Review: Madena of the Pearl

Updated 8/08

You know when you are near Madena because the air becomes redolent with spices. Unfortunately, the promise in the air doesn’t always reflect in the food that comes to your table.

Portland has several good Lebanese restaurants, but now Madena brings this cuisine to the Pearl District. How does this Pearl location compare?

Located in the Gregory Building, it is a tiny place of five tables for two, more on sunny days when they can put tables outside. This is a hole in the wall; comfortable, but nothing fancy here, just basic concrete walls adorned with bright artwork. The music was rather incongruous, Taylor Dane and Flock of Seagulls playing on my last visit, and the whole atmosphere is more Pearl District then Lebanese.

Appetizers can be good depending on the day. The garlicky baba ganoush is good, a smoky, smooth puree of eggplant, olive oil, and garlic served with flatbread for dipping. I’ve had the hummus a few times and while it has been good it is nothing special. The flatbread is just okay — At other restaurants such as Cafe Aladdin, it comes out steaming hot and puffy from the oven. Here it is a bit crispy and gets tough after it cools down a bit, then one night I got food to-go, it and was still in the bag from the grocery store. Oops.

The falafel is a bit dry for my taste and the spice blend varies from pretty good to way over salted. It doesn’t really compare to versions in some of the other restaurants in town. Finally we get to the grape leaves, again nothing special, nothing that stands out from many other places in town.

A maza platter is available at dinner for $9.25 that includes a sampler of hummus, baba ganooj, falafel, tabouli, and grape leaves. Unfortunately they are normally out of at least one of the listed items.

The fattoush salad made up of romaine, cucumber, tomatoes, radishes, green onion, sumac spice, garlic, baked pita, fresh mint, and lemon/olive oil dressing is refreshing. The spices are good but not overpowering. It is huge, a meal in itself, and it worked quite well when I had it one hot summer evening with a cold beer.

If you travel in the Middle East, you will invariably come across chicken shawarma. It is usually found as a sandwich but here it is a large plate. Fork tender chicken with a wonderful spice blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, garlic, and green cardamom over basmati rice, accompanied by fresh sweet onion coated with yet more spice mix. This is a difficult dish to rate because shawarma is a country-by-country dish, changing taste and texture from place to place. When the restaurant first opened, Madena’s version was pretty good. Now, however, it is short on flavor, dry, and tastes like it was made days ago and reheated. The beef version is pretty much the same, again served with basmati rice. The beef is a bit tough, and has been cooked until there is no juice left in it. Again, it is very bland.

Chicken coco comes as a marinated baked chicken breast with herbs, 7-spice, and garlic, topped with coconut curry sauce, again over rice. Another disappointment, the ‘curry sauce’  is bland leaving you wondering if they even have spices behind the counter.

I have to say the one trend I notice every time I go to Madena is the lack of consistency. I tried the chicken coco and it was so salty I had a difficult time finishing the dish. The same day, a salad had so much lemon I couldn’t taste anything else. One week a dish will be pretty decent, the next there will be way too much cardamom. With the meat dishes, the spice mix is not distributed evenly, leaving some bites spiced and others with little flavor at all. Sometimes the hummus has too much lemon, other times too little.

Though this restaurant has been open for several years, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better; if anything it’s getting worse; a disappointment for those who would like to have a decent Lebanese restaurant in the Pearl District. The last evening I was there, I noticed an interesting thing: they don’t seem to have a vent hood. Anywhere. Just an exhaust system above the front door. That makes me think they probably do the heavy cooking somewhere else, and bring it to the restaurant for reheating. That could explain a few things.

Appetizers and sandwiches run mostly in the $4.00 range, soups and salads around $5.00 and Entrees $7.00. You get a good amount of food for your dollars.  Service is very attentive.


  • Phone: 503-231-1000
  • Address: 432 NW 11th Ave, Portland OR. 97209 Google Map
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Madena of the Pearl on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Anonymous says

    The absolute best Middle Eastern food belongs to Karam Restaurant (same owners as Long Island). Madena does ok… but Karam is truly authentic Lebanese food. Being from Damascus, it is often difficult finding good Lebanese/Syrian food. Often times Middle Eastern food is labeled Lebanese, but is in actuality Egypting, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi… which believe me, is quite different.

  2. Anonymous says

    Karam may be good, but it is nothing compared to BASHAS MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE. The food is absolutly breath-taking, Ive have been a customers of theirs for the past 3 years, I have tried everybody in town but nothing compares or comes even close, they are located in the south park blocks in the PSU campus, their falafel is absolutely the best in town.

  3. eulalie says

    I have been to madenas 3 x’s so far in 5 months. I enjoy the quaint atmosphere, and my husband and i have never been disappointed in any of the meals we have eaten there. My favorite appetizer is the Kiefer cheese covered w/olive oil and chopped mint leaves surrounded w/tomatoes and cucumbers….excellent restaurant.

  4. Jennifer says

    For as many good things you mention, I’m shocked Madena only got one star. I’ve been a few times and recommend your next visit to include a bottle of wine (BYO, no corkage fee), five friends, and letting the owner just take care of you. All of the appetizers are amazing (especially the garbanzo beans) and the lamb coco is quite tasty… but let him pick what you’ll eat for the night.

    I’m also surprised you didn’t mention anything about the baklava. You can taste the rose water… it’s incredible!

  5. patrick says

    I’m partial, not the best food, but I live in the building and eat there almost once a week. I hear he is going to open a resteraunt either in Riverplace or the Southwater front, I can’t remember which.

