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Zaki Kabab House - Albany

The verdict: I'll be back soon.

The trial: (after a couple of days under the weather, we got our order to go, which stayed hot in the 2 block walk home)
We got:
(1) Lamb burger w/fries
(2) Lamb kebab w/rice and salad
(3) Babaganoush with pita

(1) Dining companion ate and loved it.
(2) I liked it. The lamb needed a sauce, which wasn't included - maybe there was something on the table in the restaurant, or I could have asked for something if we were there. The salad was a standard cucumber, etc., and was good. The rice was outstanding. I don't know if you can order a large side of rice, but I could see doing that and bringing it home as a side dish for my own meals.
(3) It needed more seasoning. Fresh and fine, and if I hadn't had any middle eastern food outside of Wasilla for a year, I'd have loved it. Some more garlic, and a bit more other spice, and it would have been very good. The pita needs help.

The place is halal, and I don't think they have or allow any alcohol, which means it may be more lunch than dinner for me. The place was packed by the time the order was ready. The plates of food coming out looked appealing in general. They really cleaned this place up. This is not to "cut down" any prior occupants of this or other establishments, but going into a bright and fresh looking place makes a good first impression. My minor criticisms here are not to dissuade anyone from eating here. Quite the opposite, it is for them to hopefully see them and make a few minor tweaks to what appears to be a nice addition to the 'hood.

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  1. WOW - "The place was packed"! How about the prices, please? Thanks alot.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sydthekyd

      Yes, every indoor table was full. The dinner plates were $11.50 to $13.50. The burgers and wraps were in the $7 to $8 range, and some included fries and a soft drink. They also have rotisserie chicken.

      1. re: kc72

        San Pablo @ Dartmouth. Just plug your nose if the Church's Chicken stench wafts across the street. (The old Taxi Brousse location)

        1. re: lmnopm

          I stopped by today but was early and just picked up a menu. They did spruce it up nicely ... even the patio area. Very nice people. The woman there said her dad was Palestinean and her mom Morrocan and the menu was mainly Pallestinean. She was really nice. Will have to get that rotisserie chicken it looks like quite the deal ... 1/2 halal chicken "hand-rubbed with our secret spices and marinated" served with pita, spiced rice and salad.

          They are open daily noon - 9pm

          -----
          Zaki Kabob House
          1101 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

          1. re: rworange

            Yes, they are very nice and e-mailed us a menu - $6.50 for a chicken breast plate!

      2. Thanks for the tip. We stopped there today for lunch, very good.

        I had the Mediterranean Plate for $8.75 with baba ghannouj, hummus, dolmas and falafel plus pita and a small plate of roasted veggies. They made everything there except the pita and dolmas and all was tasty.

        My friend had the marinated chicken breast plate with spiced rice for $6.50.

        Both plates were yummy, Mediterranean comfort food. At 1 PM, the place was hopping with about 10 customers. The whole family seemed to be there – mom, dad, kids – waiting tables, serving mint tea, checking on customers. Definitely a friendly vibe. And I appreciated the cleanliness of tables, floors, etc.

        Go there, support it. You Bay Area folks are so fortunate to have a choice like this. I'm still pining for good Middle Eastern food in Sonoma County.

        Oh, condiments on table did include a hot sauce and some sort of pickle, sorry I didn't investigate for you.

        1. You should check it out for dinner ... or at least get a take out of the terrific rotisserie chicken. It isn't ready until after 5pm

          This is a plump, juicy, flavorful halal bird, the spice rub complementing the overall deliciousness and not overwhelming it. It is not a crispy skin chicken which is a good thing as sometimes those are way too dry. When I opened it at home, there were pan juices that had collected at the bottom ... so good. At $10.50 for a whole bird with sides, this is quite the deal. There were two large take out containers of food.

          I have to agree with that rice being excellent. I don't care much for rice, but the saffron yellow rice was light, rich and spiced lightly it seems with maybe cinnamon ... cardamom? Sprinkled on the top were crunchy, toasted slivered almonds. It will go on my list as top 10 tastes of 2008.

          There was also the chopped cucumber/tomato mix, pita and a complementary crispy flatbread that had olive oil and zatar.

          The family who owns it is so warm and inviting. Wonderful people. I needed to wait a while for the chicken to be done. They gave me a newspaper, some complementary mint tea and offered some lovely, large dates.

