Ali Baba took over the spot that most recently housed a Philly cheese steak joint, and little has been done on the interior to differentiate the two. There are now some rugs on the walls but the ambiance remains spare: tiled floors, Formica tables and vinyl chairs fill the space. You order your food at the front and bus your own table. But I can overlook a lack of amenities in a restaurant if the food makes up for it, and the food most definitely makes up for it at Ali Baba.
A recent cold and rainy night found my family uncharacteristically busy — too busy to order in. Armed with the Ali Baba menu, I settled in at one of the tables and considered my options. An array of soups, salads, platters and sandwiches stared back at me, making my decision difficult. I finally chose three different platters. What the menu doesn’t tell you is that the platters come your choice of every topping and sauce on offer. It’s quite a list, too: tomato and cucumber salad, hummus, baba ghannoush, couscous, olives, tzatziki and red pepper aioli, just to name a few. And you needn’t worry about choosing just a few; they’ll let you have a bit of everything, if that’s what you want.
With take-out food, I always worry that I’m not getting as much volume as I would have had I eaten in, because I like to have leftovers. There’s no worry of being shorted at Ali Baba. The portions are enormous, enough for at least two additional meals. I ordered the Venetian platter ($8.50) for my husband, consisting of chicken or steak Shawarma (I chose steak), the Gyro platter ($7.50) for my son and daughter to share and the Falafel platter ($7.50) for myself. The platters also come with fresh pita bread. I also ordered nearly every side available. I really wanted to try Ali Baba’s baklava ($2.50) but they were out, sadly.
The steak Shawarma was quite good, with a hint of lemon and vinegar. The beef wasn’t overcooked and could have done with a bit more salt, but overall it was very good. The red cabbage slaw was light and crunchy and not at all soggy, like some slaws can be. We also liked the baba ghannoush, which didn’t fall victim to too much salt as many do.
The gyro was exactly as a gyro should be: soft pita, sliced beef and lamb, tomato and cucumber, and tzatziki sauce that was the most delicious I’ve ever had. I would go back to Ali Baba simply for the tzatziki. In most versions of this cucumber and yogurt sauce, the cucumber is grated. Not so at Ali Baba — the cucumber here is diced and the yogurt is thicker than in other versions I’ve tried. It was perfection.
The hummus at Ali Baba is lovely; smooth and creamy, just a little bit lemony. I wish I had bought a pint of it. The couscous was fantastic, as was the roasted eggplant. But the falafel were easily the best part of the entire meal. They were a revelation. These chickpea patties were light, delicious and perfectly cooked. We fought over the last one.
With the bill coming in under $30 for four people, Ali Baba certainly falls under the “cheap eats” qualification. There is no loss in the quality of the food, however, even with such low prices. There are other offerings at Ali Baba, including Philly steak or chicken sandwiches, burgers, fries and mozzarella cheese sticks, but if you miss the Mediterranean delights, you’ll only have yourself to blame.
Go: 4793 Red Bank Road, Madisonville
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Red Meat Alternatives: Many
Accessibility: Fully accessible