Nestle into Noor: A Cozy New Mediterranean Grill in Somerville


By Nancy Kalajian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of Noor Mediterranean Grill on a warm summer’s day brought back memories of the restaurant’s opening this year on an extremely frigid January 24. But, once settled in and delighting in Noor’s homemade selections, the climate is the last thing on your mind. From ordering your food at the counter, to watching a scoop being dipped into a chickpea and fava bean mixture, and then seeing more scoops made and all fried in front of your eyes to create the freshest made-to-order falafels, eating at Noor is a down-to-earth and delightful culinary experience.

Touches of Armenia and Lebanon influence the ambience of Noor, owned by Hilda Darian and her chef-husband Arsen Karageozian. As you soon as you enter the cozy 25-seat grill, you can’t miss an enlarged photograph of a heart embedded with hundreds of pomegranate seeds. “This symbolizes our love,” shared Hilda, a bit blushing and starry-eyed. Pomegranate magnets from Armenia also decorate a window case and greet guests. “We chose Noor as the name of our restaurant because it’s a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Armenian people would recognize it. Noor also means ‘light’ in Arabic,” she continued.

Darian discusses their family’s love and support in opening her and Karageozian’s first restaurant together.  Her dad, Jack Darian, used his skills in leatherworking and made all the leather settees, in a warm olive-oil shade of green. Her mom gave advice on family recipes. Karageozian’s parents, recently arrived from Beirut, are good cooks too. “Our families have invested in our future.  They believed in our dreams.  We are blessed,” said Darian.

Both Darian and Karageozian grew up active in Armenian church and youth groups, and they speak Armenian with their young son, Tro. Karageozian’s ancestors have roots in Gherkhan and Zeitoun while Darian’s roots are in Adana and Aintab. Noor’s recipes touch on the best of these regions. Indeed, her grandmother’s more-than-100-year-old recipe for sarma has become a signature dish for Noor. Freshly made, it’s easy to keep eating these luscious delights.

Appetizers include freshly-made lemon-tingling tabbouli, hummus and fattoush. Wraps or dinners feature tender beef or chicken shawarma, Angus beef kebab, lule kebab and even falafel. If you are in the know, you’ll order some garlic sauce to add as a finishing touch to your dish.

Being Armenian and a fan of good food, Olga Proodian of Watertown was curious when she heard about Noor, and was so impressed with her first visit that she’s made repeat visits with different family members and friends. Her eyes light up when she describes the baba dip, as “the best I’ve ever eaten.”  When I stopped by Noor to take some photographs, customer Marcos Vizcarnondo from Puerto Rico caught my attention when he likewise exclaimed, “This is the best babaganoush I’ve ever had in Boston.”

So it’s not just Armenians who have enjoyed eating at the grill, located at Powderhouse Square in Somerville, close to the Medford line. Tufts University is nearby and the grill is on College Avenue, a main route to nearby Davis Square, thus there is a lot of foot traffic from Tufts students, professors and staff as well as locals. Customers include Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian and Mayor Curatone of Somerville and other city employees; one contingent has even become regulars often coming in on Thursdays, just before the weekend. Noor frequently fulfills catering orders and clients have included Armenian families, the Tufts and Harvard communities and even Google and Oracle.

How the owners met and connected is a story in itself. It was on a trip to visit her sister in Lebanon that Hilda met Arsen. “We were awestruck when we met each other because of our height. I’m 5’9” and he’s 6’4,” said Darian. Karageozian had gone to culinary school in Lebanon and was working as an executive chef at the Intercontinental Hotel in Beirut. After getting married about nine years ago, the couple lived in California where Arsen worked at Mandaloun, a restaurant in Glendale. But Hilda missed her family and they came back to the Boston area and Arsen worked at Papa Gino’s in management.

Raised in Somerville and with a background in office management, for Darian, choosing Somerville for Noor’s location seemed natural. “Somerville is home to me. The area had a serious lack of Armenian Middle Eastern food. We wanted to offer a healthy, home-style option.”

Indeed, without the help of family and friends, it would have been difficult to open. Moving into a former café wasn’t easy and the new owners undertook a complete renovation from the floor to the ceiling to new cooking equipment. From hanging signs to painting to getting the grill ready, they were kept busy in the many months leading to the winter opening. On opening day, many friends and family members were there to offer flowers and support from the Armenian community. They are still coming, along with the local community now getting to enjoy some amazing Armenian culinary creations.