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Cedars: a Middle Eastern gem in Hyde Park

Middle Eastern restaurants are easy to find in Chicago, but few pay the kind of loving attention to their dishes as Cedars.

My recent visit began with a baba ghanooj that was the best I'd ever tasted. The eggplant was subtly seasoned with garlic and generously laced with tahini and good quality olive oil.

The lunch entrees are all within ten dollars, and you get so much food that you will need several doggy bags.

Cedars really knows how to deal with meat. The lamb kebabs were tender and juicy, not tough and dry. The seafood kebabs were treated with the same expert care: juicy and lightly seasoned with curry. The Egyptian lentil soup that came with the lunch entree was robustly flavored with cumin.

What impressed me most was the salad that came with the lunch entrees. In most restaurants, when you get a salad side, you get a pile of iceberg lettuce. At Cedars, you get good quality greens for the salad, and the most unique touch is the fresh basil on the salad.

If you haven't had kibbeh, you should give it a try. You get two deep fried lamb dumplings that are out of this world. The crust is a wheat shell that is crispy and not overly greasy. The savory stuffing consists of ground lamb and pinenuts.

Be sure to set aside some food for another meal and save room for a cup of cardamom flavored Turkish coffee and freshly baked baklava.

Though a bit far away from downtown Chicago, it's well worth the trip to Hyde Park to luxuriate in such good quality Middle Eastern food.