Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Middle East in the NE

Our corner of NE Portland is turning into a global restaurant mecca, with taquerias and Thai spots elbowing each other for room amidst the European, African and regional American places on Alberta and Mississippi. But one thing that's been in short supply has been a cheap source for some of the good stuff from the Middle East. Grolla on Killingsworth has a few offerings from the region, but they're not open for lunch and their pricing is definitely upscale.

So it was with great delight that we finally checked out Aladdin's Cafe after hearing about it from a few neighbors who are big fans. Just north of McMenamin's Kennedy School and stuck onto one end of a rundown Food Villa store, it has good parking and a clean and pleasant if simple interior. But what'll bring you to this outpost of Syrian cuisine is the bubbly and puffy pita that's brought to your table as soon as you're seated and the mezza of humous, baba gahnouj, tabbouli, dolmas and falafel.

The humous and baba gahnouj are very good, and the tabbouli is made the way I like it, with more parsley and less bulgur and dressed with a tart, lemony dressing. Tearing off chunks of pita and scooping up some humous and tabbouli has got to be one of the planet's great delights. The dolmas are also very good but are served cold and would benefit from some warmth, if only at room temperature. But the falafel are really outstanding, with a crunchy outer coating around a moist, flavorful interior. Served with a smear of tahini, these rock.

The rest of the menu is decent as well, with the usual assortment of Middle Eastern sandwiches and kabobs, and some Syrian specials making an occasional appearance. The quality and price are going to make this a definite alternative on those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights, so welcome to the 'hood, Aladdin's!

Details: Aladdin's Cafe, 6310 NE 33rd; Phone 503-546-7686.

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