          When there was a mix up about the time the chicken would be ready, I ordered a Mediterranean coffee flavored with cardamom. This is worth ordering just for the pretty presentation from a gold-colored metal tray with the delicate china cup balanced on it.

          The owner is very personable and rightly proud of his chickens and charmingly said the recipe was maybe 1000 years old passed on from his father who got it from his grandfather, etc. Speaking of family, his brother owns Fred's Market.

          I'd say at night the restaurant might even fall into the category of romantic ... a nice place to take a date that isn't over the top. The lights are lower, nice Middle Eastern music plays softly in the background. They light torches outside and inside there are a few flickering hurricane lamps. Some white lights are strung across the ceiling.

          They said on Thanksgiving, they had four turkeys on the rotisserie feeding customers and the neighborhood homeless also. Nice people.

          I'm glad I needed to wait for the chicken. It was a relaxing little oasis and I enjoyed spending some time there.

          1. My family and I have now gone twice for lunch. The teenager repeatedly ordered the chicken breast on a bun with fries and a soda - 6.95. Steak fries cooked just perfectly leaving them lightly crisp and moist. I personally would ask to leave out mustard, mayo and pickles on the hamburger bun for just plain lettuce. The Mediteranean plate and chicken schwarma were yummy. I was impressed that pita bread refill was offered at no extra cost. A warm fava bean salad was satisfying though very plain - good side dish for the hummus and baba gahnoush. The generous chicken breast plate with the wonderful saffron rice at 6.95 is the best value. My vegan son declared the Turkish pistashio baklava ($4 slice) was superior at Turkish Kitchen, but the rest of us enjoyed the cheaper walnut baklava for $1. small square I can't wait to try the rotisserie chicken! The family is warm and sincere. We will definitely return.

            6 Replies
            1. re: bunnysitter

              Got the rotisserie chicken to go last night. The spiced skin is absolutely delicious and the meat moist -- even the breast. We enjoyed the sides, too, though of course the tomatoes are out of season and a bit watery. The rice had a dollop of white sauce on it as well as the almonds. Yogurt? Very tasty, in any case. This was enough for two of us for dinner. A great deal.

              1. re: Glencora

                Phooey. Walked over in the cold.....now closed Mondays.

                1. re: Glencora

                  They are open on Xmas day for those who may be wanting something good to eat around here.

                  1. re: lmnopm

                    Thank you for announcing they were open today. We had one of those not-so-minor kitchen disasters: the lamb chops had not survived their stay in the fridge (It's not the red meat that'll kill ya; it's the green stuff you need to watch out for!) so we had to come up with an alternative quickly.

                    So we went down to Zaki. Split a bowl of the lentil soup (current special), which was *excellent*. So thick it almost qualified as lentil paste rather than soup, with a strong lemon note. I had the half chicken, which was delicious -- the dipping sauce arrived late, and wasn't missed (a tasty enough mixture of olive oil, garlic, and cilantro, but the chicken really didn't need any help) -- and my wife was quite happy with her lamb plate. As she said, "Mr. Frisky didn't die in vain, unlike the one from the supermarket."

                  2. re: Glencora

                    Drove by about 30 minutes ago and the closed sign was displayed. I didn't get out of the car to check what time they open on Sundays. Guess I will have to wait until later in the week to try them out.

                    1. re: AntarcticWidow

                      They close after lunch, and reopen for dinner.

              2. Dining partner and I just sampled it for dinner.

                I ordered the special of the day, mensaf, "The Jordanian National Dish". It was unusual: a bed of saffron rice over pita that was soaked in (goat's?) milk, quite sweet and cinammon flavored. Definitely not a taste that I was used to for dinner, but it was mind expanding. On the side was a bowl of soup with lamb chunks. Overall, it was flavorful, but I was a bit envious of the people around me: a lamb burger with fries, or the "combo plate" which seemed to have 3 or 4 kinds of meat. Dining partner had the baba ghanouj plate--four half-ping-pong-ball-sized falafels, spicy and very deeply fried with creamy green interiors, studding a significant portion of yummy baba.

                Mint tea refills were good too.

                Service was funky but charming.

