Smack in the middle of Hillcrest is Rannoosh. Not your homespun hole in the wall, like Mama’s in University Heights, this place is designed to give the feeling of being in an exotic place. Cleverly decorated with fabric on the ceiling and walls, it’s what I might imagine a Beirut cafe to look like. There are hookahs prominently displayed and should you need a smoke, you can do so with one on the patio.
The food: Hummus made from scratch is silky and light. The finely pureed, smoky flavored baba ganoosh is mostly eggplant with a hint of tahini (sesame paste) and is one of the best I’ve encountered outside of my kitchen. Tabbouleh is, as it should be, mostly green with parsley with a bit of bulgur wheat. Homemade beef and lamb spicy sausages about the size of baby cigars come with a bit of lettuce salad, are dense and tasty, perhaps an acquired taste as my dinner pal found them a bit dry. Hummus with diced lamb is simple—the crisp lamb bits chewy to counter the soft hummus. We loved the mjadara, a toothsome mix of spiced rice, lentils and sautéed onions with a yogurt side that is definitely comfort food as well as a popular Lenten dish in Lebanon. Skip dessert as the baklava was dry and uninteresting. Prices range from $5.95 for most appetizers to $7.95 for hummus with toppings and entrees from $9.95 to $21.95 for mixed grill of various kebabs. There are pita sandwiches from $4.95 to $8.95 and $14.95 for that hookah smoke. 3890 Fifth Avenue (at University), Hillcrest, 619-325-1360. Open daily from 11 a.m.