Well here you are, back at mmm-yoso!!! looking at posts about food. Cathy still has places to talk about while Kirk and Ed(from Yuma) are trying to get back to normal after each of their whirlwind vacation jaunts.
Yes, I've posted about Sammoon, a Mediterranean restaurant owned and run by Iraqui immigrants which makes its own breads, in El Cajon twice already. If you've ever had Jury Duty in El Cajon, you probably have been here, since it's within walking distance of the Courthouse.
This is the entrance from the Parking lot. From the street, you'll see it's next to the Panda Express.
Once inside, you'll see the menu and the former pizza oven, which is now used to create the wonderful, fresh samoon shaped breads made here throughout the day.
You may also notice the rotating spits of beef and chicken schawarma, and additional menu offerings over the rest of the open kitchen area.
One day, The Mister tried a Lunch Special ($5.99) which was choice of schawarma with a choice of bread and included fries and a salad (this day was a roasted eggplant salad). The bread choices are either a samoon bread or saj bread. The above is a chicken schawarma saj sandwich. There is pickle and tomato wrapped in the saj before the bread is grilled. This is very, very good. The fries are standard and crispy, not greasy and that roasted eggplant is really great.
One day, I noticed on the menu the "Sajj beef burger" ($4.49) and decided to order it. It came wrapped looking like a sort of American hamburger, with fries. Then I opened the paper...and you can see the Saj bread folded so perfectly tight. It was then cooked on the grill, sealing in the already cooked burger (you can click onto the small photos which will enlarge).
When I cut through the delicate yet crispy after being baked/sealed closed Saj bread, the inside of the tightly folded bread revealed a very nice sized ground beef burger, tomato, pickle, onion and a sweet sauce. The burger was not as spiced as the kabobs here, but was still the coarse ground beef used for the kebabs. The meat was moist but apparently drained, so no grease softened the Saj to make it fall apart. A very good non-traditional, yummy burger.
One day, we noticed a separate ad on the outside window (on the left side of the first photo)-a "Feast for Two" ($18). We ordered it.
First out was a basket of three hot, fresh samoon breads, along with a platter of hummus, tzatziki and baba ganouj. All fresh made here and very refreshing.
Since everything here is made to order, there was a less than ten minute/more than five minute wait for this GIANT platter to be brought out. Clockwise: pickled cabbage, roasted tomato, chicken schawarma, fresh falafel, beef schawarma, fresh tomato. On top of the fresh long grain yellow rice are a beef kebob, chicken tikka and chicken kabob with fresh cucumber slices and raw onion topped with sumac (a citrus/salty spice). We had leftovers which were enjoyed that evening.
Always good and always fresh food at Sammoon.
Sammoon Bakery & Restaurant Mediterranean Cuisine 190 N. Magnolia Suite 103 El Cajon 92020 (619)441-2823 Open seven days, 10am-10pm
This is mmm-yoso!!! It's a food blog. Kirk is still adjusting to the time zone and not blogging. ed (from Yuma) is adjusting to not having to be at work early each day and is not blogging. Cathy appears to be adjusted and this is a short blog post.
It does seem that my blog posts are about return visits to a bunch of places. This is because when The Mister and I go to eat out, we like to patronize local businesses close to home which are relatively inexpensive and serve really good food. When I first posted about Sammoon, it was after only a few visits. The business is run by recent Iraqi immigrants who make really good food and Sammoon is part of our "regular rotation".
Sammoon is located within walking distance from the El Cajon Courthouse as well as the new El Cajon Police Headquarters and ends up being quite crowded around lunchtime on days when court is in session. However, on Fridays and weekends, business is steadier without the 'rush' and that's when we like to go out for lunch. The owner, takes great pride in putting out a good product and there is a wait for most food orders, because items are prepared fresh.
The oven over there along the wall is where the Sammoon bread and all the sweets are made, daily. You can see the two rotating upright spits of schawarma (beef and chicken) along the other wall. Sammoon bread is shaped in its unique way and is a heartier type of bread, almost the texture of Ciabatta.
The oven is also where this wonderous cheese bread is made. Listed on the wall menu by the cash register, this is only $1. You can see how much cheese is on the fresh baked bread by looking at the cross section with a bite taken out...Fresh baked bread, still hot. The cheese, mixed with parsley does not melt much, but browns. It is firmer than Mozzarella and it has a good flavor- like Feta in texture, but less salty. We've never asked what kind, just ordered.
