Ali's Roti Restaurant

A taste of Trinidadian love, with echoes of the Punjab
By MC SLIM JB  |  August 5, 2009

roti main

Watching folks eat at national fast-food outlets depresses me. Not only are they paying for advertising, but they're getting so little give-a-damn in their food. You sense that acutely after dining at a neighborhood place like Ali's Roti, a 22-seat counter-service Trinidadian restaurant at the western edge of the South End. It doesn't look like much, but the food is clearly prepared with tradition, fresh ingredients, and real care. The menu is simple: seven kinds of stewed halal meats and seafood in savory gravies, four kinds of rice, five vegetable sides, and roti: 14-inch rounds of floppy, slightly flaky whole-wheat flatbread. Pick a protein and some sides, either as a "roti" (all components rolled up loosely together in flatbread) or a "dinner" (served separately with bread on a plate). Large rotis and dinners include three sides; small ones, two sides. 

Ali's Roti, located at 1035 Tremont Street, in Roxbury, is open Monday–Wednesday, 11 am–7 pm, and Thursday–Saturday, 11 am–8 pm. Call 617.427.1079.

As Trinidadian cuisine has roots on the Indian subcontinent, many sauces boast complex spicing centering on garlic, cumin, ginger, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, and cilantro. There's gentle capsicum fire in some dishes, but heat lovers will want to add dashes of chili sauce. Curry boneless chicken ($7.74–$9.24) is breast chunks in yellow curry; the lovely chicken stew ($6.99–$8.49) is thighs, carrots, and potatoes with more Western flavors like fresh thyme. Curry beef ($8.24–$9.24) is stew meat in brown curry, while stewed oxtail ($8.74–$10.74) is another more Western-leaning preparation. Curry shrimp ($9.99–$11.99) features plump tail-on specimens in bright yellow curry. Kingfish steak ($9.99–$11.99) features big fillets with a lot of sautéed onions. Curry goat ($8.24–$9.24) is especially gorgeous: rich, fatty, dark, and slightly gamy. (Watch out for small bones.)

Rice options include an annatto-tinged version with corn and peas, paprika-reddened rice with pinto beans, and the spicy, substantial Ali's pelau, with cubes of chicken thigh. Other sides include mashed butternut squash (obviously fresh), mild cabbage with carrots, and soft-cooked, wonderful versions of potatoes and chickpeas, both with spice blends strongly recalling North India. Soft-cooked green beans are slightly fiery with a dusting of dried chili. Even a small roti is hefty enough for a very filling (yet healthy-feeling) meal, though its lacks the tight-rolled quality of a burrito; unroll the foil wrapper carefully and use a fork. Drink options include sinus-clearing Jamaican ginger beer ($1.65) and American sodas ($.95). Service is unfailingly sweet and helpful, another stark contrast with corporate chains. In all, it's easy to feel the love in the cooking at Ali's — maybe enough to make you swear off that soulless mass-market junk forever.

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