Alibi V.25 No.22 • June 2-8, 2016 

Restaurant Review

The Artist Formerly Known As...

Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs doesn’t need a flashy name

The one thing that bummed me out about moving to Albuquerque was the terrible lack of options when it came to good gyros. In fact, last year—in the very spot where Middle Eastern is located now—was a place called Kasbah, another Mediterranean restaurant. And guess what? It didn't rock my kasbah.

Zahraa-Hashim and Mohammad-Hashim
The owner Zahraa-Hashim and her brother Mohammad-Hashim.

But this new place, which has only been open for a month or so, won me over immediately upon entering, where I was greeted warmly by a sweetly smiling server who let me pick any seat in the cozy dining room. The drawn shades and (at the time) malfunctioning sound system gave the room a cool and calm tone that I soaked up immediately. If you're ever having one of those days where you just want to kick your boss in the shins and move to Siberia, then this should be your destination. No matter how the food turned out, I was already a happy camper.

In fact—though the stereo would later start up again—I actually enjoyed the relaxed and contemplative silence of the first half of my meal so much, that I would suggest the owners try it out as an experiment every once in a while. There's something about that particular building that seems to lend itself to the Great Unwind, and they should consider taking full advantage of the wonderful natural ambiance.

Many will find the menu to be a bit slim, but most of the dishes I was looking for were represented. (Although baba ghanoush, a roasted eggplant dip often served with pita, was oddly missing. I thought it was a bit strange, considering its status as a staple appetizer). I ordered my meal and asked the server about the restaurant's name. I couldn't find it anywhere. All I saw were signs saying “Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs.”

The server laughed and said that was the name. She said they had knocked around a few different ones. “But in the end, we just decided it was better not to confuse people.” Undoubtedly a smart move in this town.

Lentil Soup
Lentil Soup

The food arrived quickly. I think. To be honest, I'd zoned out in the comforting silence, watching sunlight sneak around a curtain and fall on the floor in a thin line. First was a complimentary golden lentil soup with noodles. The flavor was delicate and light, and it worked well as a dip for the pita bread that came on the side. Right behind it was the falafel plate ($8.99), served with two dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with a rice mixture), hummus (a chickpea dip) and salad. I tried the dolmas first, since I generally find them disappointing at most places. There's usually an embarrassing moment where the whole thing comes unwrapped because a tough leaf will refuse to be cut. That horrible moment never came, and the leaves turned out to be perfectly tender, wrapped around a wonderfully sensuous filling.

The hummus was amazing! This old standard is another great measuring stick for Middle Eastern cuisine. Correctly done, the dip becomes a kind of centerpiece for the flavors of the rest of the meal. You can get a pretty good feel for a restaurant's style by tasting the hummus, as it's meant to compliment every other dish. This one would prove to have a tart—but not sour—note to it. It was exciting and pleasantly surprising.

The falafel was a subtly spiced and crispy delight. This is another favorite that tends to be hit or miss everywhere else. The line between mushy, crispy and hard is fine indeed, but the chef obviously knew what they were doing. As with most of the plates here, a side of tzatziki (a yogurt and cucumber-based sauce) helped bring all of the variant flavors back to a base point. Every restaurant has its own distinct tzatziki, and this one is one of my all-time favorites. The sharp flavor, obviously a theme here, a diversion from the traditionally cool taste of other versions, made it a one-of-a-kind treat.

The second entrée was lamb and chicken mixed kabobs ($10.99). I'm crazy for lamb (which I might have mentioned before), and I have to say this is one of the most uniquely seasoned versions of the tasty meat. It was tangy and bright, making me coo with each bite. The chicken was juicy and skillfully grilled, again boasting a zippy character that consistently startled me with pleasure. Alongside it was a nice mix of grilled tomato, onion and bell pepper. I passed up the side salad for a side of hashweh, a rice mix with pine nuts, raisins, potatoes and onions, which seemed like the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

As I groaned with a swollen belly, the server brought the gyro sandwich ($5.99) I had ordered to-go. A gyro sandwich is a pita filled with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and gyro (a mix of lamb and beef that is placed on a stand-up rotisserie and slowly roasted). I was miserably full, but I couldn't resist tasting some of the meat. It was simply moving.

All in all, I have to say this was the best dining experience I've had in this city to date. The staff was wonderful and the food was great. This kasbah was fully rocked.

Middle Eastern Food & Kabobs

4801 Central NE
505-255-5151
Hours: Monday - Thursday 10am-9pm, Friday and Saturday 10am-10pm, closed Sundays
Vibe: Chill and calm
Alibi Recommends: Gyro sandwich, falafel and whatever else you can fit