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Anatolia Doner Kebab House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Anatolia Doner Kebab House in the Albuquerque Downtown Area

Anatolia Doner Kebab House in the Albuquerque Downtown Area

In the mid 80s when my Kim and I lived in rural, agrarian England, a “sandwich” meant one of three things: a warm, fresh floury bap with butter, Cheddar cheese and Branston’s Pickle from our favorite bakery in Lechlade; a grilled ham and cheese sandwich (with chips (fries), of course) from The Plough in Fairford; or a doner kebab from a jankety kebab house in Banbury. 

There just weren’t many other sandwich options (not to mention burgers and pizza) in the Cotswolds region of England where we lived and certainly no subs, grinders, torpedoes, po’ boys or hoagies. In fact, to our British hosts, the notion that “Yanks” had so many options and fillings for our sandwiches was sheer lunacy on the level of King George, III. Never mind that the bread-encased convenience food known as the “sandwich” was invented by Englishman John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.

Anatolia02

Babaghannoug with Pita

Of the three sandwiches, the memories of all which still rekindle pangs of hunger, our favorite was the doner kebab. It was our special occasion sandwich, the extravagance of which we chose to partake on birthdays and anniversaries. It was the indulgence on which we splurged (we were very poor back then) when we wanted to maximize our culinary enjoyment and stretch our pounds (English monetary unit). To this day—more than 25 years later—memories of those doner kebabs stir the type of powerful emotions one associates with the most pleasant of memories–on par with olfactory-arousing memories of my grandma’s tortillas just off the comal.

We weren’t the only ones crazy for kebabs. In England, where they’re even served in pubs, doner kebabs are considered an icon of urban food culture. They’re especially popular following a night of adult beverage excess, but are beloved at any time.  If possible, they’re even more popular in Germany, where, as in England, large communities of Turkish immigrants settled. Doner kebabs are, in fact, the most popular street food in Germany,  by far exceeding the popularity of the German source of historical and cultural pride, the sausage.

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Falafel with hummus

Aside from vegans, vegetarians and calorie counters, it seems the only person in England who doesn’t like doner kebabs is contrarian extraordinaire Gordon Ramsey who likens kebabs throughout the United Kingdom to “a piece of (expletive) on a stick that is taken off the burner at night frozen then reheated the next day.”   Obviously he never visited the jankety little kebab house in Banbury which forever set our benchmark for excellence in Middle Eastern sandwiches.

If you’ve never had a doner kebab or have gleaned from this essay only that it’s some sort of sandwich, let me describe it.  A doner kebab is a traditional Turkish dish made from meat roasted vertically on a spit, very similarly to how Greek gyros and other spit-roasted meats from throughout the Mediterranean region are prepared.  On the long cylindrical spit, the meat resembles an elephant’s foot  from which small pieces of juicy meat are shaved then crammed into warm pita or epic flat bread before being topped with a sauce and (or) lettuce, onions and tomatoes.

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Combination Platter: Chicken Kebab, Beef Kebab, Ground Beef, Onion Salad, Pita, Rice, Green Chile and Cacik

By American standards, the Anatolia Doner Kebab House on Sixth Street, could hardly be called upscale, but it’s posh and elegant compared to the jankety little kebab house in Banbury.  Situated in a nondescript edifice just north of Central in the downtown area, it’s also much larger than many kebab houses in England, some of which are hardly more than roadside stands.  Best of all, Anatolia’s menu includes a number of Turkish delicacies more than a step above street food.  Anatolia’s menu touts its cuisine as “what mama used to make.”

Mama must have been one heckuva cook.  The food at Anatolia is so good that our server declared confidently that we’d be back within a week.  That was three days before my first return visit.  I can’t yet state that Anatolia transports me back to England because I have yet to try Anatolia’s version of my beloved doner kebab.  During my first two visits the specials of the day were too tempting to pass up.  If that trend persists, it may be a while before I get to try the doner kebab.

