We’ve been coming to Arabian Nights for years. And, frankly, I loved the almost Disneyland-
ish interior, like something out of, well, “Aladdin.” Sitting beneath the painted murals of deep-blue night skies and swaying palms, with golden hanging lamps emitting a glow over the Arabesque cut-outs and archways, you could almost hear Scheherazade spinning her tales. Then, the pandemic hit and we thought it would close, but they puttered along, and even when it seemed there was no one in the cavernous, dark space, it just kept on going.
We finally returned recently, and were elated that the food was as good if not better than ever. The cuisine here is Middle Eastern, partially consisting of dishes it has in common with many of its neighbors, but with many Lebanese specialties. For us, the food here stands quite a bit above many such restaurants we’ve been to. Everything here is perfectly seasoned, artfully plated, and zinging with freshness.
The newest phenomenon at Arabian Nights is not an altogether unpleasant one, once one is forewarned: It no longer serves any alcohol. We were told that the owner made the change for religious reasons, and who are we to argue with someone else’s beliefs? Especially when the establishment allows you to bring your own beer or wine sans corkage fee. Splendid! Another thing we just discovered was that it has a lovely dining patio in the back! We’ll certainly be availing ourselves of that delightful space.
On our first visit back, we ordered hummus, as one does, but, quite simply, because they make the best hummus around.
Impossibly creamy and garlicky, doused with fruity olive oil, sprinkled with herbs and lashings of paprika, their hummus is the standard by which to judge all others.
Especially when accompanied by their house-made pita, blazing hot from the oven.
For his main, the BF remembered that we’d always loved their way with steak…
The rib eye did not disappoint. Tender, with lovely charring from the grill, served with rice pilaf and crispy grilled vegetables. Fine, this isn’t really a Medi-dish, but who cares?For $34 for a 12-ounce prime cut of beef, it made the BF happy. And their buttery pilaf is authentic as it gets, whatever authentic means to you.
I opted for the salmon:
A gorgeous piece of fish, cooked just right; tender, with a slight char of its own, burst cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of creamy feta, over crisp-tender asparagus, bell peppers, garlic, and rice pilaf. My only quibble is that my dish was supposed to come with tabbouleh, and instead they seasoned the pilaf with mint and parsley to simulate that other herby grain dish. I was not displeased. And though I’d been looking forward to a nice glass of wine with dinner, we left sated, and with leftovers.
For our second visit, we got smart and brought our own wine.
It’s lovely that they offer this option with no corkage fee, and still have their wine glasses, so you’re not drinking out of a water tumbler.
We went a little more with the Middle-Eastern theme this time.
The Mezza Sampler includes hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, crispy phyllo with cheese, falafel, fried kebbe (fried ground lamb/beef/bulgur patties), and warek enab (stuffed grape leaves). Perfect bites of some of the favorites. Especially loved the dusting of sumac on the baba ghannouj, which turns out means “father of coquetry!” This smoky eggplant dish can flirt with me any time. The phyllo cheese cigars would be a fine snack with a beer, and the tabbouleh — properly made this time with bulgur wheat — was herb-centric, as it should be.
BF ordered the beef shawarma.
With fries! Yes, fries! They offer them, the BF gets them! The meat itself, laced with white
sauce (a yogurt-based, garlicky/lemony blend that goes on just about everything, or should, in my opinion), was tenderness itself, and again, kissed by the grill for a hint of char, with sweetly sautéed onions and roasted tomatoes. And yeah, the fries? They’re good.
I had one of the seafood plates for my main:
Jumbo prawns, marinated in olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, were beautifully grilled and paired with rice, veggies and feta. A lively combination that I’d get again.
Arabian Nights is one of our neighborhood gems that I don’t feel gets enough love. There is
much deliciousness to choose from here: Vegetarian options, meshawi (skewers) plates, kafta, shawarma, kabobs, and a whole cornucopia of starters: manakeesh (flatbread) with zata’ar and feta, fried kebbe, cauliflower, makdous (pickled baby eggplant with walnuts), labneh, and fattoush, that lovely Northern Lebanese salad served with crunchy pita chips; no hunger shall leave unvanquished!
So come on by, bring a bottle, have a seat on the patio, and say hello to an old friend that needs our support.
Arabian Nights is located at 2345 Mission St.