Bold Perfection In The Middle East
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
As someone who grew up on Middle Eastern food, I can’t help but at least try to find some good eats around Boston that remind me of home. While there is always the shack selling falafel on seemingly every corner you look (slash Google), I’ve had tough luck finding genuinely tasty and authentic Middle Eastern classics. Combining Google and Yelp, I’ve begun to eat my way around the city. I started at Oleana, an Arabic—mainly Turkish—restaurant in Boston which has incredibly inventive and delicious dishes (including tamarack tunis lamb with garlic and yogurt). The warm colored dining room with classy adornments is the perfect backdrop for a fancy (and expensive) celebratory dinner. While the trek to get there might be worth the food, it’s not exactly an ideal spot if you’re living on a college budget. The chefs of Oleana, however, have recently opened a new bakery and cafe, Sofra, in Cambridge. I’ve yet to try it out, but the prices aren’t as shocking, and it’s been getting rave reviews on Yelp.
I’ve finally found a place where I can truly feel like I am getting the burgers and fries of the Middle East. Garlic n’ Lemons is the hidden gem of Allston/Brighton and is conveniently located right off the B-line on Harvard Ave. Now, I don’t want to hype this place up too much: it is just a quick stop kind of place. For an analogy, Chipotle is to Mexican as Garlic n’ Lemons is to Middle Eastern. The small hole in the wall can tightly squeeze about 15 people at a given time, but the food and prices are worth it. Let me go ahead and describe the complete experience.
Upon arrival, you might feel slightly out of place and a little confused, but don’t leave—the awkward moment when you just walk in will be outweighed by the hummus. I promise. Instead of going to the front counter, you have to walk about to the left side to see the menu and actually order your food. This is the best part. Oh the options you have. The first choice you have to make is whether you want a shawarma plate or wrap. If you tend to like big portions, I’d opt for the plate.
While it’s not something you can eat with one hand, you will receive a much bigger serving of meat/falafel. If you go with the wrap, you can choose a saj, whole-wheat thin pita, or regular pita bread. I opted for the saj to save a few calories. Next, you’ll get to choose the fillings, including spicy chicken and lamb, or you can substitute the meat for falafel. Then you can add hummus, garlic yogurt sauce, and vegetables. I personally enjoyed my basic shawarma: saj, chicken, hummus, and yogurt sauce. If you choose to get the combo (which I recommend), you automatically get a side and a can of soda for an extra $3.50. Between tabouli, yalanchi (stuffed grape leaves) and buttery rice, I am confident anyone can find the perfect side. The experience is entirely your own—from combo plates to wraps to Greek salads, anyone can enjoy a bit of the Middle East.
I should warn you, however, that if you prefer bold flavors, delicate meals, or heaps of yogurt atop your meal, this is not the place for you. It might be some tasty, fair-priced Middle Eastern food, but it’s not the most authentic and delicious I’ve experienced, though it’s definitely a place I’ll be returning to throughout the year—heck, you can even get it to go! Sadly, the joint has yet to put up its own website (coming soon!), but the 132 reviews on Yelp give this place a 4/5. As a last minute tip: Be sure to ask for a little extra yogurt sauce and hummus (especially the yogurt sauce) —it totally makes the dish.