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Aladdin's Cafe...


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#1 ExtraMSG

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Posted 03 February 2006 - 11:09 PM

Drove by Malay Satay Hut coming back from The Dalles to see how it's coming. Walls are up, finally. Took the (very) long way home trying to find something new to eat. Went up 33rd and stopped in at Aladdin Cafe, a relatively new Middle Eastern restaurant north of Killingsworth.

The owners/cooks are Syrian and Jordanian, but the menu is pretty universally Middle Eastern with all the usual mazza (homous, baba ghanouj, labneh, tabouli, etc), sandwiches and meats (falafel, shawarma, kafta, kabob, lamb shank, etc), plus a few baked items (spinach pie, safeeha, cheese safeeha, and zaatar safeeha). The safeeha is the only thing that I don't think is too common at Portland Lebanese restaurants.

However, from what I tried, they do a good job with these typical dishes -- and they're very well-priced. I got the falafel ($4.25), the tabouli ($3.95), and the kafta sandwich ($4.95). (Only the items from the grill -- about 20% of the menu -- top $5, and only one item tops $10.)

Pita comes hot to the table when you arrive. It's a nice version, a little thicker and less puffy than other places that make their own in town. It has a slightly sweet aftertaste, but is otherwise a bit bland. I'd like it a little better if it was cooked at a higher temperature, but it does have some pleasant brown splotches.

The falafel were good as well, crunchier on the outside than most. That crunchy shell is perhaps a bit thick, but it yields nicely to a moist center heavily flavored with herbs and pureed onion. The center could be lighter; it's a little doughy. The six pieces surrounded a dish of tangy tahini. Very enjoyable together. I'd say these are my second favorite falafel I've had in Portland, next to Karam.

The tabouli -- parsley, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and bulgar wheat -- is dressed in a bright mixture of lemon and olive oil. The olive oil tastes pleasantly fruity and really adds to the dish. But it's the subtle spicing that raises this.

I was already full at this point, but I dug into the kafta sandwich with a fork to get at the goodies inside: spicy grilled meatballs, tahini, onion, pickle, tomatoes, lettuce, and parsley. The kafta were earthy and dense, permeated with the heavy fragrance of cumin. I really like their tangy tahini.

I got a triangle of baklava ($1.99) to go for my wife, though I had a taste. It wasn't as sickly sweet as some, but was also heavier -- denser -- than many.

It's run-down looking from the outside, but the interior is cafe cute. Better than expected from the prices. The people are very nice. I talked a little with the cook about a dish (molokhia) I had had before in Chicago and she knew it well and said she'd be glad to make it if I called ahead. I encouraged her to put some Jordanian and Syrian specials on the menu now and then. She seemed excited by the idea, so I hope they do.

6310 NE 33rd Ave
Portland, OR
503.546.7686

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The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#2 Egads

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 11:07 AM

I concur. We went last week, and though I had heard some murmurs about slow service, they did quite well--80% of the tables were full, and the wait was no longer than what I would expect. They were, sadly, out of the babaganouj, but their hummous was quite good, and the falafel sandwich I ordered was incredible. It helps that their pita is so tasty--it has a hint of a buttery flavor, which really tasted great with the falafel. Probably the best pita bread I've had in town--and that includes Karam. Best of all, the prices were exceptional--nothing we ordered was over $5. I can see them doing very well in that location. For now their menu is pretty traditional, but sounds from what MSG said that they'll branch out with some funkier offerings. I'm excited about this place.

#3 ExtraMSG

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 11:16 AM

Only if they get requests or people buy the specials when they see them. Some of these places don't realize you have to educate customers and encourage them to try interesting specials.

Karam's pita isn't that good, really. It's just acceptable. I don't think Aladdin's is really anything that special, it's just that the competition is even worse. I need to try that pita bakery out on 122nd some time. I thought Aristo was going to open a pita bakery. Dammit Aristo, you better not be working 14 hour days or whatever now that you're out of WCI and not be working towards a good pita bakery. (As if he has time to read this.)

Aladdin really needs to fix their signage, though.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#4 FoodDude

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Posted 04 February 2006 - 01:25 PM

I've never had slow service there, though now they are getting popular Ihope that doesn't change. MSG, try the Safeeha. I thought theirs was especially good, but maybe it's just me.