This is the chicken schawarma salad ($7.99). Yes, it is large. There is lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, onion and Feta and a nice oil and vinegar dressing on the side to pour over all of that freshly cooked thinly sliced chicken. The salads are served with fresh Sammoon bread.
Here is a better photo of the Sammoon bread with my blackened salmon salad ($8.99). The salmon is rubbed in Za'atr- a mix of finely ground oregano and sesame seeds and the flavor is amazing. This is not as much protein as on the chicken salad, but just as satisfying.
Anyhow, glad I could share another meal. Hope everyone is having a good week.
Sammoon 190 Magnolia Avenue, Suite 103 El Cajon 92020 (619) 441-2823 Open 10-10 Sun-Thurs and 10-midnight on Friday & Saturday
Welcome (back) to mmm-yoso!!! the blog of food. Sharing meals with you is what we do. Today, Kirk and ed(from Yuma) are lurking while Cathy is sharing.
Hi. The Mister and I have noticed signs for Nahrain and Shakira while on Main Street, whenever we are going to Valley Foods Mediterranean Market, where we shop (and eat in the store) fairly regularly and finally decided to stop one day. This is the view from the parking lot, but from the street, while stopped at the signal light at Ballard, you may only notice "Shakira", the top sign for the mall right next to the parking lot flower stand. Shakira is a bakery.
Over there, to the right, on Main Street is Nahrain- the blue sign.
When you walk in, the fresh fish are in the counter next to the cash register. Those on the far end, next to the catfish, under the tray of shrimp are yellow pompano, which are only served fried with rice according to the menu. All the other fish are sold by the pound.
To the far left are the very large Grass Carp fish.
On the side of the dining room is...a fountain.
It's filled with even fresher fish.
Just so you know, the live catfish are $8.99/lb, the ones in the counter are $5.99/lb. The live tilapia are also $8.99/lb and the ones in the counter are $6.99/lb. Strip bass are $8.99/lb, Grass Carp are $5.99/lb and the red snapper are $7.99/lb.
On our first visit, we weren't certain what to order, asked about the tandoori chicken (because we noticed a Halal certification for the restaurant) and were told it would take 40 minutes to prepare, so we ordered this side of hummus ($3.99) was very good, fresh and not too large.
Then we each ordered a sandwich. These were served on fresh sammoon bread.
My Chicken Cream Chop sandwich ($4.99) was freshly fried and crispy. Cream chop is a chicken breast (or beef ) marinated in a seasoned cream sauce and 'chop' means then rolled in bread crumbs and fried (I've seen potato chop on menus). The rest of this sandwich was onions and tomatoes. All the flavors melded perfectly.
The Mister ordered a beef tikka kabob sandwich ($4.99). Finely ground beef mixed with onion and parsley and seasonings and grilled. This was very moist and flavorful. This sandwich was served with all those pickles, tomatoes as well as onions and flat leaf parsley.
When we were leaving, the owner came over and told us we can always call in and order a tandoori chicken, masgoof chicken or masgoof fish and it would be prepared and ready by the time we got there.
Masgoof. We had to research. Masgouf. The national dish of Iraq. The fish(or chicken) is split down the middle, leaving the back intact, sort of a large circle. Then the animal is coated in olive oil, salt, turmeric and tamarind then cooked over fire.
We called in that Friday, telling them we were driving in and would like a tilapia, around 2-3 pounds; that there would be two of us sharing a meal inside the restaurant. We arrived pretty quickly and the food wasn't quite ready and so we decided to order a salad. We could not decide on fatoosh or Arabic salad, and since both are $3.99, we were offered half of each.
The Arabic salad, on the left, is mainly lettuce, cucumber, green pepper and tomatoes and a delightful dressing that has fresh mint. The Fatoosh salad has fried pita bread croutons and an equally delightful, fresh and different dressing. This is a large plate.
Soon, a giant flat folded wheat bread as well as plates and sides and hot tea (which was brought out early because we asked, but it is included in the meal and usually brought out at the end)
The condiments (in that cute fish shaped platter) are tomatoes, onions and pickled mango...mango chutney..salty and not too sweet and it is complimentary to the fish:
The tilapia was proudly presented to us by the chef. Beautifully cut, seasoned and cooked, this meal was wonderful, fresh, filling and..less than $20. Yes. Everything is included and the fish ($6.99/lb) was less than three pounds.
