The Flatiron district is as diverse as New York itself. This bustling neighborhood features popular restaurants, dynamic retail, superb educational institutions, and architectural highlights. The district is just a short stroll from either Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station.
Chef Philippe Massoud won a bid in 2010 from the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District to open a shop in the middle of a pedestrian walkway in Flatiron. With that win, he opened ilili BOX, a casual take on his ordinarily upscale version of Lebanese food.
Who is Chef Philippe Massoud? To start, he grew up in Beirut and started working in a hotel restaurant at the age of eight, where his family lived during the war. When the violence began to spill into the hotel, Massoud's family sent him to Scarsdale, NY to remove him from an atmosphere of regular bombings. According to interviews, Massoud longed for his ancestral cuisine while in NY and resolved to bring authentic Middle Eastern food to the United States. His resolve was strengthened when he discovered his father had been killed during the war. Food was a way of connecting to his country and sharing the connection with the world.
Share he did. In 2006, Massoud's first restaurant, ilili, opened. The high-end Lebanese restaurant was -- and is -- full of traditional dishes, cooked to perfection, often with a unique flair. When he won the bid for a kiosk location, he was thrilled at the opportunity to finally make his food accessible to the general public. Ilili BOX was born.
In his quest to bring traditional Lebanese fare to an American audience, Massoud offers falafel, hummus, labneh, and more. He delivers on his promise for a unique twist by offering not only a traditional "Beirut Falafel" sandwich, but also a "Korean Falafel" option with kimchi, scallions, and basil. For duck lovers, there are duck wraps, duck bowls, and duck salads, all seasoned to perfection.
When ilili BOX opened, Massoud knew he wanted to be as eco-conscious as possible. The kiosk was built using a repurposed shipping container to cut down on material usage. To run the operation, Massoud didn't want to rely on diesel fuels. Instead, he insisted that NY utility company, ConEd, run utilities to the middle of the pedestrian plaza -- an endeavor that took over a year. The payoff was worth it. This little restaurant box is packed during lunch hours, but if you're in a rush, you can always order online.
Cover Photo Credit: Nikki Yeager