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The Supper Truck – Albuquerque, New Mexico

On its final day of operation, The Supper Truck parked on Marble Street just south of the Marble Street Brewery (Photo Courtesy of the Supper Truck)

Supper Truck, I hardly knew you!  Inexplicably and to the detriment of my taste buds, I wasn’t graced with your delightfully creative interpretation of Southern cuisine until your very last day of serving Albuquerque.  So, why do I miss you so much already?  Most likely it’s the lost opportunities to partake of Southern cuisine inspired by the dynamic food truck scene of Charleston, South Carolina, one of my very favorite culinary destinations in America.   It begs a paraphrase of a time-honored question “is it better to have loved and lost the chance to further enjoy your edgy, contemporary, fusion twists on classic Southern comfort food favorites than never to have loved them at all?” 

The Supper Truck rolled into town in September, 2012, inviting Duke City denizens to “put a little South in your mouth.”  Savvy diners (in whose ranks I obviously don’t belong) responded immediately and with a rare fervor, according “best of the city” honors in both the Alibi and Albuquerque The Magazine‘s annual “best of” issues for 2013 and 2014.  More than perhaps any other motorized conveyance in Albuquerque, The Supper Truck brought people together, its crepuscular rays seemingly beckoning the city’s hungry huddled masses yearning for great Southern cuisine.

Grits

Fittingly, The Supper Truck served its last meals while parked on the south side of the Marble Brewery on an unseasonably warm Saturday.  For regulars the event was akin to one last pilgrimage to a beloved culinary shrine which had assuaged their hunger and pleased their palates for more than two years.  For newcomers (like me) and curiosity-seekers wondering if The Supper Truck warranted all the hullabaloo, it was an event that would ultimately leave us with mixed emotions–regret for not having visited sooner and sheer pleasure for having partaken of a rare excellence in esculence.

The Supper Truck’s closure was precipitated by a combination of family needs and staffing issues.  Founding owner and heart of the operation Amy Black is willing to sell both the truck and naming rights to the right person with the rare combination of drive, creativity and community-mindedness which epitomized her purview.  To say a new owner will have Shaquille O’Neal sized shoes (22) to fill is a vast understatement.  Should an owner with such gumption emerge, I’ll be in line shortly thereafter.

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Fried Chicken Banh Mi

The South takes its grits very seriously–so much so that unbeknownst to Yankees and those of us not blessed to have been born in the South, there are ten commandments of grits.   One of the principle commandments considers it blasphemous to eat Cream of Wheat and call it grits.    The Supper Truck’s grits are every bit as good as the best grits we enjoyed while living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly eight years.  These gourmet-quality grits are made with grilled shrimp, bacon, roasted red pepper coulis, green onion, parsley and white wine cream sauce over creamy stone-ground South Carolina grits.  They’re so good even Yankees will enjoy them. 

While the Old South tends to hold fast to tradition, the contemporary South has embraced change, particularly in the culinary arena.  At the forefront of this evolution is the city of Charleston, South Carolina (where Amy cut her teeth) which has become a bastion of culinary expansiveness.  Though Charleston has a very vibrant Vietnamese culinary community, it’s unlikely they’ve seen anything like The Supper Truck’s South Carolina meets Vietnam offering of a fried chicken banh mi. Yes, a fried chicken banh mi.  The canvas for this unlikely but uncommonly delicious sandwich is a fresh, locally-baked baguette into which are piled-on house-seasoned fried chicken, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro and a housemade momo sauce of Sriracha, mayo and lime juice.  It’s one of the best banh mi we’ve ever had.  Ever!  Anywhere!