Here is (the now) obligatory photo of The Mister's fancy fish carcass cleaning work. The skin of the fish was not as tasty as other fish skin I've had, but the fins were crispy good. Also, this was tilapia, a fish with a double skeleton going on...so not as easy to eat as other fish.
So. We walked next door, to Shakira and were overwhelmed with choices. We were not hungry after that awesome meal-but knew at some point we would be hungry again.
We decided to take home one of the cheesy flatbreads. This is not as large as the bread that accompanied our meal, but more the size of a very large pita bread. It is $1. It was a fresh and soft bread topped with a soft mild cheese. There were several differently topped flatbreads, all vegetarian and all $1 each. I will be returning.
Then we exercised restraint and each of us chose one sweet piece of dessert. The top/square piece is filled with chopped pistachios and topped with shredded filo. The bottom round one has whole pistachios. Sold by weight ($8/lb) the price for these two pieces was $1.08. These were not too sweet and made with a light syrup rather than honey. The filo dough remained crispy until the next morning.
All in all, this is yet another great place to eat in El Cajon.
Nahrain Fish and Chicken Grill 1183 E. Main Street #A El Cajon, CA 92021 (619) 334-3222
Shakira Pastry 1183 E. Main Street #B El Cajon 92021 (619)440-6068
mmm-yoso!!! That's the name of this blog. It's about food. With anecdotes tossed in. Cathy is blogging today. The guys aren't.
Hi. El Cajon has a new Mediterranean Market. It's on the South side of Main Street, just West of Second.(Next to the Rally Burger). It's a new building, but the facade is more visible to the parking lot than on Main Street. It is not as large as Vine Ripe Market, does sell Halal meats, fresh breads and has enough of a produce section to make this a regular stop for me. Of course, as with the otherMediterraneanmarkets I frequent, it has an in-store eating area. With good prices. Below, the deli area (which has many choices of Feta cheeses as well as the olives and halal deli meats shown)and a sort of 'grab and go'/prepared foods area.
When you walk in, you will go to the left and there is a hot food counter and small eating area. On the far left of this photo, the beverage machine with red juice- that is pomegranate juice- $1.49 for a large styrofoam cup. I get on every time I am here, but never seem to have snapped a photo. It is not from concentrate. The sign underneath the "Seafood" sign is "You Buy We Fry".
The steam tray area has a large menu above it. Prices are good. Really good. Order, pay and find a seat.
Beef shawarma sandwich ($3.95). Yes, that is the price. Yes, my hand is small. It is still a very large sandwich. Usually I don't order beef shawarma, because elsewhere, it is dry. Here at Valley Foods, the beef shawarma is moist and wonderfully flavored. The bread is one of the three main types sold in the store. Fresh. Those are turnips pickled in beet juice and onions in the sandwich, along with a garlicky hummus sauce.
On the bottom right is a 'side' of Biryani rice ($2.99). It's a pint. Cooked Basmati rice, sauteed with shredded chicken, onions and some potato, along with cumin and maybe cardamom (a sweet spice, not cinnamon), this could be a meal in itself. The falafel plate ($5.95)Seven fresh made from garbanzo beans(not powder) falafels, with a side of pickled mango , fresh made hummus (nice and with light garlic), fresh-fresh tabouleh (parsley, mint, tomatoes and bulghur wheat in a lemon-olive oil dressing) and two standard (fresh made here and warm) pita breads. Here is a blurry photo of a cross section of the falafel. It is fresh, fluffy and good.
This is a good place for regular grocery shopping or a quick, good, inexpensive meal. It's worth the stop.
Valley Foods Mediterranean Market 1275 East Main Street El Cajon 92019 619-749-8355
It had been while since I had a kebab, so I thought I'd head on down to El Cajon, home to the second largest Iraqi population in the US (next to Detroit). The mostly Chaldean Iraqi community has turned El Cajon's Main Street into a parade of Halal meat shops, markets, and kebab shops, providing a kind of ethnic vibrance, albiet a very laid back vibe, to the street. My initial thought was to hit my favorite spot, Village Grill. I gave my good friend JohnL a call, but he was tied up with work, so I headed down to El Cajon solo. While driving, I decided to check out someplace I hadn't been to. I drove past a restaurant I'd seen a few months earlier, but it had shut down, and was being replaced by "Nahrain Fish and Chicken Restaurant", which was not yet opened. Then I recalled a place I saw during one of our visits to Athena Market..... the shop was behind the market, away from the main drag. It is called Sagmani's Restaurant.
