Veggie Girl: Fadi's vs Ali Baba

In honor of our president's ambitious trip to the Middle East this week , I've decided to undertake my own (and decidedly less ambitious) Middle-East-themed balancing act: ferreting out some good food from the region here in Dallas. Herewith, two of Dallas' better Middle Eastern restaurants go head-to-head, with ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = terrible; 5 = sublime).

To be perfectly honest, the reason I didn't just talk about Ali Baba--the first one I went to--was because the falafel was downright abominable. Hard, crunchy, with only a hint of soft chickpeas inside, it practically shattered when I tried to cut it open...

Now, you may debate my expertise, but when I want falafel, I don't want a jawbreaker. I want a nice, hot, spicy, crunchy-on-the-outside-but-deliciously-tender-within piece of lightly fried dough. Fadi's was better by comparison, although it too left me longing for that of the Upper West Side's Hummus Place. Anybody want to open a franchise?
Fadi's: 3

Ali Baba: 1

Vegan-Friendly Variety

The prize here must go to Fadi's, which has a whole section of salads and another of roasted vegetables ranging from a slightly over-oiled but delightfully caramelized tray of roasted eggplant to sautéed squash, rice with mixed veggies, coriander potatoes and lots of heaping salad trays. Ali Baba's selection is more typical: hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouli, falafel, fattoush. More on that to follow...
Fadi's: 4

Ali Baba: 2

Ambience and Service
By nature, they're different: Ali Baba is a sit-down place; Fadi's is cafeteria style. Still, not all cafeteria-style places make you feel like you're in a cafeteria. Fadi's is good, cheap and quick, but the whole experience is pretty impersonal. Ali Baba, on the other hand, is as cozy and unassuming, as comfortable as...bah. New York's the closest I've been to Israel.
Fadi's: 1

Ali Baba: 4

Now present at every grocery store in hundreds of different incarnations, hummus really merits its own article. Hummus should be creamy, I learned, and not too nutty or lemony or sesame-flavored. Fadi's does a good job serving it the traditional way--molded into a volcano, with a drizzle of olive oil in the center, and sprinkled with paprika--but Ali Baba's creamy, unobtrusively delectable hummus truly hits the spot.
Fadi's: 3

Ali Baba: 5

Both restaurants serve a tabouli that's parsley-heavy, with just a sprinkling of nutty bulgur wheat and diced tomatoes, but Ali Baba's had fresher parsley and a bolder, spicier lemony taste, while Fadi's was good but unremarkable.
Fadi's: 3

Ali Baba: 4

So, apparently, the fattoush you order at either of these restaurants isn't actually fattoush as I understand it (containing pieces of toasted pita bread). Instead, both salads were cucumber- and red-onion-heavy concoctions, marinated in oil and lemon juice. Both could have been lighter; Fadi's could've used fresher veggies.
Fadi's: 3

Ali Baba: 4

The Bottom Line
The prices are about the same, so Fadi's is best for fast, low-maintenance, quick eating. Best choice: Keep it simple with a plate of hummus and a side order of four pieces of falafel. Two fluffy, puffed pitas come free with orders over $10. Ali Baba is that neighborhood joint for slow Sundays in the summer. You can sit outside, leisurely munch your appetizers, sip your water with lemon and watch the burbling flow of...traffic on Abrams. Still, there's a hint of idyll there.

3001 Knox St. #110

Ali Baba
1901 Abrams Rd.

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