Have they, at least, finished painting the building? I did them a favor and finished it for them in the photo on my site. It was only halfway done when I took the picture :)

#5 vj

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Posted 26 May 2006 - 05:51 PM

Hey all --
does anyone know if this place turned over? We haven't made it in in awhile, mostly because we keep forgetting they're closed on Sundays. My sweetie and I went in this evening and had an awful experience -- comically bad service and food. We went in, strangely enough, hungry, and order; five minutes later a twenty-something caucasian woman brings us baba gnoush, and says the bread will be right out. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes later, the pita comes out--crispy. Sweetie gets his combo kabob plate, which is supposed to be the slow one, maybe 10 minutes later, and 15 minutes later, out comes my chicken schwarma. More pita, this time neither crispy nor pillowy. The guy cooking was Mexican, and neither of the cook/owners, that we would recognize from other visits, were there.

Other than the pita, the food was good, though no where near as good as it was, but the fact that it wasn't coordinated was a little more than frustrating.

#6 Chambolle

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Posted 26 May 2006 - 07:10 PM

Double bummer about your meal, VJ. My roomie and I went there for the first time and LOVED it! It's not even that far from where we live. Several of the items we had were some of the best we'd had. Maybe another shot?

#7 apocalypsecow

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Posted 26 May 2006 - 08:39 PM

Falafel is all well and good, but does any place in this town have pickled turnips? Where I grew up, there was no such thing as a falafel sandwich, or mezza, or much else, for that matter in any middle eastern/mediterranean restaurant, without pickled turnips. I've yet to see even an intimation of a pinkly pickled turnip anywhere in this town. Any ideas?

#8 ExtraMSG

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Posted 26 May 2006 - 10:55 PM

APOCALYPSECOW: I haven't seen any pickles on menus or tables here. I've had a whole variety of Middle Eastern pickles elsewhere. I would suggest asking about it. Your best bets are probably Karam, Ya Hala, and Arabian Breeze.

VJ: I haven't been in more than a month, so I don't know. I hope not. I know they did have a caucasian girl working the room sometimes when I was there and they had a Mexican guy occasionally cooking under their direction on my visits. Perhaps they were just out and the QA suffered.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#9 polloelastico

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 10:30 AM

Falafel is all well and good, but does any place in this town have pickled turnips? Where I grew up, there was no such thing as a falafel sandwich, or mezza, or much else, for that matter in any middle eastern/mediterranean restaurant, without pickled turnips. I've yet to see even an intimation of a pinkly pickled turnip anywhere in this town. Any ideas?


A middle-eastern restaurant/market in my home town of Tucson served every dish with these pickled turnips. They were purple/crimson tinged and quite tasty. The sold them in huge jars (Indo-European brand) and they were ridiculously cheap. There's a eastern European/Russian deli/grocery in Beaverton (can't remember the name, it's close to Jin Wah in the sea of strip mall) that probably sells them. I'm not sure of any Middle-Eastern/Meditteranean groceries in the area because I haven't been to any really - Foti's Greek deli/market on Burnside didn't have them last I checked.
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” — George Carlin

#10 ExtraMSG

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 10:37 AM

Here's a start if you're looking to buy them:

http://www.extramsg....ets&name=Search

http://www.extramsg....article&sid=331

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#11 LadyConcierge

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Posted 27 May 2006 - 03:52 PM

I want to blow up that pic of falafel and put it on my ceiling next to my David Bowie one. DROOL......

#12 Egads

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Posted 30 May 2006 - 07:59 AM

VJ--I doubt they've turned over so soon after opening. I was there about 3 weeks ago, and had the usual outstanding food/service. I generally try to avoid restaurants (particularly the small family variety) during Memorial Day weekend, as their cooks/waiters who work long hours during the year typically have those days off, and the temps might not be up to snuff. Why not try it again once everyone has returned from break, and see if the experience is back up to their old standards.

#13 thakrza

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Posted 30 May 2006 - 10:26 AM

The first time we went--soon after opening--it was bad...cold pita, cold falafel. I was BUMMED. But we tried again a month or so later and it was likely the best middle eastern food I have had in PDX. The cook was Latino and the woman (owner) was Middle Eastern. The wait staff/cashier was a young white guy--annoying as hell, too, but once we tried the food, who cared?

#14 ExtraMSG

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 10:50 AM

I went for lunch last week. Got one of the salads and some falafel. Everything was excellent. The wife, husband, and the hispanic cook were all there. The husband was performing waiter duties. The pita was a little softer than my previous experiences, but not like Wonder Bread. It was still freshly made and better than most. The falafel were terrific. Everything is insanely cheap. Really, I think it's too cheap. I worry about a place where the average check item is $5 and you don't have the volume of McDonald's.