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Hoisin BBQ Beef Taco and Shrimp Taco

The Supper Truck’s tacos are on par with Cafe Bella’s street tacos and the scallop tacos at Eli’s Place (formerly Sophia’s Place) as my favorite tacos in the metropolitan area.  Traditionalists might decry them as nontraditional and unconventional even as their taste buds experience one foodgasm after another at every bite of their sheer deliciousness.  The shrimp taco ( grilled shrimp, Sriracha sour cream, Asian slaw, pickled red onion and cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla and the Hoisin BBQ beef taco (Coca-Cola braised New Mexico beef, Sriracha-Hoisin bbq sauce, Asian slaw, pickled red onion, cilantro on a grilled corn tortilla) don’t even need red or green chile to make them addictive.  I’ll miss these most of all! 

Among foreigners (anyone who’s not from the South), boiled peanuts (sometimes called goober peas) may just be the most hard to grasp of sacrosanct Southern culinary traditions.  In the South, unroasted and unshelled peanuts are boiled in salt water for hours, rendering the peanuts soft and salty.  Then they’re consumed while still hot and wet.  The Supper Truck’s boiled peanuts are terrific, the type of snack you might offer friends in hopes they’ll snub it so you can enjoy them all yourself.

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Boiled Peanuts

Supper Truck, I miss you!

The Supper Truck
Location Varied
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 205-7877
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 20 December 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Hoisin BBQ Beef Taco, Shrimp Taco, Fried Chicken Banh Mi, Grits, Boiled Peanuts

Supper Truck on Urbanspoon

The Stumbling Steer – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

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The Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub

There are ranchers throughout New Mexico who might not think there’s anything even mildly amusing about a brewery and gastropub called The Stumbling Steer.  These robust ranchers would likely equate the term Stumbling Steer to the clumsy gait exhibited by their precious livestock after they consume locoweed, a poisonous plant found in every one of the Land of Enchantment’s 33 counties.  Ultimately leading to paralysis and death if not controlled, locoweed accounts for millions of dollars in livestock loss each year.

The name Stumbling Steer obviously has nothing to do with the bane of ranchers throughout New Mexico.  According to the gastropub’s Web site, the name has everything to do with a commitment to a farm and table approach.  All the spent grains used to craft the brewery’s (ostensibly delicious) beers are fed to locally grown cattle which purportedly gain fat…or flavor.  Those selfsame cattle provide the beef which graces a very imaginative menu. It’s a menu which changes with the seasons, keeping things fresh and fun.

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The sprawling interior of the Stumbling Steer

The Stumbling Steer is no ordinary brew pub.  It’s a gastropub, a British term for a public house (pub) which specializes in high-end, high-quality food. The term gastropub, a portmanteau of pub and gastronomy, is intended to define food which is a step above the more basic “pub grub,” but in actuality, it can be several degrees of magnitude better. Gastropubs not only emphasize the quality of food served, they provide a relaxed milieu in which patrons can obtain cuisine (as opposed to grub) comparable to what they might receive at the very best restaurants–and ostensibly, at reasonable prices. The menu, of course, has to complement an assortment of wines and beers, the latter being a staple of pub life in England. 

The Stumbling Steer opened its doors for both lunch and dinner in February, 2014, occupying a rambling edifice which housed The Quarters since 1994.  There are few, if any, vestiges of The Quarters in sight.  Thematically, The Stumbling Steer is a mishmash of western ranch meets neo-modern. Just above the entrance to the yawning complex is an elevated water tank emblazoned with the gastropub’s moniker. A sprawling covered patio increases the restaurant’s 270-seat capacity. The interior is cavernous, segmented into a bar area and a dining area although you can eat at both. It’s a brightly lit space. Seating is just beyond personal space proximity and is more functional than it is comfortable.  The ambiance is festive (or you can translate that to “noisy” if you’d like) and fun.

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Ale French Onion Soup

The Stumbling Steer is the brainchild of a quintumvirate of friends who understand and appreciate good food (gastronomes) and good craft beers (cerevisaphiles).  One of the five founding partners was Chef Thanawat Bates who’s got major chef creds, having guided culinary teams at several four- and five-star and five-diamond resorts in highly competitive culinary markets.   Chef T. has since moved on, but his imprint on the menu and culinary standards remains. 

