Well, I'm here to tell you it wasn't always so. No, I remember back in the stone ages - around the Clinton administration - when local Middle Eastern eateries were still few and far between.
And the godfather of them all - if not (as I believe) the very first one - was a place called Sinbad's that offered great restaurant-quality food out of a cramped little boutique grocery store.
That teeny shop moved across the street and blossomed into the marvelous Mediterranean Food Imports, but Sinbad's the restaurant began shriveling until it finally, quietly closed. The friendly family that owned both businesses eventually faded from the scene.
So when I walked into Mazah and saw a familiar face from that family, I was surprised and even a little excited. After eating several meals at Mazah, I can happily say, for the most part, those old recipes are back on plates and they taste as good as ever.
Positioned along restaurant row on Grandview Avenue, Mazah - which references the Arabic word for a tapas style of grazing - occupies a tidy, modest and bright space. Its minimal interior detailing can be summed up by one neatly painted yellow wall, one green one, and a few colorful works by local artists hanging above a dozen or so tables.
The personable and well-intentioned service (don't be surprised to be gifted with a lagniappe) is pretty much what you'd expect from a hard-working, learning-as-they-go mom-and-pop operation.
The food is probably even better than what you'd expect. In general, it's inexpensive, fresh and full-flavored, healthy-side stuff made from scratch. As befits Mazah's appetizer-evoking name, the food is lively and enticingly salty, too, so if you have an affinity for salinity, you'll likely love it.
On a minor downside, you'll need to slake your thirst on teas (they have a decent selection of bags) or soft drinks as there's no alcohol served here (traditionally, some Ouzo-like Arak would be just the ticket).
What to order? Well, there's deeply satisfying, slam-'em-back sandwiches ($6-$7) that pack happy mouthfuls of savory meats into fat little pita pockets tricked out with tempting trimmings (rich tahini sauce, fiery "Turkish salad," pickles and more) or there's the same meats served "plate" style ($10-$14), meaning paired with two of Mazah's perky sides.
My suggestion for first-timers would be to check the specials board to see if a "sampler platter" is being offered - one usually is -because it'll be loaded with a large variety of Mazah-appropriate dips and salads bursting with a riot of colors, flavors and textures. These healthy platters ($10) are often outfitted with a bit of good grilled meat, but, really, they're mostly about the zesty, veggie-edged Mazah-style noshing.
• Kibbe balls ($5) Great, my favorite version in town. An almost chili-like meat filling is corralled in irresistibly brittle fried "cracked wheat" shells.
• Fuhlmudemis ($2.65) Again, my favorite version in town. This addictively stout and tangy fava bean dip will awaken the palates of diners facing hummus fatigue.
• Tzatziki ($3.25) Homemade, tart and rich yogurt and cucumber dip bursting with mint.
• Baba Ghanoush ($2.65) This excellent rendition of the famous eggplant dip is not as smoky as others, has plenty of tahini in it, and eats light, even airily.
• Mujadara ($5) Sort of a lumpy, gray-looking mishmash, but a hearty and supremely satisfying version of the ancient lentils and rice dish.
• Greek salad ($5.65 for large) Super fresh and made with high-quality ingredients and a bright and refreshing dressing.
• Lamb Kebob ($7 sandwich, $14 plate) Succulent, fork-tender strips of delicious grill-crusted meat.
• Shawarma ($6 sandwich, $9.50 plate) Not spit meat, but more like highly seasoned Middle Eastern fajitas, I liked them "spicy" style (but watch out).
• Fatayer ($3.25) A pretty and delicious homemade spinach pastry that, alas, arrived on the gummy side.
• Zatar bread ($1.50) This racy spice mix on slabs of pretty homemade bread suffered the same reheating textural problem as the fatayer. Would have loved to have had them both fresh out of the oven.