A few months back, I was talking to someone about all these Iraqi/Kebab Restaurants in El Cajon, and was taken aback when told, "I'd be afraid to go there..... I don't think I'd be welcome." I explained that my experiences, like what happened at Ali Baba were just the opposite of what she thought. Even though many of the men were fairly stoic, the women are warm and welcoming.... which turned out to be untrue based on this visit to Sagmani's. I was greeted by a jolly gentleman, who smiled and said "welcome....have you had kebob before?" I answered in the positive, and looked over the menu, which like many of these restaurants is compact, but deceivingly varied, with tekka, kebabs, stews, kubba(kibbeh), and even grilled quail and cornish hens. Looking over the menu, I just couldn't make up my mind....so the gentleman made it easy for me....."I'll make you one beef, and one chicken, and you can tell me which you like better.... how does that sound?" Well, it sounded just right to me.
The interior of Sagmani's is much smaller than it appears from the outside, only a couple of four tops, and two large, almost communal tables. But based on the table-tops laying against the corner, I'm guessing that they can accommodate a pretty sizable crowd if necessary.
I had a seat, and the very nice, but quiet young lady brought me some water, and asked me if I'd like to have some tea. And soon enough I was brought some.
Here's my Beef and Chicken Kabob:
Let's work around the protein first...... I really liked the "turshi" aka pickle, which was the pickled tumeric cabbage, which was really good, not too sour, and full of flavor. The salad was your basic plain lettuce dressed with a bit of olive oil and vinegar. The rice was moist, and had a nice savory flavor, almost like some kind of stock was used to make it.
On to the Kabobs.......
I really couldn't decided which I enjoyed more; the beef was fairly mellow, with just a touch of herbaceousness.... but man it was moist and tender. I could cut it easily with a fork. I loved that sumac was sprinkled liberally over the kabobs as that added even more flavor to them. On occasion, I've had a kabob that has what I call a "negative gamey flavor", which is that slightly off flavor of meat that is starting to head South..... this tasted clean. The chicken had more flavor, and did well with the char. It was also moist, but as with chicken, it was not as tender as the beef. It did have good flavor, though!
The only major item I didn't care for here was the bread.
Which were basically pita, and were pretty tough........
I would like to mentioned the service, which I thought was wonderful. When the young lady saw me finish my water; she brought me an entire pitcher. I was checked on twice by the young lady, first to see if I wanted more bread; second to see if I wanted more tea. The gentleman came by to make sure I was enjoying my meal. I was surprised to find that I wasn't charged for my tea..... the entire meal came out to $7, the price of a sandwich in most of San Diego....... And from the various signs, they've got a slew of deals going on, from 99 cent kabobs to Monday and Tuesday lunch specials..... there's quite a bit of competition in the area.
So where do I place Sagmani's compared with the other Iraqi Kabob shops in the area? I still think the bread at Ali Baba is the best, followed by Hammurabi. For protein, my favorite with regards to flavor is Village Grill(and they make the best okra stew). Still the kabobs here were the most tender I've had to date, and I thought the rice was very good. And I'll go back, I'd like to chat with the really nice guy who made my kabobs.......
Sagmani's Restaurant 478 West Douglas St El Cajon, CA 92020
I jumped in the car this morning, and did something I hadn't done in a couple of weeks....... I headed somewhere just to see what was up. This time it was Plaza Boulevard in National City.
What's up with Royal Mandarin:
The main reason I headed down to Plaza was that the Missus was wondering if Royal Mandarin had reopened after fire had razed the restaurant. The last time I dropped by, the sign said February or March, which I thought was rather optimistic. The sign now says late April, but looking through the plate glass window, I'm thinking that might be a bit of wishful thinking as well.
Also in the same strip mall, the Submarina Sandwich shop is being replaced by Lisa's Filipino Cuisine:
I'm guessing it's the same owner as the turo-turo joint of the same name in Otay Lakes?