  6. pearlmamma says

    We really like the chicken fatoosh salad and get it more than anything. The lentil soup is also delicious, but still not as good as the stuff at Nicholas’ which I find to be one of the yummiest soups in the whole world. The pita’s are not so great especially being spoiled (again) by Nicholas’. Though we tend to eat a limited selection of their offerings I still don’t see it meriting just the single star.

  7. jellyroll says

    lentil soup there is fantastic – it’s worth a try if you like lentil soup. A couple of things that I wouldn’t recommend (1) the hummus (2) the pickle slices in the falafel sandwich.

  8. Thomas says

    its almost 2009…its time to update this review…
    Madenna in the Pearl with Ali Houdroge at the helm is a valued Pearl neighbor that makes
    honest Mediterranean food at honest prices…(Lamb Shank @ 9 bucks during lunch is a delicious steal!)
    the atmosphere is distinctively casual with airy Lebanese music and stripped down tables…
    they have worked hard to make their dishes more consistent and expand their menu while retaining Ali’s mother’s
    traditional favorites…
    worth a try…worth going back to

  9. Zach says

    Great Middle Eastern food that you will only find at Madena… Its made myself become a humus snob and will not eat it anywhere but here! It’s truly a gem of a restaurant in the Pearl, its warm intimate setting provides a wonderful atmosphere for dinning, and the patio is great for lunches. I’ve had everything on the menu and would try it all again…!

  10. Food Dude says

    I was at Madena in august, and found it to be pretty forgettable. The review was refreshed at that time. I don’t think it was even as good as it was when I originally reviewed it. For that reason I didnt’ bother to update it any further. However, if you’d like me to go back and do a complete re-review, I’m happy to.

  11. Zardoz says

    This was the tiniest Falafel I’ve ever had (and I’ve had many – from Portland to NY to Europe)! It was only $5.25 but I still felt a bit ripped off. The pita wasn’t very fresh, the falafel flavors were okay but nothing spectacular. The service was okay. I guess it’s clear why it was empty at noon on a weekday. Bummer.

    • Food Dude says

      I was there a few weeks ago and got something to go. It came wrapped in a pre-made pita bag. I guess that answers that question.
      Welcome to the site.

      • joan stromberg says

        I think their spinach pies are the best in the city. I haven’t tried everywhere, but I’ve tried almost everywhere including Hodas, Ya Hala, Aladins,and that new place in Woodstock. I also like their hummos.

  12. Amy says

    I LOVE Madena. I try new places for curry and meditteranian and I cannot find anyhwere with food OR service as good as it is here. The servers are so nice and the food is even better! I believe this reviewer should not be doing food reviews because they do not know what they are talking about. – Amy Dunlap.

  13. sabrina says

    i cant belive u hate madena
    and i think u have a personal problem with madena
    and your fake story is all negative
    u dont know the real taste of food

  14. Sara Guru says

    I am a regular at Madena and I love the authentic food and the simplicity of the restaurant. It is nicer to eat there than go to some of the stuffier restaurants in the Pearl. I appreciate that the business is family owned and operated. Honestly I was shocked when I read the review about putting the pita bread in some grocery store bag. Not everyone is a millionaire and I think that they are being earth friendly when reusing the bag from the manufacturer not the “grocery” store. If you were ever raised in a third world country you would understand. So keep up the good work Madena and I will always be a good customer. Forget about what the “Food Dude” says. He is just a “JERK” and probably some fat old guy that hates life and wants to critisize small hardworking bussinesses. He should go review Walmart…..maybe even buy some stocks in it.

    • says

      Forget about what the “Food Dude” says. He is just a “JERK” and probably some fat old guy that hates life and wants to critisize small hardworking bussinesses.

      Hey, hey, HEY now! Wait just one second. That’s my territory.

      • Sara Guru says

        I knew I was right about FD…..He’s up at 12:06 reading replies on a Friday night. All I have to say is LOSER. I was just checking the website to show some of my friends before we headed out for the evening. If you have a job where you consistantly criticize other people and hurt their reputation, and you enjoy it….well that is wrong. Karma…karma…karma…

        • Food Dude says

          EXCUSE ME! I was not up at 12:06 on a Friday night, I was already in bed. It was Polloelastico that commented at 12:06. Pollo is the “looser” you speak of, I am an ULTRA looser.

          As for the pita in the bag. My complaint was not that it is in a bag (though it would stay much warmer if they put it in some foil). My issue is that they don’t cook it themselves, but it is just warmed up grocery store pita, and it tastes like it.

          I would suggest that you take the time to read the review more carefully next time.

    • qv says

      “Honestly I was shocked when I read the review about putting the pita bread in some grocery store bag. Not everyone is a millionaire and I think that they are being earth friendly when reusing the bag from the manufacturer not the “grocery” store. If you were ever raised in a third world country you would understand.”

      Um….. but if they didn’t get the bag when purchasing the pita where DID they get the bag?

      Someone else’s dumpster?

      As the only two logical explanations your discounting the first option is not doing the business any favors.

      Best to quit while you’re ahead.

  15. pdx_yogi says

    All of these friends and family of Madena’s owners are finally onto you and the true purpose of this site, FD. They have performed a vital public service in outing and exposing you for who and what you are, as I had not yet realized the truth on my own. Every review is absolutely fake and full of nothing but mean hateful personal attacks. You are out to tear down all small family-owned businesses. Why oh why? Shame on you!

    So when are you going to review Walmart?

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