The Stumbling Steer’s menu exemplifies what gastropubs are all about, offering some of the bar and pub foods with which diners are familiar, but up-scaling them with gourmet qualities and inventive touches.  Why, for example, offer the ubiquitous starter of French fries when you can let diners enjoy Southwestern Poutine (French fries, cheese curd, green chile, gravy and jalapeño)?   Why visit another pub which might serve a standard lettuce, pickle and tomato burger when you can get The Stumbling Steer Burger (half-pound of Angus beef, pastrami, mushrooms, onions, Gruyere cheese, house sauce on a Challah bun)?  Half of the fun of the dining adventure is trying something you may not have had before–something creative and different.

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Crispy Brussels sprouts

What could be more different–and more audacious–than Brussels sprouts?  Named America’s “most hated vegetable” in a 2008 survey conducted by Heinz, Brussels sprouts are almost universally reviled.  Many diners hate them without ever having tried them (probably because they heard someone else express their disdain for this villainous vegetable).  Andy Griffiths even wrote an anti-tribute to Brussels sprouts.  Entitled “Just Disgusting!,” its lyrics posit: “Who wouldn’t hate them? They’re green.  They’re slimy.  They’re moldy.  They’re horrible.  They’re putrid.  They’re foul.  Apart from that, I love them.”

1 March 2014: At The Stumbling Steer, the Crispy Brussels Sprouts appetizer is so good, even the most fussbudget will enjoy them.  If you’re of the mind that these Brussels Sprouts are palatable solely because their flavor is masked, you would be wrong.  Texturally, they’re crispy with slightly darkened, but not burnt edges.  That in itself is an improvement, but they’re taken to a new level with the addition of a cilantro-tamarind sauce paired with garlic, peanuts and shaved almonds.  The sauce is enlivened with a pleasant piquancy that pairs well with the tanginess of the tamarind and the freshness of the cilantro.

Southwestern Poutine

1 March 2014: French restaurants throughout the Duke City don’t have exclusivity when it comes to preparing delicious French Onion Soup.  In fact, The Stumbling Steer’s version is competitive with the best offered in town, but it’s not your standard everyday French Onion Soup.  It’s not even French.  It’s Welsh Cheddar Rarebit, slightly modified from the traditional Welsh method by ladling a thick Cheddar sauce over crouton, then briefly toasting the two together so that the cheese sauce turns thick and bubbling.  My pet peeve with most French onion soup is the lack of “beefiness” in the broth.  That’s not the case with this soup which melds so many wonderful flavors together.  Not only is it delicious, it’s warming and comforting. 

28 November 2014:  Poutine, an artery-clogging Canadian delicacy, is to Toronto, Canada what red and green chile are to New Mexico.  In other words, it’s a long-time favorite, a tradition and a way of life.  At its very core, poutine combines three simple ingredients: fresh-cut pomme frites (French fries), homemade gravy and toothsome cheese curds.  Beyond these three ingredients, poutine is open to both interpretation and augmentation.  To my knowledge, the very first poutine offered in Albuquerque is the Southwestern Poutine (French fries, pork green chili (SIC) gravy, mozzarella cheese curds, cilantro crema, jalapeño) at the Stumbling Steer.  If you’re not into tradition, it’s actually a very good rendition.  My Kim, however, is a traditionalist and wanted actual curds in their solid form, not melted in combination with cilantro crema.  That just meant more for me. 

Crispy Pork Bites

Kricket, a faithful reader of Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog (and one who should comment more often) may be The Stumbling Steer’s biggest fan.  Her enthusiasm for the gastropub prompted our inaugural visit:  “Gil, I beg of you, review The Stumbling Steer. I keep saying I will try different appetizers, but those fried pork bites are like bits of pork belly *butter* and I can’t avoid ordering them. This place has my undying loyalty (and if they delivered, my arteries would last about a week).”  The fried pork bites were initially available as an appetizer only for dinner, but are now a mainstay in the standard menu. 

