Not many Middle Eastern eateries exist in Tucson, but the few that do tend to be quite tasty.
Ali Baba Restaurant is no exception. This Lebanese eatery offers a variety of reasonably priced dishes and has a cadre of employees willing to explain the various foods to you.
Its Web site, located at www.alibabamenu.com/, states that "all shopping for each day is done every morning and all food is cooked fresh daily."
When you first walk in, this well-lit restaurant offers a view of some of the foods that you might order. After checking out the cases, you can order your to-go meals at the cash register or sit at one of the many tables.
Ali Baba's also has a market that carries many of the same ingredients.
The most expensive entree, lamb kebab, costs $9.95, so it's simple to stay within a budget.
The 11 different pita sandwiches give you the option of choosing wheat or white pita and include fillings of beef, lamb, chicken, cauliflower and eggplant. Prices range from $3.95 to $4.50. Add one of the following sides for an additional $2.25: green salad, hummus, garlic potato, yogurt cucumber salad, baba ghannouj or tabbouli.
If you're pretty hungry, order one of Ali Baba's generous platters. Some of the offerings are falafel ($6.95), chicken kebab ($8.95) and the Ali Baba sampler ($7.95), which serves as a great introduction to Lebanese food with its hummus, tabbouli, green beans, couscous, grape leaves, falafel and spinach pie.
The beef schwarma ($8.25) arrived with juicy chunks of grilled beef marinated in olive oil, vinegar and spices. Basmati rice, green beans and hummus rounded out the platter.
The green beans are actually lubieh bizzeyt, which are stewed green beans and tomatoes and also can be ordered as an appetizer for $3.65.
The gyro lamb ($7.95) platter comes with tender slices of rotisserie-cooked lamb and the same sides as the schwarma.
Other appetizers range from yogurt salad ($3.65) to kibbeh ($3.45), best described as two ground beef and crushed wheat shells stuffed with ground beef, onions, parsley and pine nuts.
On the less exotic side, you can't go wrong with the sautéed eggplant ($3.65), which bursts with flavor and is served with garlic sauce. Another good pick is the garlic potato, served as fried cubes that resemble home fries until you take a bite and your tongue registers the cilantro, lemon juice and garlic flavors.
Other appetizers include stuffed grape leaves ($3.25), spinach cheese pie ($3.95) and lebni ($2.75), a creamy yogurt topped with dry mint and olive oil.
Ali Baba Restaurant
Where: 2545 E. Speedway
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays.
Parking: Ali Baba is in a strip mall, so there are many spaces.
For more info: 319-2559.
Schwarma beef — $8.25.
Gyro lamb — $7.95.
Garlic potato — $3.25.
Eggplant — $3.65.
Two fountain drinks — $3.40
$26.50, before tax and tip.