ZAYNA MEDITERRANEAN

Savor Damascus in Tucson

2013-07-04T00:00:00Z Savor Damascus in TucsonCathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 
  • Where: 4122 E. Speedway
  • Phone: 881-4348
  • Online: zaynamediterranean.com
  • Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
  • History: Chef-owner Riad Altoubal opened the restaurant at 9105 E. Tanque Verde Road in 2005, naming it after his oldest daughter. In 2011, he expanded to East Speedway. The original location closed this year.
  • Type of cuisine: Middle Eastern with an emphasis on Altoubal's native Syria.
    "Syrian food is very similar to Lebanese, and some of the Turkish foods, also," Altoubal explained. "We went to Turkey last year and I saw so many dishes that my mom cooked."
    Syrian cuisine employs spices including cumin, coriander, cardamom and allspice. Altoubal said the cuisine is more flavorful than its Middle Eastern cousins. His menu includes falafel, tabbouleh, lamb and beef kifta and gyros. Prices range from $7 to $10 for lunch and $7 to $14.50 for dinner.
  • Taste from home: The Chicken Pilaf Plate ($10.49) - marinated rotisserie-grilled shawarma chicken served with Syria's popular lentil pilaf with caramelized onion and toasted nuts - will take you to the heart of Damascus. "I was so surprised that the American people liked it so much," said Altoubal. "I didn't have it in the beginning at the other restaurant, but I like to try something new. We tried it and I found out that people like it very much."
  • Bio: Altoubal grew up in Damascus and dabbled in cooking at home. When he was 25, he opened a small sandwich shop. "But I always wanted to open a restaurant," he said.
    He met his American wife, Leila Hudson, in Damascus where she was working on her research for her doctoral degree in Middle Eastern studies. They moved to Washington, D.C., in 1997 and then to Tucson when Hudson accepted a teaching job at the University of Arizona.
    "In the beginning, I didn't like Tucson very much," he admitted, because he had been used to living in big cities. "But now when I go somewhere else, I just want to come back here."
    Altoubal, 52, worked in Tucson's real estate market for several years, buying, refurbishing and selling homes. When the real estate boom went bust, he decided to go back to his first love of cooking.

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