                1. Finally got around to going last night. Very good addition to the local scene. We split the combo and the chicken and everything was very well made and not at all expensive. And as everyone says here, yes the chicken is **that** good. I highly recommend Zaki though I say that knowing it will just be increasingly hard to get into as time goes on.
                  The owner, who is the head chef as well, stopped by our table and talked to us for quite a while. He said he plans to expand the room out to the what is now the porch and is just getting started with the menu.
                  Very nice people, it's the closest we've ever felt in a Bay Area restaurant like being guests in a family's home.
                  Definitely on the short list for us now.

                  1. Went once, very nice place. Rotisserie chicken was very good, very juicy -- would be good for take-out.
                    BUT they do not serve alcohol, nor would they allow us to bring in our own wine. Very pleasant about it, but it is due to a religious proscription.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Joel

                      Religion aside, it's illegal for California restaurants without liquor licenses to allow customers to drink alcohol.

                      Best shawarma I've had in the East Bay. I'm not sure if it's quite as good as at Truly Mediterranean in SF, but it's certainly a much more pleasant place to eat.

                    2. Update- We went back tonight and it seems they've tweaked the menu a bit. The price of the delicious whole chicken dinner plate is now $14.95--still a good deal, but not quite the ridiculous bargain it was before at just $10.50.

                      They're now offering something called "Zaki style pizza", which from what I can gather is a large baked pita with various Middle Eastern toppings you can select. Prices started at around $8.00, I believe. The table next to us ordered one, and it looked promising. The chef brought it out on a big metal pizza peel and warned that it was "very hot".

                      I tried their house-made yogurt drink tonight, and I have to say, it wasn't for me. Very, very sour--no hint of any sweetener that I could detect--with a spring of mint. I should have stuck with the almond drink, which I like a lot and which tastes exactly like almond tofu, with a hint of cinnamon.

                      We also ordered dessert for the first time tonight--well, a cookie, anyhow. I believe it was called a "barazek"--a round, crisp cookie covered in sesame seeds on one side and crushed pistachios on the other. Delicious, with a cup of tea, especially if you're a sesame fan (I am). Almost reminded me of one of that Chinese peanut brittle candy, but not as sweet or sticky (well, not sticky at all)...and more intensely sesame-y (sesame-ish?).

                      Service was a bit slow and spotty on a busy Friday night, though everyone was very friendly as always. The servers just seemed so busy, I felt bad even saying anything when they didn't bring out any bread for us.

                      In any case, I still like this place a lot. That chicken is just killer!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: abstractpoet

                        Last night I called for a take out order. I was shocked to hear "30 to 45 minute wait" yet at the same time, very happy for them. I'm glad we decided not to dine in because they were swamped (again, very happy for them) and for dinnertime, I like to enjoy the wine with the meal. The babaganoush was much improved from the prior time I had it (which was the only thing I wasn't crazy about in the past). Otherwise, everything was very good, as usual.

                        1. re: abstractpoet

                          my favorite drink there is their mint lemonade...ice cold it is so refreshing.

                          1. re: abstractpoet

                            Their whole chicken dinner plate is now on the menu at $13.85. The food is delicious. It is a little much for DH and I to finish in one sitting so we often chicken leftover for the following day.

                          2. New hours from their Web site:

                            Sunday - Friday 12pm - 3pm and 5pm-9pm
                            Monday 5pm-9pm

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              That is indeed what it says on the website; however, isn't Monday part of Sunday-Friday? Are they really closed on Saturday?

                                1. re: lmnopm

                                  I sent them an email to ask about the hours when I first read that. Haven't heard back yet.

                                  1. re: lmnopm

                                    Stopped by today and the hours are
                                    Lunch: Closed Monday Tues-Sun 12pm - 3pm
                                    Dinner: Daily 5pm-9pm

                                    Another thread got me interested in a dish they serve there

                                    Fava Bean Salad (mudamas)
                                    Poached fava beans with stewed veggies and extra virgin olive oil

                                    It is a warm dish made of dried Egyptian fava beans and looks like something like this.
                                    http://mideastfood.about.com/od/maind...

                                    It was good, rich and the bit of sauce was almost buttery. This was even good room temperature later. I mopped up every last bit with the pita.

                                    There was more in it than in that recipe link. The owner rattled off what was in it and I'm not remembering. What was of interest to me in the other thread was that sometimes this is made with rresh favas. I asked about that and he said no, that he didn't like the fresh favas here and uses the dried small Egyptian fava beans and soaks them over night to plump them up.

