Just over a mile from the Johnson Space Center sits Mediterraneo Market & Cafe, a hole-in-the-wall eatery that has served Mediterranean food to astronauts, celebrities and the local community for 19 years.
Owners Sonia and Magdy Kotb, originally from Egypt, immigrated to Houston in 1980 and opened Mediterraneo in 2000. At the time there were no Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurants in the Bay Area, and no markets that catered to that particular ethnic community, Magdy said.
The restaurant serves a variety of Greek, Moroccan, Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanese, Spanish and Italian dishes and drinks, and the market is stocked with Middle Eastern and European goods such as teas, nuts, chocolates, beer, wine and preserves as well as a variety of ethnic cookbooks.
“All the dishes are made from fresh ingredients, fresh spices and olive oil,” Magdy said. “Most of the food is healthy and of the Mediterranean diet, and all of the food is made from scratch.”
The Kotbs said what sets Mediterraneo apart is the friendly social atmosphere, history and customer base. The restaurant is distinct because it is homey and relaxed, Magdy said.
“It’s unique; people that come here say that they have this feeling that they are in Europe somewhere,” he said. “It’s not just a restaurant where you go just to eat and drink; you come back and you sit down and say hello—it’s also a social club.”
Mediterraneo has become popular not only with the local community but also with notable NASA astronauts, including Chris Hadfield and Jim Wetherbee, Magdy said.
To embrace its history, the restaurant’s walls are decorated with NASA merchandise, pictures of Mediterranean coastal landscapes, and framed and autographed photos of astronauts and celebrities—such as Coldplay and Paul McCartney—who visited the restaurant.
“The ambience, the food, the friendly waitresses all keep people coming back,” Sonia said. “Most people here know each other now, either work together or are neighbors. It’s not just a restaurant, but it feels like home.”