Maharlika no longer:
As I was driving toward the 805, I noticed that the parking lot to Maharlika was roped off. Sorry about the crooked photo; I took it while driving.
Squinting, and trying to not hit the vehicles in front of me, I noticed a couple of 8 1/2" by 11" sheets of paper, with "For Sale" printed on them taped to the windows. For some reason this made me crack-up...... the restaurant is for sale, with these notes of paper like you'd stick in the windshield of a car for sale on the side of the road. And it's really hard to read from the street......
Hal Mu Ni temporarily closed (I think):
The Missus had arranged to meet some friends for dinner at Hal Mu Ni two weeks ago. But when She arrived the restaurant was being closed down. She was told that there was a gas leak in the kitchen. We've drove by a couple of times, and the place is still closed.
Must be a pretty bad leak.... or perhaps they're just hanging it up until the space where the restaurant was supposed to move next door is finished?
The "Main Street Meatfest" at Village Grill:
Some good friends and I had some plans today, but unfortunately the plans fell through. Looking for a "plan B", and knowing that these folks like to eat, I suggested Village Grill in El Cajon. After sharing the "Feast For Two" at Hammurabi Family Restaurant, I wondered if we could do some damage with something similar at Village Grill. So six of us went ahead and ordered the "Feast for Five". I won't bore you with a long and drawn out post, but let me say, we finished about 60% of it. Here are some photos:
And though I still think the bread at Ali Baba is better; I prefer the meat at Village Grill. YY and TammyC seemed to think the Chicken Tekka was the best item.
We all had our theories as to why the "Feast for Five" got the better of us. I think I shouldn't have ordered that plate of Baba Ganouj.... yes, that's it.... it was the Baba Ganouj.....
That Feast for Five at $49.99 is:
5 Skewers Beef Kabob
2 Skewers Tekka Chicken
2 Skewers Tekka Beef
Beef Shawarma (Gus)
Cream Chop (chicken)
Rice, Hummus, Salad, and of course the bread.
Everything lies on a pretty large bed of rice... so maybe that's what it was...... the rice... or perhaps that yogurt drink I had.... Oh well, whatever it may be, it is a pretty large meal. And to think that Tammy C and MrC have to go to a BBQ tonight!!!
Village Grill 550 East Main St El Cajon, CA 92020
Hope you are having a great weekend! I gotta go take my gout medication now......
One of the wonderful benefits of having a food blog, is that I've had the opportunity to meet (or is meat?) so many fantastic people. Folks who find the same amount of joy in sharing and eating food as I do. Not only does it make me feel less strange about my obsessions, but I've found some great places to eat as well. Over the past year or so, three of my favorite FOYs (Friends of Yoso) and I have been getting together about once a month or so to share a meal, conversation, and some very healthy, and hearty laughs!
This time around, it was Jenne's turn to choose the place, and I was excited. You see, Jenne is quite familiar with the downtown El Cajon area, home of many Chaldean/Iraqi restaurants. I'd already been to Village Grill and Ali Baba, and I was looking forward to checking out La Pita, one Jenne's favorites. Unfortunately, it seems that La Pita has just closed down, so Jenne came out with Hammurabi as a plan B. The restaurant itself is quite interesting, I'm certain that it used to be a diner in a previous life, so think of diner juxtaposed with a kabob house.
After deciding on what to order, I started with some yogurt. Why yogurt........ well, after having visited a few of these places, and seeing what huge meat-fests they are, I needed to get the tummy squared away.
Every one of these Kabob Houses has "feasts" designed for two, three, four, or five people. Actually, it should be more like three, five, six, or the entire neighborhood. What you're about to see is the "feast for two"($35).
Which starts out with a rather innocuous plate of nice fresh greens tossed with olive oil and lemon juice.
It also comes with a nice plate of Hummus.
This was a good version, nice chickpea flavor without being too heavy on the tahini.
And of course there was the bread:
Known as Khubz, this pizza sized flat bread is a wonderful vehicle of flavor. There were two pieces of warm bread overflowing a basket that was surely not up to the job. Better than what we had at Village Grill, but not as good as Ali Baba's.
Next up was our plate of meat, starches, and pickles.... remember all of this, the salad, hummus, bread, and the platter below is for two!
