Restaurant review: Food Hamati

G.A. Benton
Baba Ghannouj, Eggplant Salad,Tabbouli, Falafel

When I questioned the personable and helpful lone server as to why the restaurant he was working was called Food Hamati — “hamati” is Arabic for “mother-in-law” — he said it was to honor the hospitality and good food associated with mothers-in-law.

“Does that make sense?” he asked. I silently nodded yes, but thought that I'd like this restaurant even if it was named “You don't deserve my daughter. How about you cook something for me?”

Hamati is a small eatery in a Dublin strip mall that is frequently busy filling pickup orders. Although a takeout-oriented operation, Hamati provides a couple outdoor tables and seating for about 30 people inside. The simple dining room, where Arabic pop music sometimes plays, is tidy, has a handsome wooden-slat ceiling and is comfortable enough.

But the real standout feature in the somewhat utilitarian space is a mural done in the style of ancient Egyptian art. The wall painting shows golden-robed pharaonic figures bordered by cartouches that enclose hieroglyphs amusingly depicting a shawarma sandwich and a shawarma spit.

Heed these suggestions and order a shawarma ($8). Undersold as “wraps” on a menu which also fails to mention that these sandwiches are fashioned with a house-made flatbread called shrak (both on Hamati's receipts — and in Jordan, where Hamati's owners are from). The chicken and “meat” (lamb and beef) shawarmas here are terrific.

The plentiful, cinnamon-scented proteins in them are delicious on their own. But when enhanced with garlic sauce or a Jerusalem salad and rolled into the fresh and warm, wonderfully textured shrak flatbread that's toasty-yet-elastic, well, now you have something special.

The sandwiches arrive sliced into easy-to-eat segments and are accompanied by pickles, olives, garlic sauce and prefab but crisp, not-oily, fries. Hamati's grill-seared, sausage-like chicken kefta ($8) and beef kefta ($8), which are properly speckled with minced onion and red pepper, are good in shrak-wrapped sandwiches as well.

The terse menu, which is above the counter, offers these meats in sizable “platters” ($10), too. Each platter comes with plenty of rice accented by peas, carrots and toasted almond slivers, plus modest-sized but satisfying sides of rich, thick, lemon-kissed hummus and a tzatziki-topped fresh Jerusalem salad (sliced romaine lettuce, plus diced cucumbers and tomatoes, with a tahini-based dressing).

Two other notable platters star delicious, spice-rubbed grilled meats: the mild-tasting lamb kebabs ($13) and the “whole chicken” ($20, or $10 for a half bird) with crackly bronzed skin and fall-off-the-bone meat. Had the proteins been juicy throughout on these platters, and not dry in parts, both meals would be grand slams.

The veggie-centric section of the eminently manageable menu offers strongly executed dips, sides, salads and appetizers. Because “regular” portions tend to be generous and inexpensive, excellent values abound.

Among these options, the eggplant salad ($6) is a pleasant dish practically big enough to function as an entree. The smoky stir fry of eggplant wedges, mushrooms, peppers and onions could pass for vegetarian fajitas.

Tabbouleh fans will be pleased with the lemony, refreshing and built-to-share bowl sold for $4. But the best bargain here is probably the zippy, expertly fried falafel balls, which go for only 35 cents a pop.

The crispy falafel, as well as all of the aforementioned meats, make great partners with any of a trio of versatile dips, each of which costs $4 for a hefty helping. These include Hamati's soothing hummus, exemplary baba ghanouj that's tangy, rich and gently smoky, and the cucumber-yogurt salad — which has a consistency and flavor recalling tzatziki sauce minus the garlic — prepared with tart, house-made yogurt, diced cucumbers and fresh dill.

Food Hamati

5875 Sawmill Rd., Dublin