Adana Shish Kabob

Adana Shish Kabob

The first special was a combination platter consisting of three meat skewers: chicken kebab, beef kebab and ground beef as well as an onion salad, several wedges of pita, a single roasted green chile, rice and Cacik, a very refreshing and cool sauce made with cucumber, yoghurt, mint, olive oil and spices.  The meats are perfectly grilled and seasoned masterfully.  All three meats are fork-tender and devoid of any annoying fat or sinew.   The onion salad is drizzled with a sweet-tangy dressing, but would have been more interesting with just a bit of feta.  The warm and delicious pita is the only item on the menu that’s not made on the premises, but it’s a high-quality pita.  The Cacik (what Greeks call tzaziki) is outstanding while the rice is buttery, but not especially memorable.

Owners Mehmet and Umut Kokangul pay homage to their Turkish hometown with the Adana Shish Kabob, the special of the day during my second visit.  Unlike other kebabs offered at Anatolia, the Adana is pleasantly piquant courtesy of Aleppo peppers, a Turkish pepper favorite with balanced heat and rich, sweet and smoky notes.  This kebab has the texture similar to meatballs, but in an elongated meat package.  Because of its heat properties, it should become a favorite of Duke City diners.

Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate

Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob plate

Appetizers are very inexpensive at Anatolia where you can get single-sized portions of falafel and dolmas for under a dollar.  The falafel, fried balls of spiced chickpeas and favabeans, are quite good, especially for the price.  Even better are the dolmas which are homemade.  You can definitely tell the difference between the canned dolmas served at many Middle Eastern restaurants and the homemade dolmas served at Anatolia.  The grape leaves are fresher and the flavors of lemon zest and olive oil permeate each bite.

Anatolia’s babaghannoug is among the very best in the city (as well as one of the most challenging to spell).  The combination of olive oil, roasted eggplant and tahini (a sesame paste) is ameliorated with Turkish spices to form a wonderful dip for the pita bread.  For an even more eye-opening, mouth-watering version, ask for the spicy babaghannoug which is punctuated with the bite of the Aleppo pepper.  The color of the hummus resembles Thousand Island dressing and that’s not the only way in which Anatolia’s hummus differs from most in the Duke City.  Texturally it’s somewhat creamier than most and it’s also more heavily seasoned, including a good amount of cumin. 

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Pistachio Baklava

Dessert at Turkish restaurants means baklava, or more specifically pistachio baklava.   It’s not sodden with the dreaded corn syrup as some baklava tends to be.  Instead, trust that real honey is used.  This is a buttery, flaky pastry whose sweetness is mitigated with ground green pistachios.  It’s homemade and is among the very best I’ve ever had.  

THIRD VISIT – 12 JULY 2013: When John L, a very discerning gastronome whose opinions I value, wrote about a less than stellar dining experience at Anatolia, I surmised John must have visited on a rare off day.  Still his comments hastened my return with my good friends Bruce “Sr Plata” Silver, Paul “Boomer” Lilly and Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott in tow.  It was their first visit and they weren’t privy to any discouraging words about Anatolia.  All three of them found their meals very enjoyable (especially the pistachio baklava) and promised to return.

The special of the day was leg of lamb shish kabob.  At fourteen dollars, it was the most expensive item I’ve seen on Anatolia’s menu, but also one of the most delicious.  The lamb was tender, moist and perfectly seasoned, but there wasn’t a lot of it, so each small bite was cherished with small bites.  The special included a roasted green chile, rice and a salad.  Only the rice was unremarkable.

Some psychologists credit the dissolution of the family unit as the reason behind America’s social ills.  It’s also thought that families which dine together, stay together. In June, 2013, Urbanspoon put together its list of the most popular family-friendly restaurants in America and two Albuquerque eateries were on the list.  Apparently Duke City families enjoy going out for non-American food because the two honorees were Anatolia Doner Kebab and Paddy Rawal’s OM Fine Indian Dining, both outstanding choices. 

Don’t be surprised if Anatolia’s doner kebab makes it to my best sandwich list.  That is if I ever get to try the doner kebab, which considering those fantastic specials of the day may not be too soon.  Anatolia is a terrific Turkish restaurant in a city which welcomes diversity and has long been overdue for the authentic flavors, hospitality and deliciousness of Turkey.

