As someone who dines out nearly nightly in Boston at every level — from highfalutin snob joints to decrepit diners — I'm often amazed at the lack of correlation between prices and love. For example, I recently ordered a $16 meat-loaf entrée at a fancy-ish South End restaurant. It arrived stone-cold in the center, and our waiter never bothered to check back on us. That level of shoddy cooking and service routinely gets trumped by places that don't charge $16 for anything, let alone meat loaf. Into this latter category falls Azama Grill, an unprepossessing counter-service Egyptian kebab joint in Allston that features halal meats and demonstrates real customer care in nearly every dish it serves.
|Azama Grill | 54 Harvard Avenue, Allston | Open daily, 11 am–1 am | 617.779.0003|
The sight of two vertical rotisseries spinning real shwarma (stacked pieces of marinated meat) is auspicious, and both are fine: sliced off into small, chewy, half-crisp, nicely spiced bits of chicken or a mix of lamb and beef ($5.45/roll-up; $6.99/plate). Kebabs ($8.99) of chicken, lamb, and kofta are hefty and perfectly grilled. Falafel ($2.99/side; $4.49/roll-up) arrives as half-spheres of chickpea-and-parsley batter, fried wonderfully brown and crunchy. Dinner salads of tabouleh ($5.75) and fattoush ($4.50) are vibrant in flavor and brightly tinged with fresh herbs. The Azama combo plate ($7.99) heaps a platter with very good hummus, baba ghanoosh, tabouleh, falafel, and a choice of shwarma. Foul (pronounced "fool") muddames ($4.49/roll-up, $5.75/plate) is a rich, chili-like vegetarian stew of dried favas. Roll-ups are a bargain, wrapping their fillings in 12-inch grilled flatbread with lettuce, tomato, tahini, and pickles; plates include a variety of fine sides like rice pilaf or Egyptian cucumber/tomato salad, though the accompanying pitas are thin and dull. Pies ($2.99), triangular baked savory turnovers of spinach or ground beef, are a good on-the-go snack.
House-baked pastries are mostly based on phyllo, honey, and pistachios, like the konafa ($1.49), a lovely sweetened cheese pastry topped with shredded, soft-baked phyllo. Canned soft drinks ($1.25) include a deliciously pulpy Thai tamarind soda. The fine, cardamom-scented Egyptian coffee ($1.49) is reminiscent of Turkish coffee: muddy-black, sweet, and brewed in a cunning copper pot. Service can be pokey for a sandwich shop, and the six-seat window-side counter could be more scrupulously wiped, but the freshness and value of the made-to-order fare help mitigate the down-market trappings. Azama could have been just another middling, student-oriented dive, but there's no mistaking the diligence and affection that go into its food.