Habibi House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Habibi House on Silver Avenue in the Nob Hill Area

Before Al Gore invented the internet, it wasn’t easy for logophiles (lovers of words) like me to figure out what some words meant.  “Lover of words,” in my case was an understatement.  I was obsessed about learning every new word–its etymology (origin, definition and context, even what it used to  mean) I came across.  It’s a wonder my parents (both educators) didn’t put this precocious, pedantic child up for adoption. Dictionaries were of little help as their content was mostly limited to English words.  The Velazquez dictionary was helpful when I wanted to learn a new Spanish word, but that, too, was limiting.  Alas, no comprehensive resource seemed to exist to sate my curiosity. 

Here’s an example of my dilemma.  The popular 60’s television show I Dream of Jeanie was replete with Arabic words.  For most people being entertained was enough, but not for me.  When a new word was used, I wanted to know what it meant–even if it was a proper name.  Jeanie’s master (played by the altitudinous Ted Cassidy) was named Habib.  No source or person of my acquaintance had any idea what “Habib” meant.  Surely, when Jeanie’s master’s parents named their son Habib, it was because the etymology of the name meant something to them.  Maybe the name represented a trait such as bravery or intelligence.

Dining Room at Habibi

It wasn’t until the Air Force stationed me in Massachusetts that I learned what Habib means.  One of the owners of a Middle Eastern restaurant outside of Boston gave me the type of vocabulary lesson a lexiphile (another term for lover of words) like me loves.  He explained that Habib literally translates as “a person one loves,” a term of endearment among Arabic speaking nations.   To use the term in the masculine sense, you would use “habibi.”  For a female, you would use “habibti.”  You would probably not use either habibi or habiti to address your boss or a colleague with whom you are not having an intimate relationship.

You’d think my vocabulary of Arabic words would be more comprehensive considering online resources have revealed to me words and expressions theretofore seen on I Dream of Jeannie or in movies depicting Middle Eastern characters.  I can tell you the definition of such terms as abracadabra (I will create as I speak), alakazam (invocation of magical power or to indicate an instantaneous transformation or appearance that occurs by or as if by magic), Haji (one who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca) and jameela (beautiful).  Knowing these words isn’t very useful when I hear my friend Nader speak his native Arabic tongue.

Baba Ganoujj with Pita

Habibi Kitchen is the brick-and-mortar instantiation of the Mediterranean Kitchen, a fabulous food truck that opened in 2021 and sadly lasted less than a full year.   In its more expansive, four seasons accommodating space within The Village at Nob Hill, Habibi House is now able to expand its repertoire of Middle Eastern delicacies.  Located in the in the spot formerly occupied by P’tit Louis Bistro, Habibi House doesn’t go overboard in its thematic application of Middle Eastern trappings.  Other than a few framed photographs and table cloths adorned in Arabic finery, not much has changed.  That’s okay.  As you approach Habibi House, the aromas emanating from the kitchen will confirm you’re not going to dine on French food. 

If you’re an aficionado of Middle Eastern cuisine, it will do your heart good to peruse the menu, an expansive compendium of familiar favorites.   If you ever visited the Mediterranean Kitchen, it’ll also do your heart good to see the familiar smiling face of owner-chef Abu Abdullah.  He remembered and was happy to see us.  Habibi Kitchen has a small dog-friendly patio that faces Silver Avenue.  Passers-by are either destined for or coming from one of the restaurants in the Village at Nob Hill.  Neighbors include Limonata Nob Hill Crepe Escape  and Ajiaco Colombian Bistro.  The area is a shoppers and diners paradise just one block recessed from Route 66.

Underneath The Pile of Onions are Two Half Chickens

Hummus is widely regarded as the quintessential Middle Eastern dip, so much so that it’s become ubiquitous well beyond the Mediterranean.  While there’s no doubting its deliciousness, my preference has long been for baba ganoush, a rich Middle Eastern dip made from charred eggplant, onions, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, yogurt, olive oil, and salt. In her definitive tome A New Book of Middle Eastern Food Egyptian born food writer Claudia Roden refers to baba ganoush as “exciting and vulgarly seductive.”  Great adjectives!  Habibi House’s version is among the best in the metropolitan area, its distinctive smoky notes pervading every morsel.  Better still, it’s served with perhaps the best pita in New Mexico.  It’s pita nearly the size of a tortilla and it’s served out of the oven.