Anatolia Doner Kebab House
521 Central, N.W., Suite 1
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-6718
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 12 July 2013
1st VISIT: 5 January 2013
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pistachio Baklava, Babaghannoug, Pita, Falafel, Combination Platter, Leg of Lamb Shish Kabob


View Anatolia Doner Kebab Restaurant on LetsDineLocal.com »

Anatolia Doner Kebab Restaurant on Urbanspoon

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant – Albuquerque, New Mexico

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant, my very favorite Mediterranean restaurant in New Mexico

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant, my very favorite Mediterranean restaurant in New Mexico

The St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Magdalena, New Mexico is adorned with ceramic statues, most familiar and easy to identify…at least for lifelong Catholics like me.   After Sunday Mass one September, 2010 morning, we espied a statue of a saint clutching a curious implement to his chest.  None of the parishioners we asked had any idea who the statue represented.  Father Andy Pavlak, the parish vicar, confirmed the statue depicted Saint Lawrence  of Rome and the curious device he held was a gridiron, a metal grate used for grilling meat, fish, vegetables or any combination thereof.

Father Pavlak went on to explain why Saint Lawrence clutched the gridiron.  Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons of ancient Rome who were martyred during the reign of Emperor Valerian.  The manner of death he suffered was especially gruesome.  The intrepid saint was grilled on a gridiron.  As his flesh cooked, Lawrence is said to have cried out, “This side’s done.  Turn me over and have a bite.”  That probably explains why Saint Lawrence is the patron saint of comedians, butchers and roasters. He is also patron saint of several parishes throughout the Land of Enchantment.

The dining area at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant

The dining area at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant

I suspect Saint Lawrence might also be the patron saint of grillmasters.  If so, I sure could use his divine intercession.  Like the administrators of his death, I seem to have a problem discerning when one side is done.  Consequently one side is usually charred to the consistency of coal while the other is as rare as the raw beef fighters apply over wounds acquired in the ring.  It doesn’t matter how closely I study the collective writings of Bill and Cheryl Jamison, America’s preeminent outdoor cooking experts, my results are disastrous.  On the grill, I’m a disgrace to my gender.

Because I’ve ruined thousands of dollars of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables, my Kim would just as soon see me wave the white flag of surrender (though I’d probably drop it on the grill and only one side would burn.)  Better still, she’d rather I take her to a restaurant in which bona fide grillmasters impart the olfactory-arousing direct application of heat to produce succulent results.  Frankly, that would be my preference, too…so, perhaps my ineptitude on the grill might be a subliminal thing.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself.

Purchase an assortment of seasoned snacks such as watermelon seeds

It’s no secret that some of the very best grilled meats anywhere are prepared to perfection in Middle Eastern restaurants.  Many Middle Eastern dining establishments have mastered the enviable art of imbuing meats with the pungency of exotic spices; a distinctive aroma inherent from woods with personality; a whisper-thin crust that seals in flavor and tenderness in a pleasantly pink interior; and any number of heavily spiced, flavorful sauces, all of which seem to highlight even more of the magnificence of meat in all its grilled glory.

In Albuquerque as in many other cities, Middle Eastern restaurants seem to fall into two stratum: opulent, lavishly adorned dining rooms or time-worn cafes in bedraggled edifices.   Experience shows that spit and polish alone don’t make the restaurant. Some of the very best Middle Eastern restaurants are often found in tumbledown buildings.  Perhaps the very best of these is the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant on the southwest corner of San Pedro and Montgomery in the Northeast Heights.

Dolmes: Six piece stuffed grape leaves served tahini sauce

The San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is ensconced in a stand-alone building that frankly could be home to just about any retail business.  Much of the building is dedicated to comestibles.  Its shelves are well-stocked with Middle Eastern spices, groceries and dry goods.  Adventurous cooks will enjoy walking up and down the aisles studying all the wonderful options, perhaps inspired by the olfactory arousing aromas coming from the small kitchen at the front of the complex.  The counter separating the kitchen from the store doubles as a counter in which patrons pay for their purchases or place their to-go orders.

Dine-in and carry-out options abound.  Should you decide to dine in, there are several comfortable booths and tables available.  The dining area is ensconced beneath a canopy reminiscent a large Bedouin tent, the biggest difference being that instead of Middle Eastern rugs, the canopy is made from Southwest themed rugs (Kokopeli anyone?).   The menu over the counter is abbreviated; you’ll be handed a laminated menu to take with you to your table.  From the window-side booths, your vantage point will be of busy San Pedro to your east.