28 November 2014:  In its 10th annual Best of the City edition for 2014, Albuquerque The Magazine readers named The Stumbling Steer’s appetizers “best of the city.  Two of its appetizers were highlighted: the transformative Crispy Brussels Sprouts and for a sweeter encounter, the Fried Pork Bites “deep-fried pork belly that can be dipped in Greek yogurt and apple powdered sugar.”  It’s easy to see why Kricket is so infatuated with these grown-up chicharrones.  They’re crispy morsels of golden porcine meat and fat–sinfully decadent on their own and differently delicious when combined with other ingredients.  With the apple powdered sugar, their flavor profile isn’t so much altered as it is boosted.  The pork bites become pork candy, sweet without detracting from the integrity of the pork.  The Greek yogurt offers a cool contrast.

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Monte Cristo Porchetta

1 March 2014: Adventurous diners might eschew burgers for something just a little bit different–perhaps something you’ve had before, but prepared in a uniquely creative manner.  One option is the Monte Cristo Porchetta, a sumptuous sandwich stuffed with slow-roasted pork, Fontina, Gruyere and a fried egg on top served with a ramekin of an Ancho chili-wild berry sauce.  The sandwich needs absolutely no amelioration, but that sauce gives the otherwise boring French fries some personality.  The porchetta (pork) is nicely roasted with a crispy skin and is seasoned with aromatic spices and herbs which imbue it with addictive properties.  Our only complaint about this sandwich is that it didn’t have enough pork (a roast would have been good).

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B2LT

1 March 2014: Another sandwich showcasing the sumptuous qualities of pork is the B2LT, not your mother’s bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  Bacon, one of nature’s perfect foods, isn’t even a component of this sandwich…or at least the bacon you might be thinking of.  Instead, a quarter-inch thick braised and seared pork belly is used.  That’s like bacon all grown up.  It’s thick and smoky with fatty and crispy elements playing two-part harmony on your taste buds.  The tomato and lettuce are served on the side so you don’t have to discard them and risk getting mayo on your hands.  The canvas for this sandwich is soft and pillowy Ciabatta bread.  Persnickety eaters might consider the pork belly a little too fatty, but if you’re a purist, this sandwich is for you. 

28 November 2014: Give the Stumbling Steer an “A” for effort alone in crafting deliciously different burgers which don’t stray too outlandishly far from tradition.  The eponymous Stumbling Steer Burger is of the most creative offerings on the menu.  Starting with a half-pound of Angus ground beef, this burger is a melange of delicious ingredients: pastrami, mushrooms, onion relish and Gruyere cheese with red onions, tomato and lettuce on the side.  To maximize your enjoyment, eschew the “on the side” ingredients (the tomato is typical of the artificially ripened variety, who needs red onions when you’ve got onion jam and the lettuce is cold and wilted).  The onion relish is caramelized in the fashion that renders onions deliciously sweet and tangy.  It’s my favorite ingredient in a pretty good burger that truly takes two hands to handle.

Stumbling Steer Burger with French Fries

28 November 2014:  In recent years, America has embraced the soulful Southern staple of chicken and waffles and Albuquerque has followed suit.  Fried chicken is one of the most versatile of American comfort foods because it’s wonderful on its own and maybe even better when paired with sweet or savory partners (the old “gravy vs. syrup conundrum.”)  The Stumbling Steer’s fried chicken (breast, thigh and leg) is fried in duck fat and stacked atop a Belgian waffle with a Corn Flake streusel and real maple syrup.  The fried chicken is moist and delicious with a crispy batter (but not too much of it).  If there is one surprise in this entree, it’s the Corn Flakes streusel which should be sprinkled liberally on the waffle (or chicken) for best results.