The pickles, the "Turshi" ranged from pretty good the pickled saffron-curry cabbage, to "meh", I thought the pickled turnips were too bitter.
Here's a rundown on the rest of the plate: Two Lamb Kabobs (nice and moist, but low on the gamey scale), Two Chicken Kabob (pretty good, well seasoned), One Chicken Tekka (also pretty good), Shawarma (fairly moist, but mild in flavor), Chicken Chop (which I enjoyed), Rice (meh), and Bulghur (well flavored, mildly spicy and tangy). Sheesh. I finally had the "cream chop", in this case breaded and fried chicken. It was pretty moist, and very tender.
Since Jenne had picked the place, I let her take some photos, like this one.
And darn if she didn't do a better job than I did! Heh, you'll never touch my camera again Jenne! he-he-he....
I'd wanted some Baba Ghanouj, but they were all out. We went with a small Tabbouli($5) instead.
This was not bad, it was fairly heavy on the acid, but the "green" chlorophyll flavor that sometimes overwhelms the dish was adequately muted.
There was one menu item that grabbed my attention:
It simply said "Birds". When I asked the very friendly young lady serving us about this, she said simply: "it's small whole birds........." Small birds? I had visions of the fantastic whole roasted sparrows we had at Highway 4 in Hanoi dancing in my head. So when our "Birds" arrived, I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed.
The "Birds" were simply quail! This was a simple preparation, salt rubbed, some lemon, and roasted. The wings and legs were salty, smokey, and crunchy....great nibbling. The carcass was pretty dank and gamey. Howie and Jenne enjoyed them though. Jenne said it tasted like the wild quail her dad used to hunt.
By the time Candice's dish, the Tashreeb, a braised lamb shank served in a huge bowl lined with Khubz soaking up the wonderful braising vegetables and liquid arrived we were all stuffed. I was too full to take photos! I did have some lamb which was soft and tender, but it's the saturated bread, which I wrapped in another piece of bread that tasted really great.
Needless to say, there was a good amount of leftovers. It was another meal made better by the company. I can't wait to do this again soon! As you can tell, the portions are generous, and make sure to check your gout at the door.
During our meal I kept peeking at the back room, which in contrast to the rather worn dining room, was being nicely decked out. The young lady told us that there was an engagement party later that evening..... As we were leaving I saw men dressed nattily in suits arriving. It gave the evening another interesting twist.
Hammurabi Family Restaurant 401 W Main St El Cajon, CA 92021
Dubai closed. In the same location, it is now a restaurant named Sultan and is part of Sultan Baklava
mmm-yoso!!! is this. What you are reading. A blog about food. Today, Cathy is writing.
The other day, The Mister and I were in El Cajon, at Sprouts market, and a sign kitty corner from that location caught our eye. We had to check it out.
We had already had lunch, so went into Sultan Baklava and bought a few things (Turkish pistachios as well as some fresh made dessert treats)
Everything here is sold by the pound, and *really* good. The sweets are made with a sugar-water mix, not honey...they are Turkish. You can taste the nuts and other fillings. Really, really good.
We got a menu from Dubai and went back last night.
Six tables, four set for six each and two set for four each. Small, cozy, clean. The owners are Chaldean.
We ordered Baba Ghanouj (Large, $4.95) A nice serving of fresh made, creamy baked eggplant, pureed with tahini, garlic and olive oil. Really good. Really fresh. Served with fresh flatbread.
We also ordered the Dubai salad (large, $5.95). Fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and lettuce with a light olive oil and vinegar dressing (vinegar and olive oil are also on the table) and lemon wedges can be added for more flavor. The plate was double the size of the Baba Ghanouj plate. The Mister ordered a lamb shank ($13). Don't be put off by the photo. It was not burned or tough. It was marinated lightly and was moist and tender- flaking off in a good way from the bone- and you could taste the lamb flavor (at many other places, there is so much marinade that the meat has no flavor). There was a choice of Biryani or Basmati rice- The Mister chose Biryani: the cumin and cardamom flavors were wonderfully pleasant. The rice had roasted potatoes, peas and raisins in it. The plate also comes with a stew and picked turnips, onions, parsley and tomatoes. I ordered the chicken schawarma sandwich ($3.95). The chicken was moist and flavorful and the sandwich was filled with cucumber, yogurt sauce and onion, parsley and lettuce. It was wrapped in fresh flatbread.
