Cultural melting spot
Aladdin Kabab joins Persian, Mexican and American flavors under one roof.
The obvious route when one writes about Aladdin Kabab, the new Little Rock restaurant that combines both Persian and Mexican food under one roof (with a hint of American), is to kick off the piece by writing about the shrinking globe, the melting of pots and all that.
But the origin of Aladdin Kabab is actually much simpler: One partner is from Iran; the other partner is from Central America. The two talked, decided that opening a restaurant where cuisines from both those regions were represented was a grand idea and opened Aladdin Kabab in the Ashley Square shopping center in west Little Rock.
It’s that simple so there’s no need for some cheesy lede about the world getting smaller. Aren’t we, after all, here to discuss the food of Aladdin Kabab? Yes, but first a bit about the atmosphere of the restaurant. And this will be a small bit because there’s not much character yet to the restaurant. That’s neither a good nor bad thing; just a fact.
Aladdin Kabab inhabits a rectangular spot next to a Subway (don’t be confused; Aladdin’s entrance is on the right) in the shopping center. The center of Aladdin Kabab is filled with a number of four-top tables while the walls are lined with booths. There’s nothing terribly intimate about the spot — or Mexican or Persian — but the restaurant’s interior is comfortable. The roughly textured walls are decorated with prints of scenes from around the world or a quite beautiful collection of framed designs created with seashells. There’s no clutter or kitsch. Diners come in, take a seat and are soon greeted. The waitstaff is attentive but not overbearing.
Now, let’s arrive at the crux of this piece: The food offered by this unconventional restaurant that combines Eastern Hemisphere with Western Hemisphere, Old World with New World. The menu pretty much stays within the boundaries of these two cultures, with just a hint of American (cheese fries as an appetizer, and a section of the menu dedicated to American Classics, including a cheeseburger combo for $6.35 and a Philly cheesesteak — $6.29 for the sandwich only; $7.29 for the combo). The Mexican section of the menu includes the usual Mexican staples, such as quesadillas and burritos. The items are all priced under $8.29 (that’s the price of the California burrito with steak, rice and beans in a flour tortilla). And then there are fajitas ($7.25 for lunch, $10.70 for dinner) with a choice of beef, chicken or a mix of the two.
The Persian flavors on the menu include kababs (Aladdin’s spelling and the original Arabic spelling) — two lamb and beef skewers for $11.49, two chicken skewers for $10.99, and two chicken and beef skewers for $12.49 — or a vegetarian plate. Each, except for the vegetarian plate, are served with a choice of basmati rice or french fries. The last page of the menu is dedicated to salads, from Greek to gyro. (And yes, there’s a gyro sandwich on the menu, under the American classics section. A gyro that’s hailed as the “best” gyro in town.)
The appetizers are spread between Mexican, Persian and American cuisines, from hummus or an eggplant dip to cheese dip or taquitos to the aforementioned cheese fries.
According to the restaurant’s online presence, the food preparation is halal as prescribed by Islamic custom.
THE DISH: OUR REVIEW
It took me a while to “get” hummus, or “humos” as Aladdin Kabab lists it. And by get I mean appreciate. I think my learning curve was hindered by the fact that I didn’t appreciate the simplistic but rich taste of hummus. I think I do now — or at least I’m learning — and Aladdin Kabab’s hummus is not dazzling but still delicious. Aladdin’s hummus is basic — chickpeas, tahini and olive oil — but the texture is a bit smoother and the flavor a little less tart than other hummus I’ve enjoyed. And the pita bread was fresh, soft and perfectly warm. (ss)
California Burrito ($8.29)
There’s no way I could have ingested this super-large, flour tortilla burrito packed with steak, lettuce, pico de gallo, Mexican rice and beans, and topped with a creamy, delectable white cheese dip in one seating. The roughly foot-long burrito is definitely two meals in one (or it was for me), and while the steak inside could have been juicier (it was a little on the dry side) and the overall temperature of the burrito could have been warmer, I was pleased with the flavors of the dish, especially the spiciness of the steak. (ss)
Kashk and Bademjan ($4.50)
Aladdin’s menu of appetizers introduces diners to the restaurant’s tri-nationality with cheese dip, salsa, humos, cheese fries and more. It’s a great way to add foreign flair to your table if you’re nervous about diving right into one of the more exotic dishes. It’s also a way to try multinational foods without buying three full meals. This dish is great for those who are bored with the traditional hummus appetizer. It is a medley of pureed tomatoes, onions, mint and kashk (for those out of the loop, kashk is a curdled milk product similar to whey) and served with pita. The mixture has a consistency that’s slightly thinner than hummus, and the flavor is completely unusual even for someone who regularly dines on international cuisine. It’s rich yet subtle. The eggplant is hearty, but the mint is light and crisp. It left this diner yearning for the recipe. (sb)
Location: Ashley Square, 9108 N. Rodney Parham Road, Suite No. 304, Little Rock
Phone: (501) 219-8787
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
In a nutshell: Persian and Mexican food with even a little taste of American? Yes, that’s what Aladdin Kabab offers. It’s not as weird as it may sound. Both cuisines are kept separate on a menu that succinctly and deliciously covers both regions while tossing in a little American influence.