Chicken and Waffles

1 March 2014: During our three years in England, we often enjoyed sticky toffee pudding, a lush muffin-like mound of bread pudding topped with a rich caramel toffee.  It’s a high-calorie indulgence rich in flavor and deliciousness.  The Stumbling Steer’s version takes a couple of liberties from the English version.  These liberties–a sea salt toffee and vanilla ice cream–work very well.  The sea salt toffee, in particular, lends just a modicum of savoriness to what would otherwise be a too sweet, too rich dessert.  One of the most common mistakes made with bread puddings is the absence of savoriness to offset the cloying nature of the dessert.  The toffee is served in a small pitcher and can be dispensed onto the bread pudding in quantities you control.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

1 March 2014: The king of rock and roll loved a particular sandwich crafted from peanut butter and mashed bananas so much that he consumed some twelve to fifteen of them in one sitting.  Today, there are many variations of the “Elvis,” including one at the Stumbling Steer that might have adult pelvises gyrating and children pinging off the walls.  The main ingredient in the Steer’s Elvis Fudge Brownie is decadence.  Other ingredients in this interpretation of the Elvis are banana ice cream, bacon caramel, peanut brittle and chocolate sauce.  You probably gained three pounds just reading those ingredients.  It’s a very sweet, very rich and probably not something you can (or should) consume in one sitting.  The peanut brittle lends a nice savory offset to the cloying dominance.

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Elvis Fudge Brownie

The Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub has the potential and chef creds to excite Duke City diners for a long time.

The Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub
3700 Ellison Road, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 28 November 2014
1st VISIT: 1 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Monte Cristo Porchetta, B2LT, Ale French Onion Soup, Crispy Brussels sprouts, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Elvis Fudge Brownie, Southwestern Poutine, Chicken & Waffles, Crispy Pork Bites, Stumbling Steer Burger

Stumbling Steer Brewery & Gastropub on Urbanspoon

Ali Baba – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Ali Baba Food Mart on Lomas

Legends recount that in his quest for immortality, Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh visited a tavern where a divine barmaid gave him the advise: “Eat and drink your fill, Gilgamesh, and celebrate day and night. Make every day a festival; day and night dance and play.” Because of the fecundity of their land, the people of Mesopotamia could indeed afford to eat, drink and be merry until they died–even if they were denied immortality.

The rich culinary legacy of ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) can be traced back more than 10,000 years when the comparatively lush and fecund land constituting the fertile crescent gave rise to the cradle of civilization.  The availability of water and agricultural resources allowed some of the world’s earliest human civilizations to flourish from both a societal and technological perspective.  This region is credited with the development of writing, glass, the wheel and the use or irrigation. 

Ali Baba Dining Room

Tablets found in ancient ruins throughout Iraq document recipes used in temple festivals, including a 3,700-year-old recipe for a meat pie baked in an unleavened crust. In what are essentially the world’s very first cookbooks, these tablets reveal a very large and gastronomically advanced civilization. A cuneiform script on 24 stone tables dated from about 1900 BC lists more than 800 different foods and beverages including more than 100 varieties of soup, 300 types of bread and 20 different cheeses–each with varying ingredients, shapes, fillings and sizes.

The picture of Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia) conjured in most peoples’ minds today is not of a verdant and fertile land, but of a desolate desert in which little grows.  In truth, only about fifteen percent of Iraq’s acreage is arable with another ten percent being permanent pasture.  Rain-fed irrigation is enough to cultivate the winter crops (mainly wheat and barley) which have long been a staple of the region.  Valleys along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, whose headwaters some theorize was the site of Biblical Eden, account for about half of Iraq’s arable land

Amira brings us Arabian bread

Culinary anthropologists have extrapolated from the ancient tablets that while the cuisine of Mesopotamia has evolved significantly, many of the dishes and preparation techniques from time long past can still be found today in Iraq.   A visit to Ali Baba Food Mart in the far Northeast Heights may not magically transport you back to the bygone days of yore, but it will give you an appreciation for the cuisine of Iraq, most of which is very familiar.  Moreover, you’ll be treated to Iraqi hospitality (and if you’re fortunate, you may even meet Amira, the precocious daughter of Ali Baba’s owners). 

