Midan Al Tahrir Rocks the Khaleeji
A couple of weeks ago, The Orange County Register published a review of Sahara Falafel, an Anaheim Middle Eastern restaurant we reviewed a decade ago. It was a positive, if tardy, piece, save for one egregious sin: writer Marla Jo Fisher's assertion the dive was "in a part of Anaheim more noted for its check-cashing facilities than its fine cuisine."
Talk about ignorant! Sahara Falafel, of course, is in a section of Anaheim known as Little Arabia, the largest concentration of Middle Eastern businesses and residents in the United States outside the Detroit metropolitan area. The area is nothing new—in fact, not only have its restaurants moved beyond the falafel-and-pita-sandwiches phase in which many Middle Eastern eateries outside of Little Arabia continue to operate, but it's also starting to move out of the sphiha-and-sojouk obsession that signifies the second circle of true Middle Eastern eating. The name of the current grub game in Little Arabia is regional cooking, and no restaurant is more proudly provincial than Midan Al Tahrir—yes, Marla Jo, Tahrir Square.
The only wall décor is one of those hallucinatory waterfall panel scenes you can buy in swap meets, framed quotes from the Koran, and the flags of Egypt and Iraq. The kind owner will immediately ask if you speak Arabic and warn you off most dishes by explaining his restaurant does everything to order and many of the specialties will take half an hour, at least—and this is before you peek at the menu. But just a glance at that single canary-colored sheet reveals a wonderland that'll require a good 10 minutes on your iPhone to decipher (or one of those resourceful happy Arabs pushing to make Little Arabia an officially recognized Anaheim neighborhood).
I only have space to describe the koushari, the Egyptian equivalent of Rice-A-Roni: a pilaf of lentils and chickpeas topped with macaroni, spaghetti and enough fried onions to make a hamburger stand proud. You dump marinara sauce onto the plate, along with a curious garlic sauce that's like an incredibly pungent vinaigrette, and it's like the whole Mediterranean Sea on a heaping plate. But there are so many dishes to try: fava-bean appetizers enlivened with jalapeños; stuffed, roasted dove; anise and fenugreek teas. There's even an entire section devoted to the dishes of the Khaleeji, the Arab states on the Persian Gulf. Midan Al Tahrir is a wonderful addition to Little Arabia—and if the Register wants to ignore the region, well, that means more plates of koushari for us.
This column appeared in print as "Rock the Khaleeji."
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