Drove by Malay Satay Hut coming back from The Dalles to see how it's coming. Walls are up, finally. Took the (very) long way home trying to find something new to eat. Went up 33rd and stopped in at Aladdin Cafe, a relatively new Middle Eastern restaurant north of Killingsworth.
The owners/cooks are Syrian and Jordanian, but the menu is pretty universally Middle Eastern with all the usual mazza (homous, baba ghanouj, labneh, tabouli, etc), sandwiches and meats (falafel, shawarma, kafta, kabob, lamb shank, etc), plus a few baked items (spinach pie, safeeha, cheese safeeha, and zaatar safeeha). The safeeha is the only thing that I don't think is too common at Portland Lebanese restaurants.
However, from what I tried, they do a good job with these typical dishes -- and they're very well-priced. I got the falafel ($4.25), the tabouli ($3.95), and the kafta sandwich ($4.95). (Only the items from the grill -- about 20% of the menu -- top $5, and only one item tops $10.)
Pita comes hot to the table when you arrive. It's a nice version, a little thicker and less puffy than other places that make their own in town. It has a slightly sweet aftertaste, but is otherwise a bit bland. I'd like it a little better if it was cooked at a higher temperature, but it does have some pleasant brown splotches.
The falafel were good as well, crunchier on the outside than most. That crunchy shell is perhaps a bit thick, but it yields nicely to a moist center heavily flavored with herbs and pureed onion. The center could be lighter; it's a little doughy. The six pieces surrounded a dish of tangy tahini. Very enjoyable together. I'd say these are my second favorite falafel I've had in Portland, next to Karam.
The tabouli -- parsley, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and bulgar wheat -- is dressed in a bright mixture of lemon and olive oil. The olive oil tastes pleasantly fruity and really adds to the dish. But it's the subtle spicing that raises this.
I was already full at this point, but I dug into the kafta sandwich with a fork to get at the goodies inside: grilled spiced meatballs, tahini, onion, pickle, tomatoes, lettuce, and parsley. The kafta were earthy and dense, permeated with the heavy fragrance of cumin. I really like their tangy tahini.
I got a triangle of baklava ($1.99) to go for my wife, though I had a taste. It wasn't as sickly sweet as some, but was also heavier -- denser -- than many.
It's run-down looking from the outside, but the interior is cafe cute. Better than expected from the prices. The people are very nice. I talked a little with the cook about a dish (molokhia) I had had before in Chicago and she knew it well and said she'd be glad to make it if I called ahead. I encouraged her to put some Jordanian and Syrian specials on the menu now and then. She seemed excited by the idea, so I hope they do.
6310 NE 33rd Ave