthy outlier on the menu, and a very credible way to start your meal, is the wonderful house yellow lentil soup. On a recent visit, it was blended to a creamy silk and gently infused with the deep flavor of garlic — just what you want when the weather turns gray. Or truly, any other day that calls for a good bowl of soup.

click to enlarge Shawarma and gyro meat stands ready to be sliced. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Shawarma and gyro meat stands ready to be sliced.
Jackie Mercandetti
From the entrée menu, it’s hard to overestimate the allure of the Green Corner gyro plate. The humble vertical spit rotisserie meat, a standard of Greek restaurants, church fairs, and festivals, really shines here. The meat is extra-rich and thinly sliced, and it’s lavishly, somewhat mysteriously seasoned, the meat hinting at cinnamon and allspice. Its texture is remarkable, too: supple, foldable, almost slippery in its richness.

But if you are partial to kebabs, the essential order is probably the lamb kifta, a sort of baked lamb meatloaf, which is grilled on a kebab and served with grilled tomatoes and onions. The meat seems to glisten, the texture approximating the juicy succulence of something like a well-made meatball.

You can sample every kebab on the menu with the Green Corner combo plate, which features a trio of highly seasoned kebabs served over rice. The beef is a close runner-up to the lamb kifta — the meaty hunks are slightly smoky and crackly on the outside, and flake apart easily.

Chicken, for the most part, is skillfully seasoned. But it’s also the meat most vulnerable to turning dry, which is how a chicken kebab arrived during a recent dinner.

Chicken fares better in the house shawarma, which is sliced thickly off the spit, the meat tinged with a gratifying smokiness. It’s perfect wrapped up in a pita, lightly lubricated in tahini sauce, and then eaten with a general sense of abandon.

click to enlarge The Green Corner combo plate features a trio of highly seasoned kebabs served over rice. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
The Green Corner combo plate features a trio of highly seasoned kebabs served over rice.
Jackie Mercandetti

But if you really want to know the Green Corner kitchen, you’ll probably want to sample the various renditions of lamb on the menu. There’s lamb shank, slow-braised to coax out its deep flavors. It’s seasoned with a not-too heady spice mix, and it’s probably one of the restaurant’s most sophisticated offerings.

Even better, though, is the lamp chop plate, which features three rather modestly-sized lamb chops. Someone once said it’s not size that matters, though, and that’s more or less the case here: The chops are rubbed with a secret spice mix and cooked until the meat glistens and seems to almost melt right off the bone. You don’t so much eat the meat as suck it up.

click to enlarge Baklava at Green Corner is sweet and flaky. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Baklava at Green Corner is sweet and flaky.
Jackie Mercandetti

Probably the best way to wrap up your meal at Green Corner is by leaving sufficient room to finish off your complimentary piece of baklava. On a recent visit, a couple of diners almost made it out the door before an employee chased after them with their free dessert, which was packaged for them in a takeout container.

The baklava is intended as a gesture of hospitality, a sweet token to make the memory of your meal at Green Corner sweeter and richer than its drab surroundings portend. It seems to do the trick, too.

Green Corner
1038 West Southern Avenue, #1, Mesa
Hours: Monday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Baba ghanoush (small) $3.49
Green Corner combo $12.99
Gyro plate $7.99

Lamb chops $12.99
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.