Rich flavors and exceptional value at Haji Baba

Chicken kabab plate at Haji Baba (Photo by Celina Jimenez) Chicken kabab plate at Haji Baba (Photo by Celina Jimenez)

What Haji Baba, located on 1513 E. Apache Blvd., lacks in overall ambiance, it more than makes up for with authentic taste and quality.

This quaint Middle Eastern restaurant/grocery store is bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside but is still smaller than other ethnic grocery stores, like Mekong Plaza and Lee Lee International Supermarket, that come to mind.

The grocery section consists of a few packed rows of diverse products. The products are a bit scattered and disorganized, and there are no row labels, but it doesn't take long to sift through the shelves. Shoppers can find an array of Middle Eastern snacks and beverages as well as miscellaneous items such as soaps, hookah products and music from the homeland. There's also a huge selection of spices and a couple of refrigerators of food.

Haji Baba Middle Eastern Restaurant & Grocery's Kabab Koobideh, one of the many items on their menu.  It is marinated ground beef served with a arabic bread, rice and yogurt salad all for $8.49.? (Photo by Emily Johnson) Haji Baba Middle Eastern Restaurant & Grocery's Kabab Koobideh, one of the many items on their menu. It is marinated ground beef served with a arabic bread, rice and yogurt salad all for $8.49.? (Photo by Emily Johnson)

The restaurant itself attracts a very diverse customer base, which attests to the quality and accessibility of the food. The service is reasonably fast, and the waiters are generally knowledgeable about the cooking process and open to answering questions from customers.

However, employees generally remain in the kitchen or behind the counter, so you probably won't find them regularly engaging with customers who are wandering around the store.

Although Haji Baba's authentic options are not for the overly selective eaters, most guests should find that there's something to satisfy nearly every adventurous palette. There are even several vegetarian options, like stuffed grape leaves and falafil.

A display of many different kinds of baklava for customers to see at the Haji Baba Middle Eastern Restaurant & Grocery on Apache road.? (Photo by Emily Johnson) A display of many different kinds of baklava for customers to see at the Haji Baba Middle Eastern Restaurant & Grocery on Apache road.? (Photo by Emily Johnson)

Moreover, the prices are extremely reasonable, especially considering the generous amount of food that comes with each serving. The most expensive item on the menu is $15, but it is a "kabab mixed" combination that consists of chicken kabab, kabab koobideh and shish kabab, as well as hummus and tabouli.

Haji Baba's options mainly consist of sandwiches or plates, though guests can also select from various appetizers or side dishes. Meat-eaters can choose from chicken, beef, ground meat or lamb dishes. Haji Baba's kabab koobideh plate, for instance, combines ground meat, arabic bread and rice. The meat is tender, fully cooked and served alongside a large heap of rice that covers nearly half the plate.

Arabic coffee at Haji Baba (photo by Celina Jimenez) Arabic coffee at Haji Baba (Photo by Celina Jimenez)

The chicken kabab plate, served with bread, rice and salad, is similar and equally flavorful. The chicken is strongly seasoned with turmeric, but the spice isn't overwhelming.

Even the beverages are above average. The exceptionally large cup of iced tea has a distinctly spice-laden and vaguely chai note, which gives it a more herbal flavor than your typical Liptons. The Arabic coffee, which comes pre-sweetened, is very rich and robust with the addition of cardamom.

The restaurant also offers freshly made baklava in a variety of flavors such as pecan and almond.

Overall, visitors of Haji Baba should expect a delightfully unique experience for the taste buds but an average environmental experience. The food is an exceptional value and is sure to excite a wide variety of palettes.

"Spice" up the reporter's inbox at celina.jimenez@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @lina_lauren.

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