The Boston Phoenix November 2 - 9, 2000

[Food Reviews]

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Café Habibi

Small wonder

by Nina Willdorf

on the cheap
  • Flour, October 26
  • Sweet Tomatoes October 19
  • Ba Le October 12
  • Colleen's October 5
  • Bestsellers Café September 28
  • JJ Sushi September 21
  • It would be easy to miss the small corner storefront of Café Habibi, tucked into an odd intersection in Allston-Brighton's Union Square. Easy, and unfortunate.

    habibi The teensy, four-table Middle Eastern restaurant is staffed by two harried yet silly men, who trade off between the tandoori oven, a few grills, and the register while popping off with the occasional snarky one-liner.

    Not to be missed is the chicken vindaloo ($8.50). The menu warns the "faint of heart" to abstain, but for the daring few with brave palates, the hot, spicy vinegar curry socks it to you with a one-two punch, at first slowly and then powerfully. Although the cuisine is billed as Pakistani, Indian, and Middle Eastern, the thin flatbread nan ($2.25), tandoori specials, samosas ($3), and lightly fried crispy vegetable pakoras ($3 for five) are all done with the Pakistani twist.

    Best of all are the lunch specials. The subtle but savory chana masala ($3.99 lunch special, $7.50 dinner) -- chickpeas in onions, herbs, and tomatoes -- sits well with spiced yellow rice, which soaks up the warm liquid like a tasty sponge.

    By 7 p.m. on a weeknight, give up all hope of snagging one of the tables. Of course, sitting at the counter trading barbs with the chefs is not so unappealing. When asked if they take credit cards, one giggles. "Only gas cards here. No cash."

    Café Habibi is located at 229 Brighton Avenue, in Allston. Call (617) 254-4455.

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