Alibi V.26 No.28 • July 13-19, 2017 

Restaurant Review

Eat Everything

Flavor blooms at Mazaya Cafe

Eric Williams Photography
In the heart of the Brick Light District lies Mazaya Cafe—shiny, clean and filled with light. When you first walk in, the space is surprisingly large—perhaps seemingly more so during the quiet post-lunch hours. There are plenty of tables—all rich, glossy wood—and warm orange walls. On my first visit to this Mediterranean eatery, I approached the counter, gazed at the digitally displayed menu and decided to pork out (in a halal sort of way). I ordered everything that immediately caught my eye. I paid the server, then carried my Abali mint yogurt drink ($2.99) to a table in the back near a pool of sunshine streaming down from a skylight.

I sat down and cracked open the bottle. My eyes widened at the first sip: so salty! But then a wave of light, cool mint covered my taste buds. It was like drinking tzatziki sauce without the cucumber. I poured it over a glass filled with ice, and despite the strangeness of it, found myself repeatedly going back for another taste. Soon the first course of my preposterously large meal arrived.

The lentil soup ($2.99) was beautifully served. A petite bowl of golden liquid squatted next to a red bowl of fried pita bread with a slice of lemon. I'm not a huge fan of lentils, so this soup really surprised me; it reminded me of Korean curry: earthy and almost creamy with a slight tang. It was tasty enough that I would have it again. It was particularly good with the fried pita bits sprinkled on top adding a crunchy dimension to the silky soup.

Next out was a platter of steamed beef momo ($8.99) and a kefta kebab wrap ($7.99). The momo is a sort of dumpling served with a Nepalese masala dipping sauce. The momo were perfectly shaped like triangular flowers waiting to bloom. Inside were meatballs of spiced, tender beef. The brownish-red dipping sauce had earthy and clean elements—probably from sesame and parsley. All the flavors combined to an excellent and intriguing effect. Much like with the yogurt drink, I kept wanting just one more bite, despite the fact that I hadn't even gotten to my entrée yet.

The kefta wrap was my favorite part of the meal. It consisted of a tender, salty beef kebab with tahini, chile sauce and pickles all wrapped in a tortilla. I also threw half the French fries that came with the plate in the wrap. It was spicy, moist, hearty and made my mint yogurt drink not taste salty at all. It was everything I'd hoped for.

I filled the last two ounces of space left in my stomach with a Bird Nest ($1.75) from the dessert case. It was a tiny geometric phyllo dough “nest” filled with pistachio “eggs” and ground nuts, layered with rich, sweet honey. It was the perfect end to an excellent meal, and I wish I'd had enough room to pair it with a cup of strong Turkish coffee. I boxed up the momo I couldn't finish and lumbered out into the street, happy as a haram clam.

Kebab plate
Kebab plate
Eric Williams Photography
Days later, I returned to Mazaya and ordered baba ghanoush ($4.99), the lamb kebab plate ($13.99) and crispy falafel ($0.99/1pc, $4.99/6pc). The baba ghanoush—a cooked eggplant dip—was soft, silky and incredibly smoky. It reminded me more of a creamy smoked soft cheese than the dreaded purple aubergine. The falafel were husky golden-brown pucks that left a clean taste in my mouth. They were a tad dry, but the addition of some baba ghanoush balanced the flavors and moisture.

Next I dug into my main course. The lamb kebab came with a smorgasbord of extras like hummus with tortilla, dolmas and fattoush salad, as well as the main meat and rice with vegetables. The hummus was thick, almost creamy, with a shallow pool of olive oil in the center of the dollop and artsy lines of scarlet paprika striped across. Though the choice of a tortilla—a Frontier tortilla, if I'm not mistaken—rather than pita bread seemed a bit odd, but it was perfectly tasty. Call it New Mexican-Mediterranean fusion. The two dolmas were soft and slightly tart with a lemon flavor. The rice inside the grape leaves was nicely spiced. The fattoush salad was possibly my favorite part of the whole plate. A happy mix of cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes and crunchy fried pita bread tossed in a tart and sweet dressing, it was flavorful and refreshing.

Finally, the lamb kebab had a serious—I mean serious—char on it, but it still managed to be tender, juicy and peppery. Paired with the crunchy onions, smoky bell peppers and light, yellow rice, it all made for one heck of a savory bite. And that really seems to be where Mazaya excels—in creating a wide variety of mouthwatering and intriguing flavors that keep you reaching for just one more bite.

120 Harvard SE
(505) 582-2447
Hours: Sun 11am-7pm, Mon-Sat 11am-9pm
Vibe: Warm wood and clean sunlight
Alibi Recommends: Kefta kebab wrap, lentil soup, hummus, fattoush salad