Involuntary takeout

The service ranges from preoccupied to surly, the ambiance depends entirely on the light (it's acceptable on a sunny day and drearily depressing at night, although that could change if they ever get around to replacing some light bulbs) and really, the place is utterly devoid of charm, but Ali Baba is one of those rare restaurants where all that matters is the food. Even the company pales beside what's on your plate, so don't hesitate to stop in for a solo meal. It's certain no one will bother you--in fact, you'll be lucky if you can engage your waiter in a conversation long enough to place an order.

This is probably the best Middle Eastern food in town, if you're judging just that. The maza plate holds a scoop of hummus as smooth and unctuous as frozen custard, along with a big blob of baba ghanoush, the roasted eggplant's tinge of bitterness cutting the creaminess of the puree, and a mound of tabouli, the most refreshing salad in the world, nothing more than minced parsley, tomato, and lemon, with just enough bulgur in it to provide some chew. Slathered on pita bread in various combinations, this is really enough for dinner, especially if you eat it slowly with the red wine you remembered to bring yourself, but it's hard to resist going on to the shish tawook, amazingly juicy chunks of charred chicken, delicious even to the poultry-tired palate, with a nest of golden rice tangled with vermicelli. Gyros are good, too, and the quality of the golden chicken, the dish that made Ali Baba famous, has never wavered. It's still crisp-skinned, lemon-bathed, and accompanied by those outrageously garlicked potatoes.

Actually, the food is so good, and the atmosphere so poor, that the best way to eat at Ali Baba's is not to. Call in your order. Arrive early to pick it up and stop in neighboring World Wide Foods, the imported food market under the same ownership, for some olives, extra pita or lahvosh, then take it all with you and create your own home maza replacement.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Ali Baba Cafe, 1905 Greenville Ave., (214) 823-8235. Open for lunch Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.; for dinner Tuesday-Thursday 5:30 p.m.-8:45 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m.

Ali Baba Cafe:
Maza Plate $6.99
Gyros Plate $5.49
Golden Chicken $5.95
Shish Tawook $7.95


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