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.