Named for the character in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Ali Baba is located next door to the Red Rock Deli on Lomas just west of Tramway.  Signage indicates it’s a food mart and indeed, about half of the store’s real estate is devoted to comestibles.  The other half houses a very charming, ornately decorated dining room unlike any in Albuquerque.  It’s a magnificent milieu for dining on the restaurant specialties, some listed on the storefront signage: gyros, baba ghanoush, falafel, kabab, hummus, tabooli, fattoush and more.

The tandoor-like oven in which Arabian bread is baked

Arabian bread is baked in a small back room.  A cylindrical metal oven operates very similarly to the tandoor clay ovens of India in baking large flat bread more closely resembling Indian naan (about the size of a pizza) than Greek pita.  As with tandoor ovens, rolled dough is slapped against the oven wall.  Extricating it is a delicate (and sometimes painful) process.   The resultant flat bread is wonderful with a pinto-pony char, a chewy texture and an addictive flavor.  Mesopotamia, by the way, may have actually invented bread.  The oldest known clay oven was excavated about 45 miles south of Baghdad. It dates to 4000 B.C. and was used to make the flat bread which was the progenitor of the bread we enjoyed. 

Ali Baba doesn’t have tableside service.  Instead you’ll place your order at a counter behind which a cook is shaving shards of meat from a rotating spit.  Meats are prepared halal style and are procured from the Al Noohi company in California.   The menu is rather limited, but you certainly can’t say that about portion size.  Generous plating belies the outrageously reasonable prices.  Call it “cheap eats” if you will, but only if your definition of cheap is “high quality and inexpensive.”  As with the Red Rock Deli next door, two can eat very well for under thirty dollars and still have some to take home.

Falafel Plate

Start your introduction to the cuisine of Ali Baba with the amazing Falafel Plate (pictured above).  Large enough to feed a small family, the plate includes eight deep-fried falafel balls, half of which are sprinkled with sesame seeds; sliced dill pickles, sliced olives, yellow peppers, jalapeños, lettuce and a cucumber-tomato salad.   Almost as amazing as the generosity of the plate is how good the falafel are (equalled only by the falafel at the phenomenal San Pedro Middle East Restaurant).  Both texturally (moist, but not oily with a crisp exterior and soft, parsley infused interior) and flavor-wise, each falafel will bring a smile to your face.

Baba Ghanoush

As good as the falafel is the baba ghanoush, a garlicky, smoky roasted eggplant spread popular throughout the Middle East.  The melodic name baba ghanoush (fun to say even if you don’t know what it means) has its genesis in an Arabic phrase which translates to “pampered daddy” (not necessarily in a paternal sense).   Baba ghanoush is made from grilled eggplant that is mashed and mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and tahini (a sesame seed paste).  Ali Baba serves it with the aforementioned Arabic bread which you’ll dip into the spread and consume lustily.  Interestingly, the baba ghanoush is served with a spoonful of chili (similar in heat to Sriracha) which goes well with the dip. 

In a unique cultural interchange, Ali Baba serves its sandwiches on New Mexico-style flour tortillas instead of on pita or Arabic bread.  Call it an Iraqi burrito if you will, but you’ll also call it delicious.  On the shish kabab sandwich, the tortilla is engorged with grilled meat marinated in a combination of herbs and spices then sliced into small pieces and served finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and a lightly applied, but mouth-watering sauce.  The shawarma, a tortilla sandwich with thinly sliced cuts of meat generously sprinkled with sumac is also quite good.

Shish Kabob on a Tortilla

Ali Baba provides a true essence of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine with a culinary heritage that dates back more than two-thousand years. Moreover, Ali Baba provides a very welcoming ambiance and hospitality galore.

Ali Baba
13025 Lomas, Blvd. N.E., Suite B
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 22 November 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Falafel Plate, Shish Kabob, Shawarma, Babaganouj, Arabian Bread

Ali Baba on Urbanspoon