Six-piece Falafel appetizer: fried garbanzo beans with herbs and spices served with a yogurt sauce

Six-piece Falafel appetizer: fried garbanzo beans with herbs and spices served with a yogurt sauce

The menu is surprisingly ambitions considering the relatively cramped quarters.  Reading from top-left, the first items to catch your eye are appetizers and small order items followed by a seven salads, only one of which you might see at any type of restaurant.  One entire page is dedicated to platters, both meat-based platters and vegetarian platters.  Platters generally include a meat or vegetarian entree with hummus or rice and one of the seven sensational salads.  Homemade fresh pita bread (which you can see being made at the kitchen) comes with several of the platters.

The last page of the menu is dedicated to sandwiches–non-vegetarian and vegetarian–and desserts.  It’s an intriguing menu, one you might expect to see at a larger Middle Eastern restaurant and not necessarily at a grocery store doubling as a restaurant.  Your hosts are brothers Muhammad and Abraham, who are as cordial and accommodating as any restaurant proprietors in the Duke City.  Both are more than happy to recommend various options and will check up on you periodically.  Trust their recommendations.

Lamb Shawarma Platter: Marinated slices of lamb served with hummus, salad and homemade fresh pita bread

The appetizers section includes some de rigueur standards you’ll find at almost all Mediterranean restaurants.  The difference is that the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant prepares them better.  “Heresy,” you say.  After our inaugural visit on November 13th, we were so impressed that we had to return a week later to confirm what our taste buds were saying.  They were telling us this humble little establishment might be the very best Middle Eastern restaurant in Albuquerque.  Urbanspoon readers seem to agree.  As of this writing, 93% of the 431 readers voting on its page indicated they liked it.  Muhammad proudly points this out to new visitors.

The dolmes, a six-piece appetizer of stuffed grape leaves served with tahini sauce is one of those items at which this restaurant excels.  Decoratively plated so that the six dolmes form a pool for the tahini sauce, you can use the plastic fork to cut the dolmes into smaller, bite-sized pieces, but Muhammad will encourage you to eat your entire dinner the way it would be eaten back home in Palestine.  He would just as soon you dispense with your fork altogether.  Great advice!  The dolmes are fabulous!

Tabbouli Salad, Baba Ghanoug and Bakdunecea Salad

Unlike many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants in the Duke City, these dolmes are homemade, not from out of a can.  They have a very distinctive flavor with nary a hint of lemon.  The distinctiveness comes from a seven spice blend, one that’s just slightly different than many seven spice blends I’ve seen in Japanese and Arabic cooking.  This one is made with All Spice, Black Pepper, Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Fennel and Ginger, a blend which enlivens the vegetarian dolmes with a flavor punch that will wow your taste buds.  The dolmes are even better when dipped into the fresh, invigorating tahini sauce.

Another terrific starter is the six-piece falafel plate.  Falafel (chickpeas mashed with onions then fried to a nice crunch) are hemispherically shaped, like the top half of the Earth.  Bite into each falafel and you’ll experience the sensation of a slight crispy crunch followed by a soft, moist inside that tastes unlike any falafel I’ve ever had.  It’s the type of falafel which should be used to help broker peace in the Middle East.  They’re that good!  Seasoned with herbs and spices, they’re served with a luscious yogurt sauce which complements them wonderfully.

Housemade fresh pita bread, maybe the very best in town

Housemade fresh pita bread, maybe the very best in town

For years, my local standard for Baba Ghanoug, roasted eggplant with tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic, has been Yasmine’s Cafe, yet another terrific Palestinian-owned treasure.  If possible, the San Pedro Middle Eastern Restaurant’s version is even better.  It’s rich and creamy with a prominent garlic flavor.  In Middle Eastern fashion, you’ll want to cut up pieces of the wonderful housemade pita (still fresh and warm) and use the pita to scoop up as much Baba Ghanoug as you can fit into your mouth.  Each bite is an adventure in appreciation.

