The Mideast Moves West

Don't be timid. Try the evening buffet ($11.99), a cannonball into the classics: potatoes with tahini sauce, stuffed tomatoes, red peppers stuffed with kibi, cabbage stuffed with rice, chicken soup, rice, hummus. Or do a swan dive into the meal with an order of shawarma ($7.99). One layer of thin meat marinated with vinegar, cinnamon, garlic, and allspice is stacked patiently upon another layer of thin meat, then cooked on a rotisserie until all you have left is a pile of meltingly tender, well-done pieces of beef. Or chicken. Or lamb. Shawarma appears in many forms among the entrées, as does the faithful shish kabob (beef, lamb, and kefta), on platters and in combination plates.

It's easy to overeat (enormous entrée portions are served with salad rice or French fries), but save some room for the famous Middle Eastern pastries (85 cents). People in this part of the world love their sugar, and they like to eat it in little cakes and cookies that look like petits fours. Whether you've chosen a boughasha, a cigar-like pastry made of phyllo dough and shelled walnuts and more sugar than you'd like to know; ma'amul cookies starring cloves, nutmeg, and orange blossom flavoring; or just a plain old baklava with walnuts or pistachios, you'll find yourself going back to the display case in the rear of the room for just one more. Throw a few of them down with a pot of hot, mint-flavored tea served in tiny glass cups and you'll end your meal in authentic Mideast style -- slightly bloated and ready to burp with pleasure.

But at al-Salam, the meal isn't everything. There's a grocery store next door, replete with the wonders of the East. Hookahs, those elaborate pipes that these people once used for sitting around, cogitating, and smoking fruit-flavored tobacco (they're now prohibited in Saudi Arabia), come in all shapes and prices, as do the abayahs required to be worn by all women. Piles of fresh almonds, jars of bitter orange marmalade, bins of olives and spices, and paintings of Arabic women with outsized eyes looking over mountain ranges (much like T.J. Eckleberg surveying the Long Island ash heaps in The Great Gatsby) -- they're all here and provide fascinating glimpses into a culture that we rarely experience.

Joe Rocco

Location Info


Al-Salam Middle East Restaurant

1816 N. University Drive
Islamorada, FL 33036

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Florida Keys


Lunch and dinner served from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m. daily. Call 954-916-5193 or visit for more info.
1816 N. University Dr., Plantation

A last touch? Before you head home, don't miss the Magic Faucet bidet, for sale and for some reason parked immediately outside the front door of the store. It's an unforgettable sight right there on the walkway and a perfectly unpredictable way to end one of the more exciting eating adventures in South Florida.

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