On Saturday, a Lebanese friend, dissatisfied with the offerings on the Peninsula, took us across the Bay to Fremont. For me, the shawarma alone was worth the trip.
Our Lebanese friend had a vegetarian platter: rice, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh. My husband and I had a combination platter big enough for 2--or maybe 3: tabbouleh, baba ghanouzh, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, shawarma, onions, and a small skewer each of marinated cubed beef and chicken. The chicken was a bit dry, but the everything else was excellent, the balance between the strong flavors always nicely maintained. The tabbouleh was refreshing without being sour, and the hummus and baba ghanouzh were richly flavored of chickpea and roasted eggplant, respectively. The first bite of the stuffed grapeleaves immediately brought to mind the cooking of an old Jordanian friend I haven't seen in decades.
And, after years of putting up with the ground up, tasteless mystery sausagemeat-on-a-spit, I finally had shawarma the way I remember it tasting when I first encountered it many, many years ago. Large slices of real meat are spiced, skewered, and roasted. The resulting slivers of very tasty beef, rolled in pita with onions and a bit of hummus ensure that I will never voluntarily have any other kind of shawarma.
For dessert we had a very rich rose-water scented ice cream from Shatila in Michigan (which also makes some very good baklava). A wonderful way to end dinner.
I have never been to Lebanon, but I certainly hope to make a culinary pilgrimage someday. In the meantime our Lebanese friend assures me that this is what food in Lebanon really tastes like. So, until I get to see those famed cedars myself, Habibi will do.
The restaurant is very simple family-owned place, small, very clean, and located in a strip mall, at an odd angle to the street. But perservere, and you will be rewarded. (I think they close on Sundays.)
Habibi Restaurant--Irvington Shopping Plaza
3906 Washington Blvd., Fremont, CA 94538