The highlight of the salad menu–and you can’t go wrong with any of the seven choices–may just well be the Bakdunecea Salad (parsley with tahini and lemon juice served with olive oil).  This salad has powerful qualities, a term you might not associate with parsley.  Parsley is usually thought up as an ingredient to chop up and sprinkle on entrees needing color.  It’s sometimes thought of in a decorative sense, not for its flavor enhancing qualities.  Used correctly and in combination with other ingredients (such as tahini), it is refreshing and assertive.

Shish Kabob Platter: cubes of extra lean beef served with hummus, salad and homemade fresh pita bread

Shish Kabob Platter: cubes of extra lean beef served with hummus, salad and homemade fresh pita bread

Another sensational salad is the Tabbouli (lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, onion, mint, cracked Bulgar wheat, fresh lemon juice and virgin olive oil).  Growing up in Peñasco with Lebanese neighbors, I was introduced to Tabbouli, Kibbeh and Tahini long before I’d ever had Chinese food or even my first Bic Mac from McDonald’s.  The Tabbouli may be the best I’ve ever had, reminding me in some ways of what a Middle Eastern pico de gallo might taste like.  It’s got remarkable freshening qualities, like a savory and delicious breath mint.

It wouldn’t be a fantastic Middle Eastern restaurant without a sensational hummus (ground chickpeas with tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic) and that, too, is available at the San Pedro Middle East Restaurant.  You can order it on its own as an appetizer or you can order one of the several platters with which the hummus is served.  The hummus encircles the meat platters like an island of creamy, garlicky goodness.  Muhammad taught us to use pita to scoop up heaps of meat and hummus with our hands.  It’s the only way to eat them.

Shisk Kafta Platter: ground beef, onion, parsley served with hummus, salad and homemade fresh pita bread

The Lamb Shawarma (marinated slices of lamb) is terrific (as if that needs to be said).  Instead of shaved lamb as you’d find on Greek gyros, the lamb is sliced into smaller than bite-sized pieces, each blessed with a grilled smokiness and penetrated with seasonings that are so distinctively Middle Eastern.  Sprigs of fragrant, roughly chopped parsley impart fresh qualities which meld with the other ingredients to fashion a fabulous flavor profile.

Not since Banbury, England in 1987 have we had better shish kabob (cubes of extra lean beef served) than we’ve had on San Pedro.   In describing the grilling expertise at Middle Eastern restaurants earlier in this essay, I must have had this shish kabob in mind.  The meat is grilled to perfection.  At medium, it has just a slight hint of pink inside while its exterior texture is nicely charred. It’s the type of grilling expertise I lack.  It’s perfect grilling.

Chicken Tawook surrounded by the best hummus in Albuquerque

Another exceptional platter which showcases the grilling process and exceptional seasoning is the chicken tawook platter, marinated juicy cubes of chicken breast with garlic sauce served with hummus, salad and the homemade fresh pita bread.  The chicken is moist and tender, absolutely impregnated with flavor though not so garlicky that it will wreck your breath.  Instead, the garlic melds wondrously with a hint of grilling.

The chicken shawarma, an island of small-cut chicken pieces surrounded by hummus is yet another fabulous entree.  Similar to the chicken tawook, garlic is a prominent flavor as is the wondrous fragrance of grilling.  Parsley also fits prominently into the flavor profile, imparting an invigorating herbaceous freshness, but this dish is best when scooped up with hummus and that absolutely amazing pita.  Abraham tells me he makes some 700 pieces of bread on an average day.  I’ll typically have four of them each visit and take home another half dozen.  This is the best pita in New Mexico!

Chicken Shawarma

Even on the rare occasion in which an item you don’t order is delivered to your table, you’ll want to try it before even thinking about sending it back.  Such was the case when my friend Ruben and I ordered dolmes and a strange looking dish with an even stranger name was placed before us.  As it turns out, the Foul Mudammas with Pita is an outstanding appetizer, one which will visit my table in the future. 

There’s nothing foul about this wonderful dish which is made with diced fava beans, fresh garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.  Given the same ingredients and asked to create something wonderful, there’s no way most of us could ever concoct anything nearly this good.  The humble fava hasn’t made significant inroads in the American diet, but in combination with the right condiments and spices, it’s more than palatable.  Fava beans have tremendous healthful benefits, too.

