It's no secret that Lavash is at the top of the casual Middle Eastern restaurant heap, because that lively and popular Clintonville spot is often teeming with regulars (like me) during mealtimes. But what many people don't realize is that Lavash is actually two coexisting businesses.

It's no secret that Lavash is at the top of the casual Middle Eastern restaurant heap, because that lively and popular Clintonville spot is often teeming with regulars (like me) during mealtimes. But what many people don't realize is that Lavash is actually two coexisting businesses.

There's the clearly obvious one: a made-to-order, fast-serving and high-performing hummus, tabbouli, kebab et. al. shop that operates off a predictable if excellently executed menu. And then there's the less-formulaic Lavash I like even better.

Hidden in plain sight within the bustling spic-and-span sandwich-slanted eatery is a more ambitious place that specializes in lamb, whole fried red snapper and grandma-type Mediterranean fare displaying a real flair for deeply flavored tomato-saucy dishes. Welcome to chalkboard Lavash.

You'll literally confront the handful of handwritten menu items of this other Lavash when you first waltz into the bright, upbeat and modern space. But you might be too busy zeroing in on an aromatic rolled chicken kefta sandwich sided with terrifically crispy hand-cut fries to notice.

If that's the case, you'll be given another alternate-menu shot at the ordering counter. There, the half-dozen or so daily specials - always a soup du jour and a veggie entree, often a lamb meal, and usually a seafooder or two - are re-listed.

For a visual, above the glass case on your left you'll see plastic-wrapped previews of most of these specials (don't worry, yours will look and taste better than these wan specimens, which have likely been sitting around for a while). Most of the meals come with very good rice and a decent-enough little salad, and they're excellent values - like food from a fancier establishment but at a fraction of the cost.

First, though, I want to alert you to the daily soups. At Lavash, I've never slurped a loser and the big-bowl servings sold for $2.50 translate into tremendous deals. You pretty much cannot go wrong, but if the Harrira is offered, snap it up (think hearty Middle Eastern minestrone, with veggies, plenty of chickpeas, plus a bit of vermicelli all enlivened by a vibrant and tangy tomato broth).

Staying in vegetable-and-tomato mode, the Lebanese Moussaka ($8) was another knockout. It was a luscious and meatless combo that showcased a deep-tasting, fused-together tomato and olive oil base. But this moussaka was loose, and more like a ratatouille than the familiar lasagna-built Greek version. Its veggies - sweet and melt-in-your-mouth eggplant, onions and garbanzo beans - had a wonderfully unctuous quality to them.

Unctuous certainly came to mind -and to my slavering mouth - with the outstanding Lamb Ozie ($10). That outsized hulking shank of aromatic meat momentarily turned me into an amateur surgeon able to deftly release every succulent fragment of lamb from the long bone. Adding to the flavor party were rice made rich and racy by getting cooked with ground lamb and a fantastic foil in the form of a tart and loose tzatziki-like yogurt dip.

At least as good but even more exciting was a head-and-tail-on (thus showing off freshness) Red Snapper ($17). That exquisite, expertly deep-fried dish featured a wonderfully crunchy, perfectly salty and greaseless golden brown exterior crust with silky, flaky fish flesh underneath. I loved it.

Less thrilling and filling but still recommended was a Tiger Shrimp Kebab special ($12). Five nice-sized and sweet-tasting fatties arrived with their chargrilled tails on and were served with sweet grilled yellow peppers and onions.

Also worth ordering was the juicy Baked Cilantro Chicken ($10). While that three-piece bird dinner actually had more of a lemony than herby flavor and the breast meat was marginally dry, it was still biggish and good eating.

And good eating is what Lavash is all about - from the reliable menu board offerings to the surprising and surprisingly delicious daily specials.