All meals come with hot tea. Served this way. Strong tea (4 bags in that pot)...beautiful teacups.
Dubai also has a buffet on Wednesday and Saturday, with most hot sides available and kebabs made to order for $8 per person.
Sultan Baklava 131 Jamacha Road El Cajon 92019 Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily (619)440-1901 website
A couple of weeks before our visit to Village Grill, the Missus and I took a drive down Main Street in El Cajon, just to take a look around. Not quite sure where to stop, we saw a packed parking lot.....and decided this was where we'd be stopping. It turned out to be the very colorful Ali Baba Restaurant, which Cathy had done a post on earlier.
As Cathy noted, the interior is quite "Arabian Night-ish"...... in a somewhat kitcshy kind of way.
We made two visits over the next couple of weeks, and what follows is a summary of the dishes we tried.
Overall, of all the items we had at Ali Baba, our second favorite was the Baba Ganouj (small - $5):
The Baba Ganouj had a wonderful smokey eggplant flavor, that went so very well with our favorite item at Ali Baba..... which would be the flat bread called "Khubz". On our visits we were served two hot large dinner plate sized bread to start.
The Jajeek (small - $5), the Iraqi version of the refreshing yogurt and cucumber dish that many folks know as Tzatiziki, was good.
The Jajeek was very creamy, but was a bit short on salt. I also thought a bit more lemon juice and garlic would bring up the flavors a bit for me. Of course, I'd eat anything with that bread.
Of all the Entrees we tried, I'd say the Shawarma (Gus - $10.95) was the best.
The beef was nice and chewy, but was much drier than the version at Village Grill. It was also a bit short on salt, I ended up adjusting the flavor with a good amount of sumac. The rice was also quite bland. It was quite a bit of food, as the Missus and I shared this, and we still had leftovers.... of course we had two pieces of bread.....
I did enjoy the "Turshi", the variety of pickles and other "mezze". The pickled turnips were good and sour.
On one visit, the Missus ordered the Kousi, braised lamb shank and rice ($13):
The dish came with a stew of choice, and the Missus went with Her usual, the Okra Stew they call Bamia. Man this was quite a hefty meal. This version of Okra Stew was fairly mild and didn't have any meat in it. The lamb shank was cooked to perfection, but was a bit underflavored for our tastes. I love the version of the Okra Stew at Village Grill which is full of whole cloves of stewed garlic.
I think the item we enjoyed the least at Ali Baba is the Lamb Tekka ($13):
The first thing I'll note is how difficult it is to take photos of food on reflective metallic plates...... The chunks of marinated and grilled lamb was badly in need to of salt. It was also tough and dry, not my favorite combination in the world.
From this post, you might get the idea that we won't be going back to Ali Baba anytime soon, but that would not be accurate. We will probably stick to maybe the Baba Ganouj, a salad, or maybe the Potato Chop or perhaps a sandwich. And of course that bread........ Which of course would be part of the reason we'll be back. But there's another reason. The service is not the fastest, and the men working there are on the indifferent side, but there's one woman who works there who is wonderful. She has a very warm, kind, and welcoming personality; every child get's a warm smile and a pat on the head. She always seemed pleasantly surprised that we finished all of our bread, and asked if we wanted more on both of our visits. We were even asked if we wanted more bread with our doggie bags. And even though we wanted to say "yes", we really didn't want to impose. And we especially didn't want to seem like gluttons. On our second visit, as we were grabbing our leftovers, the Missus asked if they made their bread fresh since it was always hot when it reached the table. The woman smiled warmly and beckoned us to "come and follow me, I'll show you". And we got a quick tour of the kitchen! We were led to the back of the kitchen where the fresh bread was made.
We watched as another woman, who smiled at us strangers in her baking area like it happened all the time, cut and rolled out the dough, which was then placed in a oven that looked much like a tandoor.
A few moments later a hot flatbread was brought out of the oven. Our guide, that wonderful lady, then grabbed the bread and popped it into a white paper sack and handed it to me and said, "ok, now this one is for you to take home" as she walked us to the back door. As we left she said "see you soon", and I think she will....see us soon...... And we'll do a post of course.
You can't put a price on that......
