Restaurant Review: Ali Baba

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Lots of Pita Hut fans - and I'm among them - like to get their shawarma to go. That's because, ambience-wise, the Hut is a cheerless little dive best described as bare-bones. So though the food is certainly fun, the place is not.

Ali Baba, open now for about a month on the OSU Campus spot that formerly housed Jimmy Guaco's, is a new competitor for Pita Hut. You see, Ali Baba - which is unrelated to an identically named Campus restaurant from the '90s - has Pita Hut's original cook and one of its first owners. What's more, it replicates most of Pita Hut's menu of excellent-yet-cheap Middle Eastern sandwiches, dips and salads almost to a T.

Unlike Pita Hut, Ali Baba is in a large space and it showcases a large menu, too. Like Pita Hut, it serves no alcohol with its begging-for-beer cuisine, and though there's a couple of murals (one conjures up a Lawrence of Arabia camel crossing, and the other is a cartoony pyramid and sultany thing), it's also a less-than-thrilling place to sit and eat. And that makes it perfect for the inaugural Pick-Up Artist.

Overall, I really liked Ali Baba's food. Their proteins were close to Pita-Hut quality, but Ali Baba outshone the Hut with an excitingly large selection of excellent dips and salads.

• Lamb Kabob platter ($8, all platters come with two sides) A huge serving of stewy meat that was mostly tender and well-seasoned except for a shortage of salt.

• Turkey Shawarma sandwich ($5) The deliciously seasoned turkey/lamb combo made famous by Pita Hut and dressed (as are all of the sandwiches here) with a lip-smacking array of add-ons, including hummus, a tomato and cucumber salad, lettuce, raw onion, pickle slices and hot sauce upon request.

• Kefta Kabob platter ($8) Two good-sized, aromatic, sausagey logs crisply grilled and perfectly seasoned with parsley and onion.

• Grilled Chicken sandwich ($6) Good, if the blandest meat in this bunch. It picked up nice flavors from the grilled onion and hummus.

• Hummus (all of the following sides are $2-$4) One of the best in the city, it's rich and thick and really sings with the beans and tahini

• Mama Ghanouj A revelation of a wonderful dip. Super-tangy, it's made with tahini, lemon, zucchini and olive oil.

• Matbukha A deliciously zesty, chunky ratatouille-like tomato stew with a little chili bite. It's said to be made with rice, but I didn't see any.

• Eggplant salad Made with olives, peppers, onions and olive oil, it's really top-notch. The eggplant turns out soft and sweet instead of hard and bitter.

• Cauliflower salad Made like the eggplant salad, it also rocks, but tastes nutty and sweet