The giddiness of coming across an unexpected, hidden gem is like finding money. You swoop quick, pocket that shit, then look around to see if anyone has noticed. How long has this been here? Does it belong to anyone else? Should I keep it all to myself or tell someone?
You begin to feel it out: Is this a one, or is it a hundred? I think it's a hundred! Is it really a hundred? It is! It's a lot to contemplate, so first, some nourishment.
It's the kind of stuff that has you looking around at your companion and wondering: "Is this really as good as I think it is?" The very epitome of a hole-in-the wall, with mix-and-match furniture, a somewhat confusing menu, and a wi-fi connection that will have you considering the merits of stone engravings, this place is about one thing only: the food.
Observe the two Middle Eastern men of a certain age, hollering in rapid-fire Arabic and working faster than a one-legged man on race day. "Get out of the way! Don't stand in the way!" is the only English heard when another, less agile employee, you know, gets in the way.
The menu is composed of Middle Eastern standards: shawarma, falafel, kofta, shish kebab, hummus, tabbouleh, and various combinations of them -- plates, platters (bigger plates), sandwiches, burritos, and a la carte.
Best advice: Tell the friendly staff what you're hungry for and they'll make it happen. Our platter of saffron rice was cooked to perfection, every grain as tender and individual as babies in a nursery, and the kofta were equally as delicate, fragrant with cumin and coriander, big chubby things with the heft and gratification of a burger patty. Hummus was smooth as a milkshake only better, sprinkled with Ras al Hanout, the whole of it coming together with delicate Lebanese flat bread, nutty tahini, and a simple salad made with care. It was a dream of a dish. Falafel (not pictured) were also downy light within, with a powerful outer crust and singing with herbaceous bouquet.
All of it is made to order from scratch, fast, for little more than $8 a plate. Go here, but guard it carefully. Some bandit is likely to swoop in and steal it all away.
Bonus: Lori's Coffee Shop is right next door, an independent cafe with that rare combination of good espresso drinks and exquisite food all in the same locale.
1435 Cleveland Ave., St. Paul 651-646-0456
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