Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sahara Restaurant

For Christmas this year, my work team got me a gift certificate to Sahara Restaurant, a Lebanese place on Highland Street in Worcester.  What can I say--they know what I like! Not to mention, they are fantastic people, and they are the main reason I consider myself to have a pretty decent job.

Before I went vegan, I was the most boring person on the planet as far as food is concerned, and John was too.  We used to eat at your standard American type places: burgers, fries, deep fried appetizers, etc.  We did occasionally get Indian or Chinese, but these trips were more the exception than the rule.  Now that we eat plant-based, we have opened ourselves up to ethnic foods a lot more, and it has been great.  John's definite favorite is Indian food; he would eat samosas for every meal!  I love Indian too, and we both enjoy African as well, but my favorite has to be Middle Eastern.  I am a bean fiend, and no chickpea is safe in my presence, so it's the perfect cuisine for me.  

This past week, we decided to use our gift certificate to go to Sahara for an early dinner. Because I always get the falafel sandwich, earlier is better, because after 5 PM, the sandwiches get more expensive (you have to pay a fairly exorbitant markup for a salad, which is pretty standard around here at the other Lebanese places as well).  Apologies for the iPhone pictures; we headed straight to the restaurant after John picked me up from work, so I forgot the camera.  I would probably call this meal bean overload for most people, but for me, it was heaven.

We started with the falafel appetizer as well as a plate of hummus with ful mudammas, which is a fava bean and chickpea mixture with lemon, garlic, tomato, onion and parsley. So to recap, fried bean balls and bean dip with beans on top.

Falafel appetizer with tahini sauce

Hummus with Ful Mudammas

For our meals, John probably wisely decided to break up the bean party by ordering the vegetarian Sheik El Mishi (this is their spelling on the menu; I've seen it called El Mashi elsewhere), which is an eggplant and tomato sauce dish, delicately spiced and served over rice pilaf.

This smile says, please take the picture so I can eat.  :)

I, on the other hand, have no concept of too much of a good thing, so I got my falafel sandwich, served with garlicky pita chips.

Falafel rolled in flatbread with lettuce, tomato, tahini sauce, and mixed pickle

As if you hadn't realized this already, I am a huge falafel fan, and I will try it from everyone to see how it measures up.  At the moment, Sahara's falafel is the standard by which all others are measured.  It's super crispy (I think it's twice fried, so it's also probably super-unhealthy, but I'm not going to a restaurant for health food usually), and it tastes just right to me.  It's great on its own and in the sandwich, depending on your taste.  I love the sandwich because it contains the mixed pickle, which I asked about, and was told it's a homemade pickle made of turnips and a beet thrown in, which gives it that beautiful pink color.  The pickled turnip just sets it right over the edge.  El Basha and Fantastic's Pizza--also in Worcester--do serve excellent falafel, and I have heard (from my similarly falafel-addicted friend Pam) that a new contender has just shown up on the scene, with the opening of Firewood Cafe, so I am looking forward to trying it as well.  So far though, Sahara just does it for me.  

So, the food at Sahara is a definite recommend.  Beyond the meal we had this time, other veggie options include the Mixed Vegetable Saute entree and the Vegetarian Platter, where you can combine a number of the veggie appetizers to make a meal, including the delicious stuffed grape leaves.  (It's not on the menu, but if you ask, your server will get them to make you a grape leaves entree.)  It's got a nice atmosphere as well, the folks who work there are pleasant and friendly, and it has its own parking lot, which is kind of a big deal on Highland Street, since there is limited street parking in the area.  The major drawback is price, as I do find Sahara to be on the expensive side, especially if you add beer or wine to your meal.  It's not a place we would go to every month, but it is nice for a special occasion, when you are in the mood to splurge a bit, both on calories and money.  They sometimes have live music, which makes your dinner an even more special experience, so if you can, plan to visit on one of those nights.


  1. We'll have to check this place out, I love Middle Eastern food!

    I also adore falafel. Jenn makes it really good.

  2. I haven't made it at home except from a mix, so I am behind the 8 ball on that. I do have a couple of recipes in some of the new cookbooks I got for Christmas, so I will be trying those out soon. If I could find a way to make it the way I like it at home, I'd save a lot of money from going out to get it. If there's one thing Worcester has a lot of, it's falafel.

  3. Thanks for your comment on my blog. When I saw that you are originally from Mississippi, I just had to say hi and welcome to blogging. I look forward to seeing what you cook up!

  4. Thanks Susan! You are kind of my blog heroine so I am a little starstruck right now!! :)

  5. Yum! That looks just sooo delicious. I get down to Worcester sometimes, so it's nice to know where to eat.

    .. and turnip/beet pickle? I have both of those.. I think I need to make quick pickle out of them! Ive never thought about pickling turnips!

  6. I know, I couldn't figure out what it was for the life of me, and when the server said turnip, I was really surprised. It is really crisp and fresh and a great compliment to the falafel.

    I haven't blogged it yet, but my #1 suggestion of where to eat in Worcester is the Loving Hut on Hamilton Street (we have another on Chandler but I don't like it as much). The couple who runs it are the nicest people, and the prices can't be beat. You just have to not be bothered by the Supreme Master Ching Hai TV going on :)

  7. "fried bean balls and bean dip with beans on top"

    dang..that is a lot of beans,lol that hummus platter looks great! i love LOVE theway they plated it!

    "This smile says, please take the picture so I can eat"

    haha mine has the same look sometimes:)

    everything looks great over there! that was really nice of all your co-workers!

  8. I agree, the plating is really nice. With the falafel appetizer, I end up eating all the pickled turnip and tomato, just because it looks so nice :)

  9. What a perfect gift from your co-workers, that was really thoughtful! Your meals looked fantastic!! (And yeah, I too have seen that same "grin and bear it" smile on BW's face while I take food photos! LOL) I would have had a hard time choosing between your falafel sandwich and John's eggplant dish, so I probably would have gotten the falafel appetizer and the Sheik El Mishi entree (because who says you can't have it all?) And yet, I haven't seen the rest of the menu! What a treat, it sounds like a great place. I hope you'll get to celebrate your Veganniversary and/or Valentine's Day there!

    Wow, I'm totally impressed that you scored a comment from the incomparable Susan V! That's awesome and was so nice of her! (I LOVE her!)

  10. I love Susan V too, she is seriously one of the main reasons I'm a vegan!