Foul Mudammas with Pita

The San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is no slouch when it comes to desserts.  Trays of baklava behind a glass pastry case may elicit involuntary salivation.  Don’t hesitate to order the pistachio baklava.  This baklava is on par with the pistachio baklava at the Anatolia Doner Kebab House which means it’s the very best in New Mexico.  The salty pistachios are a perfect foil for the cloying honey, making this a dessert of complementary and contrasting flavors which go so well together.  Bite into the layers of luscious flaky phylo and you’ll be rewarded with a moist, delicious, wonderful way to finish an outstanding meal.

Pistachio Baklava, some of the very best in Albuquerque

Pistachio Baklava, some of the very best in Albuquerque

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant is reminiscent of the type of restaurant you’d find in an ethnic rich area of a large metropolitan area.  It is frequented by customers of all ethnicities, the common denominator being the recognition that this is a very special restaurant with incomparable food, terrific service and the type of grilling skills I envy.

San Pedro Middle East Restaurant
4001 San Pedro
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 888-2921
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 26 May 2013
1st VISIT:  13 November 2010
# OF VISITS: 6
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET: Shish Kabob Platter, Lamb Shawarma Platter, Fresh Pita Bread, Bakdunecea Salad, Garden Salad, Dolmes, Falafel, Baba Ganouj, Shisk KaftaPlatter, Beef Shawarma, Tabbouli, Chicken Shawarma, Foul Mudammas with Pita, Fatoush, Pistachio Baklava

San Pedro Mart Middle East Grocery and Food on Urbanspoon

Yasmine’s Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

My friend Bruce "Sr Plata" in front of Yasmine's

My friend Bruce “Sr Plata” in front of Yasmine’s

Never mind an Emmy.  If the Hollywood Reporter and the Huffington Post have their way, comedian Larry David might qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.  That is if a 2011 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm can do what diplomats and politicians have failed to do over the years.  In the episode, entitled Palestinian Chicken, Larry discovers a Palestinian restaurant that serves the tastiest chicken in Los Angeles.  The problem is that the restaurant is owned and operated by anti-Semitic Palestinians and Larry is Jewish. 

Now, Larry could hardly be considered a peace-maker by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, his lusty ardor for both the chicken and the restaurant’s proprietor, override his loyalty to Judaism and the local Jewish community.  The episode so impressed Alan Dershowitz, appellate adviser to O.J. Simpson’s defense team, that he sent a copy to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with the suggestion that he invite Palestinian President Abbas over to watch it with him.  Dershowitz’s theory: “maybe if they both get a good laugh, they can begin a negotiating process.”

The interior of Yasmine's

The interior of Yasmine’s

Negotiating world peace over dinner isn’t exactly a novel concept.  A New York group named World Peace, One Falafel at a Time aims to bring Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths together over food.  The group’s mission statement is clear: Through a shared plate of food we create a common ground that fosters trust and understanding. When people share a simple meal together, boundaries disappear, discussion becomes possible, and healing can begin. We come together not as a meeting of a thousand, but as one hundred meetings of ten. 

It wasn’t world peace my friend Bruce “Sr. Plata” and I had in mind when we set foot in Yasmine’s Cafe one fine May day in 2013.  It was whirled chickpeas (hummus) which beckoned.  We wanted to give chickpeas a chance.  It was Sr. Plata’s inaugural visit to Yasmine’s and my first visit in nearly five years.  A lot has changed in five years.

Hot pita bread

Hot pita bread

Yasmine’s, which launched in late 2003, was one of several Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants which launched in the Duke City during the century’s first decade.  Albuquerque’s climate and topography is somewhat similar to that of the Mediterranean region, but it’s more likely that the explosion (more like a cap pistol than dynamite) in Middle Eastern restaurants in the city is because Albuquerque has finally become sufficiently metropolitan in size, population and sophistication to host several good to outstanding Middle Eastern restaurants? Whatever the reason for that growth, local diners are grateful.

Named for one of the original owner’s daughters, Yasmine’s offers all the traditional favorites of the Middle East region. It has the authentic look and feel of a restaurant somewhere in the cradle of civilization and is a welcome departure from the boring sameness of chains.  Yasmine’s is owned by a Palestinian family and has developed a wide reputation as a haven not only for Muslims, but for anyone craving authentic and delicious Mediterranean cuisine.

Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ghanoush

A set of Islamic Shariʻah dietary laws called “halal” regulates the preparation of foods (not just meat) at Yasmine’s Cafe. Halal, a term which translates to “permitted” means all food must pass strict dietary guidelines very similar to kosher rules. No antibiotics and hormones are permitted on meats and all animals must be treated humanely from field to table.  The person slaughtering an animal must evoke the name of Allah during the slaughter.  Pork is strictly forbidden. 

The menu at Yasmine’s showcases the cuisine of the Mediterranean not inclusive of the foods of Spain, France and Italy.  It demonstrates the commonalities of regional foods, preparation styles and spices that cross cultural and religious barriers.  It showcases the foods of Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Greece and even parts of North Africa.  Rotisserie chicken is on the menu, but you’ve got call in an order a day in advance.  Otherwise, every other item is available on-the-spot and ordered from a counter.

Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Baba Ghanoush, a smoky dip made from eggplant and tahini with a smooth, creamy texture is one of the most popular starters at Yasmine’s and is served with one of the vegetarian platters, too. It makes the perfect dip for the warm, fresh out-of-the-oven pita bread.  Open up the pita bread and wisps of fragrant steam escape, an olfactory invitation to an addictive pita.  The baba ghanoush, while texturally a success, isn’t spiced quite as heavily as at other Mediterranean restaurants.  That is a common theme at Yasmine’s. 

Another popular starter is the stuffed eggplant, four eggplant slices stuffed with rice, onion and the restaurant’s special blend of spices.  One of the telltale signs of fresh eggplant is its freshness, characterized by an absence of bitterness and the strange “metallic” taste sometimes found in poorly prepared eggplant.  Yasmine’s stuffed eggplant is perfectly prepared.  It’s neither too mushy nor too chewy.  The rice is moist and flavorful with a subtle spice blend that doesn’t dominate the flavor profile.

Mexiterranean Burger

Mexiterranean Burger

One of the more intriguing items on the menu is called the Mexiterranean Burger, perhaps the most unique version of the green chile cheeseburger in New Mexico.  The patty is made from a marinated ground beef charbroiled and stuffed in a pita then topped with onions, Provolone cheese, tomatoes, tzadziki sauce and Hatch green chile.  It’s not only a unique take on a burger, it’s a rather delicious one.  As with far too many green chile cheeseburgers, the chile isn’t especially piquant. 

Fortunately Yasmine’s condiment offerings include a hot sauce that emboldens the flavors of everything to which it is added.  The hot sauce is a Day-Glo colored orange sauce with a peppery piquancy reminiscent of fine cayenne.  Best of all, it’s not vinegary as some hot sauces tend to be.  This hot sauce is a huge hit on the burger, but even moreso on the accompanying French fries.  The fries are strictly out-of-the-bag, but douse them in the hot sauce and their flavor is improved exponentially.

Chicken Shawarma

Chicken Shawarma

The Chicken Shawarma, boneless chicken marinated in special spices, slowly roasted and thinly sliced is apportioned generously and served on a bed of fluffy rice with lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions on the side.  Ask for a side of sumac to add just a bit of tartness to what is surprisingly an under-seasoned entree.  There’s no disputing the quality of the boneless chicken, but a more liberal use of spices would improve its flavor profile. So will the aforementioned hot sauce. 

The original owners of Yasmine’s made the very best pistachio baklava in New Mexico.  It was one of my very favorite desserts and best reason for the restaurant.  Alas, pistachio baklava is no longer on the menu, but the baklava on the menu is stuffed with finely crushed walnuts.  The walnuts cut the cloying taste of honey to prevent a mad sugar rush, but they’re not quite as wonderful as the pistachios.  We found the layers of phyllo pastry somewhat chewy with little flakiness.

Walnut  Baklava

Walnut Baklava

Yasmine’s Cafe offers several delicious choices for vegetarians and vegans.  Frankly, it offers something for just about every discerning diner.  It’s the type of restaurant in which peace talks could certainly be inspired.

Yasmine’s Cafe
1600 Central, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 242-1980
LATEST VISIT: 1 May 2013
# OF VISITS: 7
RATING: 17
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baba Ganouj, Walnut Baklava, Chicken Shawarma, Mexiterranean Burger, Stuffed Eggplant, Pita Bread

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