In a nutshell, it is probably the most accessible Iraqi Restaurant in the area. The prices are reasonable and the portions are very generous. The lunch crowds are, well, crowds. It is perhaps better to go for an early or late lunch. Limited parking in the small parking lot, but there's ample street parking.
Ali Baba Restaurant 421 East Main Street El Cajon, CA 92020
Over the years Cathy has mentioned that El Cajon, and Main Street El Cajon has become an enclave for Iraqi's in the US. A few months back, I was meeting two of my favorite FOYs, Candice and Howie in El Cajon for lunch. I arrived a bit early and decided to drive down El Cajon Boulevard, which turned into Main Street, and I was astounded by the amount of Middle Eastern Markets, restaurants, and snack shops. Coincidentally, I would receive an email later that evening from FOY KennethB, who also mentioned Main Street. So over the last couple of weeks, the Missus and I have been driving East to El Cajon to kinda just look around and eat a bit.
On one of our drives we noticed a small shop doing some pretty good business, and I added it to my "list". It was called "Village Grill".
On this day, we decided just to take a drive down to El Cajon and make our decision when we arrived. Little did we know that today was also the day when the annual Mother Goose Parade was held. We decided to park, and head out on foot, and just stop by somewhere......
I've got to say that walking down Main Street past places called Babylon Market, while passing marching bands, and clowns, and cowboys, and walking into Village Grill, the scent of meat grilling on the vertical spits permeating the air was somewhat surreal. The interior of Village Grill is spartan, with just a few simple tables and chairs. We looked over the one page menu, ordered and sat down at our table watching the parade go by.
One thing about these restaurants..... I don't think you'll ever leave hungry, and you'll soon see why.
First to arrive was the Baba Ghanouj (small - $3.99).
Along with one of my new favorite things in the world, the wonderful flatbread I was told is called "Khubz". The Missus thought the Baba Ghanouj had too much tahini in it. I thought it lacked that wonderful, smokey eggplant flavor. The bread was fine, but served barely warm, and wasn't quite as good as the version at Ali Baba (a post is forthcoming) up the street.
A large plate of "Turshi", various "mezze" also arrived.
I expected the usual pickled turnips, but here it was replaced with a pickled turnip and cabbage flavored with tumeric and other spices, giving it a bracing sour-curry flavor. I really enjoyed it, the Missus did not.
Knowing what I had ordered, the Missus went with one of the "Rice & Stews"; the Okra based "Bamia", this one had beef as the meat.
The stew came with a large plate of rice. We both thought the broth was excellent, rich and tangy, with large chunks of flavorful beef, that looked tough, but was fairly tender. The okra was plentiful, and this would be quite a filling meal. I really loved the whole cloves of tender garlic in the soup, sweet and pungent, it was wonderful.
Of course, this is when my order started arriving. I had ordered the "Village Grill", the mixed meat plate. At $12.99, it was one of the more expensive items on the menu. Things started with a good sized salad.
The Missus loved the salad, which She called "refreshing"....good amounts of citrus and olive oil made this very tasty.
And then my huge plate of meat arrived. This was enough for two people at the least.
The Missus's favorite was the Shawarma Beef, also called "Gus".
This was very moist, with a nice beef flavor, that the Missus said was almost "beef jerky-ish".
Most beef kabobs in these type of restaurants tend toward the tough side, and are sometimes a bit short on flavor. This one was moist with good flavor, and if a bit on the chewy side, I wouldn't call it tough, not by a longshot. It was my favorite meat item.
Of course, that's not to snub the Tekka Beef, which was very moist.
It was also quite tender, and had a decent beef flavor. The rice on the bottom really benefited from the meat drippings.
The only item that I didn't care much for was the Hummus, which again had too much tahini, and not enough lemon, nor any other flavor to carry the day.
This was quite a meal, we left with tons of leftovers, and a full belly. The young lady who works the front of house was very sweet and nice. The prices are very reasonable, and the ingredients, except for the rice are of good quality. We'll be back without a doubt. And because I know folks like RONW love menus, here's a photo of the simple menu at Village Grill:
Ooops, wrong side! (Click to enlarge)
I really think the Mixed Platter for three would probably feed 4-5. And you could always order the Kousi - a 33 pound roasted lamb stuffed with rice.
The best deal here right now is a buy one sandwich, get one free deal.
Village Grill 550 East Main St El Cajon, CA 92020
El Cajon sure has been full of surprises for us......