                                    Chatting with him a bit it turns out he also owns University Deli which makes a Halal chicken burrito that I liked. It also uses rotiserrie chicken, but I'm not sure if it is the same recipe. Here's my report on the burrito
                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/587074

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      After finishing up an evening school fundraiser of video gaming in downtown Berkeley our foodie family of four, who usually prefer dinner at home or small family kitchen restaurants, decided that dinner out was in order for a Saturday night. Without any real discussion as to where we'd eat I asked my family to trust me as I drove straight to Zaki. My positive first impression of Zaki came about when driving by at night and noting the clean windows highlighted by the variety of holiday lighting, this after any number of restaurateurs who previously occupied the location and obviously didn't know the importance of lighting and keeping their windows clean, so with the latest attentive occupant and the kabob sign I'd become very curious. When we drove into the lot our boys initially claimed the restaurant too packed, but from the parking lot we adults could see at least one unoccupied table and live Romani music that drew us in. Since it was already 8:30 and the sign noted a 9 PM closing we quickly ordered two lamb kabob plates, a falafel wrap, a lamb wrap and the fava salad, and to our delight everything was absolutely marvelous! The lamb, which can be tricky to keep tender and moist, was cooked perfectly and deliciously sweet. As previously posted the rice was buttery rich and wonderful, the favas were drenched in garlicky goodness that was easily sopped up with the fresh pita bread, the falafel wrap was generously spiced to perfection, and the lamb wrap was equally delicious. No doubt the best wraps we've ever tasted. While eating we observed garlic laden pizza personally served by the chef and decided pizza would be a must on our next visit. Despite the posted closing time customers continued to pour in even while we were leaving at 9:30, and all were greeted with smiles and a table. To sum up our experience...I'd voluntarily work their kitchen without pay for a week just to know how to replicate their dishes at home. Maybe offering the public cooking lessons could be an option in the future for Zaki??? Sign me up!!

                                      1. re: BerkeleyMama

                                        Are there any Pizza reports? I was tempted this evening, but Monday is an "I eat early, and the other half eats late" night, so I got the whole chicken to go, with a fatoosh salad extra. (The salad that comes with the chicken isn't enough, but now the rice portion is quite generous.)

                                        1. re: lmnopm

                                          I've had the pizza with lamb, and it was ok. Very thin flatbread crust that was unfortunately soaked in oil, probably from warming on the griddle. The lamb was the same as in their wrap, and in fact the whole thing seemed like an unwrapped wrap. You get a choice of mozzerella or feta; the mozzerella version was much too cheese-y and next time I'll try the feta. The presentation is dramatic and heads turn to follow the Big Guy as he brings it to your table.

                                          1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                            I'm glad I didn't get it then, because it was a take out order, and it sounds like the thing wouldn't hold up well.

                              1. The chicken shawarma was good, as always. It's become my "fast-food" dinner for busy nights. This time I also got the babaganoush. I liked the texture a lot -- a bit creamy, a bit chunky. Also, when I got my container home, I found that they'd thrown in four falafel. They were big, crunchy and spicier than most.

                                There was a liver special, with notes on the menu about its health benefits. The place was empty at 5:30 on a Tuesday night.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Glencora

                                  Ooooh, really - liver special? What kind, can you expand upon description?

                                  1. re: sydthekyd

                                    I didn't see, but my SO says it's fried chicken livers.

                                  2. re: Glencora

                                    There are a few new items on the menu.

                                    The mint lemonade was brilliant. It was a bright green, not to sweet and very refreshing with a lemon slice prettily perched on the glass. Highly recommended.

                                    We got the sphecha which is described as "Savory in-house baked minced lamb mini pie topped with toasted almonds"

                                    Both my friend and I thought it was just ok. It was three pita-like rounds, only smaller, coaster-sized and thicker. It was topped with the chopped meat and a few slivered almonds. If I didn't know it was lamb, I never would have guessed.

                                    We had the chicken which, as always, was brilliant. I believe the cucumber/tomato salad has improved a lot. Rice was great as I remembered.

                                    There is also kibbah which we didn't get. I is described as fried cracked wheat patties filled with a wonderfully savory minced lamb stuffing".

