We don't get a lot of great Middle Eastern food in the Boulder area. There are a couple of shops that sell Middle Eastern ingredients that have set up a few tables in a corner of their stores, and offer a limited and unexciting menu. That's all well and good, but to those of us who know how varied and wonderfully satisfying the cuisine can be, we're looking for a place that can serve something beyond lackluster Shawarma and gummy Hummus.
Several years back, the Ali Baba Grill opened in Golden, and it was a breath of fresh, Mediterranean air. Their Tabouleh had just the right amount of lemon to brighten the parsley, their Babaganoush tasted suitably smoky and their grilled meats were deeply flavored and tender. They even had Bamye on the menu -- a tomato based stew made with lamb, tiny little okras and seasoned heavily with coriander that always reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen. People flocked to it, and for good reason: their food was delicious and affordable. An ample lunch special of meat (of your choice), salad and rice was under $10.
Lately however, I have been less enchanted with their food. Which is why I was intrigued to see the sign for Amira, a new restaurant that opened a couple of months argo, just a few doors down from its established competitor. The place was virtually empty when we went in, but that shouldn't have been a surprise given that it was 2:45 on a Sunday afternoon. The decor looked more South East Asian than Middle Eastern, a trifle bizarre to be sure, but the smells coming out of that kitchen reassured us that we were in for a Levantine treat.
Amira's menu is very simple and basic, offering the usual array of favorites. The big difference is that they serve pizza baked in a pizza oven visible from our table. The pizza didn't interest me much, although the children at the table next to ours were gobbling it up with abandon. What really grabbed me was that the pita bread which came with our meals was baked to order, and after watching it puff up in the oven and bob its way to our table I tore into it gleefully, conveniently forgetting its carb content as I used it to scoop up mouthfuls of both Hummus and Babaganoush, both of which were very good.
Between the two of us, we ordered Chicken Shawarma and Kafta plates, large portions of meat, hummus and cabbage salad which would have also come with fries or rice if we hadn't asked for more salad instead. The kitchen cheerfully accommodated the substitutions. I asked for Tabouleh, which was good, although it could have used a little more lemon. I didn't think much of the Cabbage Salad -- too mayonnaise and gloppy -- but their side salad was crisp and bright. The meats, however, were juicy and expertly seasoned, and the garlic sauce -- resembling a dollop of creamy white mayonnaise -- had just the right amount of garlic to smear on each delicious forkful of meat. The large oval plates, artfully arrayed, also sported pickles, some of which were delightfully spicy.
When I asked the waitress where the owners came from I didn't get a straight answer. Several counties were mentioned, including Egypt, and Russia (?). Whatever their origins, this family knows how to cook. We left thoroughly sated, with a minimal dent in our wallets and a hankering to go back and try something else coming out of that kitchen.
Amira Grill: 103 N Rubey Dr, Golden, CO 80403
Ali Baba Grill: 109 N Rubey Dr ,Golden, CO 80403