My allium appreciation knows no limits; lacking consequence, you'd find me dabbing garlic on my pulse points. I'm not bluffing, and neither was the namer of Garlic 'N Lemons in Allston, where jubilantly spiced Armenian-Lebanese food is generously redolent of its namesake. Employees eagerly proselytize for the food: the kibbeh is good — but the special is really good, they tell me, with even greater urgency and wider eyes. And before long, I've ordered nearly everything on the menu.
Garlic 'N Lemons' menu exercises exemplary aubergine, so don't overlook the eggplant-prone rotating specials. Of note: the stuffed eggplant ($7.99 when available) filled with warmly spiced tomato and ground beef baked to a velvety melt. A pity that the rotisserie-style sujek — spiced, marinated beef — was sold out whenever I visited, but I got to sample its other incarnations: ground into peppery meatballs, skewered between royal purple wheels of Chinese eggplant. Rotisserie beef shawarma ($8.99) is sliced tenderly across the grain, served over vermicelli-flecked rice pilaf, and drizzled with cool tzatziki. A bitter, buttery bottle of minty drinking yogurt ($2.99) counters the salty meat perfectly, as does jallab ($2.99), a fragrant grape-and-rosewater drink speckled with floating pine nuts.
Let's breathlessly chronicle the vast side choices (most $3.99): a pile of rich, chewy bulgur studded with chickpeas; grassy, bright tabouli; fattoush, a crisp salad tossed with minced sumac, mint, and satisfyingly crackly shingles of fried pita; cold, peppered couscous; zesty grape leaves wrapping cool, creamy rice, tomato, and lemon ($3.99/four); thick, smoky baba ghanoush; silky, citrusy hummus ($3.75); ethereal whipped garlic sauce (served with plates). I smeared the latter over everything and relished my reek all evening. Smaller bites include assorted pies ($1.50) filled with minced halloumi; spinach and lemon; or cinnamon-and-cumin-laced ground beef. Pumpkin kibbeh ($1.50) contain lemony curls of spinach inside a crushed wheat crust. I was bored by the dry pitas — the thinner, flakier saj upstages them: swaddling sliced spicy chicken shawarma ($6.50), bundled with fuchsia matchsticks of pickled turnips, the saj makes for a vastly superior roll-up.
In this takeout-geared space with a few tables, diners peer at each other's plates with curiosity. One night, as I tuck into the special, a man asks me what I'm having; another night, I order my neighbor's dessert: osmalia ($2.99), light custard sandwiched between nests of shredded phyllo. A drizzle of rosewater syrup makes it sing. Meanwhile, a dense cake of honeyed, rose-scented ground pistachio ($1.50) sent me into a reverie. "I feel like a princess," I say to my companion. Outside, a dump truck rolls past the Mr. Music grates. Call me Princess Garlic Breath of Allston.
Garlic 'n Lemons, located at 133 Harvard Avenue in Allston, is open Sunday–Monday, 11 am–10 pm and Tuesday–Saturday, 11 am–12 am. Call 617.783.8100.