                                    When we went on Thursday the place was slammed, every table filled and, in addition, lots of take-out orders. That being said, it is really unlikely I will ever eat in that restaurant again. Take-out of the chicken perhaps.

                                    It wasn't the food, it was the service. I'm all for giving everyone a break. There was one server and I can be really empathetic. However, we arrived first. The sun was in my friends eyes and the server gave him a hard time about moving to another table. Then it just went downhill from there.

                                    As said, about a half hour into it the place filled. Everyone who came after us was served. I was lax about this until every one who came in after us got their first course ... then their second. We still had not recieved even the lemonade that was ordered though three other tables were sitting there with the same drink.

                                    My friend who was ill, had to get his pain pills from the car after sitting all that time on those hard seats. Though our the server had popped over about 15 minutes prior to say sorry, the order was on the way, when my friend left I mentioned my friend was sick and WHERE WAS OUR ORDER.

                                    She casually tells me ther order was lost ... but here's what they can do for us ... they won't resubmit our order to the end of the current cue ... we are next.

                                    I ask why my friend can not get a lemonade. She says they are making it. Then the bus boy comes over and says we can have plain and not mint lemonade immediately. No. That is not what we ordered. Ten minute later the lemonade shows up. Fifteen minutes later, after the table next to us had almost finished their dinners our order shows up ... all at once ... two appetizers and the chicken ...and no plates to for us so we could share. I clearly told them I wanted plates ... NOW. Gave them a short ... real short beat ... was about to get up and get my own plates when they arrived.

                                    On top of this the owner was downright rude to us. He was enchanted with the customers at the next table seeing their tea and water was refilled constantly. On the way back to the kitchen during one visit to that table, he asks us if we want the extra tea he accidently brought to the next table. He didn't want to waste it and throw it away. That was the only refill we got. Then a few times he shouted across our table to 'chat' with the table next to us.

                                    Such a difference from one time my order was delayed and I was offered free dates and tea and kept appraised of the situation.

                                    I feel bad because my friend doesn't get out much these days and this was extremely unpleasant and unnecessary. I can understand the place being slammed. I can understand only one server. But at the point when things go so wrong, the owner would have made it a lot better by at least acknowledging the error. He certainly had more than enough time to socialize at the next table.

                                    My friend said despite the abysmal service, and most of the stuff being 'meh' with the exception of the mint lemonade. He would not think twice about going back for the chicken.

                                  3. Happened to be passing by last night, we decided to give it a try. Simply put: the 2 dishes we tried were excellent. Chicken liver special was delicious: saute with perhaps some chicken broth to add juice + maybe sumac as a spice + a small pinch of cayenne perhaps. or something with a gentle kick. Roasted chicken was completely yummy. As was the yellow rice. Mid-East salad of chopped cukes + tomatoes was blah. The restaurant was overflowing with diners and people on the wait list. But our service was fine: not fast, but not bad.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: escargot3

                                      For dinner, I usually get the food to go. It is the only way I can enjoy the food with some wine. Fortunately, I live close enough for it to still be hot when I eat it. Without getting too much OT, but since service seems to be an issue for some, a small family place going through the growing pains is in a tough spot. I tend to be patient in these situations, but eventually, it has to resolve itself. I would imagine it is difficult to keep a decent server in a place where the average check is fairly low, compounded by the fact that there is no alcohol served, keeping the check low, and accordingly, the tip average low.

                                      Back to the food, the only real miss here for me was the "pizza." The babaganoush has improved substantially since my OP last November.

                                      1. re: lmnopm

                                        Yeah, I told my friend, my tip was going to be not reporting the service because I understand all that. However, what ticked me off was that the owner knew I was unhappy and that's what pushed it into the unacceptable area. Since I had someone with me, I went into my business professional mode when expaining calmly and to the point how really unhappy I was. I have never in my life been that direct and to the point in a restaurant.

                                        I'm glad this is Chowhound and not yelp, and posters like escargot3 can pick up that there is food greatness here and not get hung up on a what I hope was a service blip. Still, I'll stick to takeout in the future.

                                      2. re: escargot3

                                        How much is the chicken liver special, please?

                                        1. re: sydthekyd

                                          It was a whopping $6 for a full-size plate.

                                      3. This is not a place for a quick bite to eat. It's appeal is in part the feeling that you're at a mid-East cafe or family restaurant, and can sip a cup of mint tea for an hour.