This article originally appeared in our March/April 2023 edition of Local Profile.
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It’s late when we arrive. Entering, we see beautiful decor, glided lamps and rugs with colorful Middle Eastern patterns. But the restaurant is in the back — you wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t looking. The first time, we didn’t. The walkway snakes through to a large sprawling patio that spans 20,000 square feet, overlooking a nearby creek. Guests are already kicking back with hookahs. The smell of strawberry tobacco and the sound of dance music fill the air.
Turkish Cafe & Lounge first opened its doors in 2013, offering a delicious assortment of Middle Eastern cuisine as well as decor and furnishings. By day, Turkish Cafe is a quaint eatery where guests can enjoy an assortment of hummuses, tzatziki dips, meatballs, Mediterranean vegetables and more. By night, the space becomes a hub of Middle Eastern culture. As it nears its 10th anniversary, Turkish Cafe is a hidden gem among the glitz and glam of Frisco. People come for the delicious food and stay for the celebration of culture.
“From the very beginning, my concept was to bring people of many cultural backgrounds under one roof to learn and experience the beauty and diversity of Turkish cuisine and culture,” says owner Mehmet Shon Celik, taking a drag off the hookah. “At the same time, we also wanted to pay respect to their own cultures by hosting multicultural events here at the Turkish Cafe & Lounge on weekends with live music and performances.”
It was Celik’s goal to create a diverse environment where everyone feels welcome. “But as with any foreign concept, it was hard to spread awareness and to engage with people not familiar with what Turkish and other cultures have to offer,” he adds. “It took time, but now Turkish Cafe & Lounge is known as the destination for the multicultural experience: Turkish, Indian, Slavic, Hispanic and many others.”
The eatery is located right between West Plano and Frisco, just minutes away from Stonebriar Centre. Guests will find tables dressed in white cloth and decorated with red candle fixtures, all set atop lush hardwood floors. The walls are bedecked with stained-glass plates, portraits and other works of Middle Eastern art. Stained-glass lamps hang from the ceiling, illuminating the space with colorful patterns, creating a softly lit, intimate feel.
“I chose the border of Plano and Frisco for my restaurant because of its community known for vibrance and diversity,” says Celik. “At the time, it also lacked ethnic places and experiences to enjoy while being the fastest-growing area of DFW. It was a great business opportunity and fits the spirit of my concept.”
Perhaps the best introduction to Turkish Cafe’s cuisine is the appetizer trio, which comprises chickpea hummus, baba ganoush and eggplant sauce, in all of which guests can give their pita bread a little dip. Those who wish to spice things up a bit can try the bride’s soup, a hot, vegan-friendly lentil soup with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, herbs and spices. And for gluten-free consumers, the shepherd’s salad is a sweet, savory mix of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, dill and parsley, which comes served with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and pomegranate juice. We recommend ordering with grilled chicken.
Their lunch menu offers abbreviated versions of their dinner menu plates in the forms of gyros, wraps, sandwiches and kebabs; however, during lunch hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), guests can enjoy $10 off hookah. On any given night, many of Turkish Cafe’s guests can be seen smoking hookah at their tables, partaking in Middle Eastern traditions. A hookah session will run a group about $30, which, when split among three or four people, is pretty much a steal.
The best way to get the full experience is to come in at night. Dinner, cocktails, dancing and Middle Eastern music all make the perfect ingredients for a night out. The kuzu pirzola (lamb chops) make for a hearty plate; the plate contains four pieces of lamb seasoned with Mediterranean herbs and spices, along with a pilaf of rice plus onion salad, grilled tomatoes, peppers and pickled red cabbage to flavor the meat. But if you plan to dance the night away, get something light, like the chicken kebabs. They come served with the same sides as the lamb chops but sit a little less heavily. And of course, the night isn’t complete without a little bit of Turkish Cafe’s baklava or kunefe for a nice dessert before you go.
The music and dancing are appropriate for the whole family, but if you do wish to have a night out without the kids, the shows and DJ sets usually don’t begin until 10 p.m., so call a sitter and tuck the kids into bed before you leave because Turkish Cafe is right on schedule.
Guests wanting something to take home following their visit to Turkish Cafe can purchase an assortment of jewels, clothing and works of art in the on-site shop, The Eighth Wonder. At the shop, which Celik co-owns with his daughter, Dilayda Celik, many of the offerings are handmade, each work uniquely designed by artists from various parts of the world.
The night is still young. The belly dancing just started, and the dance floor is bumping. “Everyone who comes to Turkish Cafe & Lounge gets to experience what they would typically find in a traditional Turkish restaurant in Istanbul, all without leaving DFW,” says Celik. Make that, without leaving Collin County.