On the Entrees section of the menu, you’ll find a delightful array of grilled proteins sure to please.  That includes a grilled whole quail chicken (hmm, must be some kind of hybrid), musakhan and quarter, half or whole sized grilled chicken (seasoned with signature spices and marinated overnight).  Confident she’d love it, my Kim ordered an entire chicken, reasoning she’d take at least half of it home.  Splayed on a large plate, the chicken is literally covered by a tangle of pearlescent olives and sundry seasonings.  It’s a good thing my Kim loves onions almost as much as she loves chicken.  These onions were sautéed to the point just before they would caramelized.  The chicken was moist, tender and wonderfully seasoned.  Sheathed by a flavorful, crispy golden skin, this grilled chicken is a standard-setter.

Lamb Chops

In recent years lamb chops have become as costly as filling up the tank of an F-250.  Sticker shock is inevitable should you order them at most restaurants.  They’ve pretty much become a splurge item.  When asked how I want my lamb chops prepared, I generally acquiesce to “however the chef decides they should be prepared.”  Yeah, it’s a bit like trusting Alec Baldwin to teach you gun safety, but almost invariably the lamb chops are at a perfect degree of doneness.  Such was the case at Habibi when four succulent lamb chops arrived at our table.  Prepared to about medium, they had plenty of moistness and were nearly as tender as lamb meatballs.  Best of all, they were priced at about a third what it would take to fill up that aforementioned F-250.  The chops were accompanied by rice and a salad with some of the best tzatziki sauce we’ve had.

Desserts included my favorite Middle Eastern post-prandial treat.  Our server warned us that the pistachio baklava was very sweet.  More than any other type of baklava, pistachio baklava is balanced.  Sure it’s got the requisite cloying honey in between layers of crispy phyllo dough, but the crushed pistachios temper the sweetness of the honey very well.  It’s still too sweet for my Kim who can wolf down Hostess cupcakes like they were water.  Her dessert consisted of three Moroccan cookies, all far less sweet than the pistachio baklava.  Our server told us that on Sunday Habibi House is taken over by a chef who serves Moroccan specialties.  Sounds like a Sunday visit is in order.

Pistachio Baklava and Moroccan Cookies

Though I didn’t learn any new words at Habibi House, it was wonderful visiting with Abu Abdullah and seeing what he can do with a real kitchen instead of a smaller food truck kitchen.  What he can do is culinary magic!

Habibi House
3218 Silver Avenue
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 923-0759
LATEST VISIT: 20 May 2023
COST: $$
BEST BET: Baba Ganouj, Pita, Pistachio Baklava, Whole Chicken, Lamb Chops, Moroccan Cookies
REVIEW #1333

5 thoughts on “Habibi House – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. Thanks, Gil, very exciting to hear your praise of their Baba Ganoush.  I love hummus, but I feel like I’ve had a lot of good hummus in my life. I do not think I’ve had enough good baba ganoush. One of the reasons that I was sad to lose Al Alwan’s was because of their delicious baba ganoush. Habibi House has been on my radar for a while but it is now moved a little higher up the list. Shawne, brave the infuriating ART bus shenanigans! Just keep your eyes focused at every intersection for craziness and confused drivers, especially those from out of town. It’s survivable and worth it for the good restaurants.

    1. I probably didn’t sufficiently extol the pairing of the baba gonoush with the pita. You’ll love the pita. It was served to us fresh out of the oven and hot to the touch. You’ll love dipping the pita into the baba ganoush as much as John enjoys dipping fries into ketchup.

      One disclaimer about Habibi House–a customer at an adjacent table ordered shawarma on pita. The pita pretty much fell apart and he wasn’t very happy about it.

  2. Thanks – Once Again Your Highness of Verbiage- For introducing us to this Place.

    We Are on our Way as Soon as a Call for a new dining joint arises in Life in Corrales…!!
    .which will be Soon.

    More Later As We Go – Wayfarer doug Cohen

    1. Highness of Verbiage. Thank you. I like that.

      Please tell us more about the dining joint in Corrales, and if you’ve been to Restaurant Forty-Nine Forty, please share your impressions.

      And while I’m playing 40 Questions, are you the Doug Cohen who once covered music for The Alibi?

  3. How nice! I confess my excursions to Nob Hill and the UNM area have been few and far between since the infuriating ART bus shenanigans – the parking situation, the lack of left-turn options – but now that things have settled down, I guess I could make the effort to try these new establishments, and there are plenty to be curious about. Thanks for taking one for the team and letting us know which are worthwhile.

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