They seem to have created a little patio area out front with an awning. Hopefully when the weather is consistently nicer, there'll be some spots outside to eat at.

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#15 Miso_Hungry

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 02:59 PM

I ate there last week based on what I read here and has the Foul Mudamus(spelling??). anyhow it had an insane amount of garlic, which is just right for me, and very tasty overall. The pita was nice and the service was attentive. I am glad I went and will head back try more of the menu soon.

#16 Knobcreeky

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Posted 20 June 2006 - 03:18 PM

Read the post and decided to go there for lunch today.
Had the Mazza/Mezza- Tabouli, Homous, Baba Ghanouj, Grape Leaves & Falafel.. Everything was fresh and tasty except the falafal might have been fried a bit in advance.
All is forgiven though when you bring out fresh pita. It was a little soft but still WAY better than anything out of a bag.
Need to go back for the Sandwiches and Safeeha- both looked really good as I peered over my fellow diner's shoulders.
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#17 Egads

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Posted 14 January 2007 - 08:14 AM

I went the other night to pick up a large takeout order for family members who are visiting.

Short summary: the food was exceptional, the service was abysmal. Seriously, horrible, horrible experience. Perhaps the worst I've had, ever, in a Portland restaurant. They were full, and dealing with several other takeout orders, but I ended up waiting ONE HOUR for my food. I know everyone's asking: why wait so long? Well, in retrospect I should not have, but I really wanted that food.

The basic problem is that they have absolutely no concept of how to manage a kitchen, or how to handle take out orders. Everything just depends on someone writing down your order and then remembering to deal with it. They had two waiters covering the tables, and then occasionally they would also handle the take out crowd. The waiters were obviously mad at each other, and thus were not helping each other out. The owner was obsessed with making falafel, to the exclusion of everyone/everything else. My order sat nearly complete for 10 minutes while they made more pita. Just when they made it, the owner took the falafel she had spent 20 minutes making and made a bunch of sandwiches, meaning I waited another 10 minutes.

In short: incredibly frustrating. Once I got it all home, the food was amazing, as always, (though slightly cold) but the experience was so bad that I'm not going to be ordering takeout from them anytime soon. The annoying thing is that they could do a few small things to improve the process, but I guess they are popular enough that there is no need to. I seriously advise anyone contemplating takeout at a busy time of day to think twice.

#18 bigloo

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 10:31 AM

Finally made it out here on Friday. The service was actually prompt. I found everything to be very good accept the hummous which was OK (furthermore, do not get hummous with an entree, it is overwhelming). I found the sandwiches to be better then the plates (even though the sandwiches has the same meats as the plates, they worked for some reason while the plates were just OK -- probably too much hummous or too little meat on the plate). The Babaghanouj was excellent as were the grapre leaves. I orderd the board special too, fried veggies in garlic sauce which really was good. The Safaayeh was excelllent too. I would not put this place in front of Ya Hala or Nicholas though.

#19 LadyConcierge

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 08:55 PM

Couldn't find a dedicated thread...

I stopped by on Saturday after work. I called in my order to go without a menu (and I've never been there!). Just craving falafel! So I ordered falafel, pita, hummus, and tabbouleh. I asked over the phone if they had some kind of cucumber salad, and she mentioned something with yogurt, but I was wanting more of a Greek salad of sorts. Of course I felt dumb when I saw the menu and they have Greek salad! I should have just asked for that...

Falafel was good but not great. Crispy on the outside but a little too toothsome inside. Pita was awesome. Is it pita? She referred to it as "bread". It reminded me of fluffy naan. Whatever, it rocked! Hummus was a little too smooth for me, and I squoze half a lemon over it and added a touch more salt. Tabbouleh...needed olive oil and lemon or something to bind it. It was too parsley-y. I know I compare all tabbouleh to what my friend's mom made in high school, so maybe it's supposed to be like that, but I wouldn't order it again.

I'm looking forward to trying the lamb schwarma and greek salad.

Oh and it was cheap: $13.25 for my order and it made 2 meals.

#20 ExtraMSG

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 09:00 PM

Couldn't find a dedicated thread...


Merged. (What's funny is that you posted in the original thread. :P )

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's