Mini-Review of Tarek’s Cafe
December 8, 2006 § Leave a comment
3045 Robie St. [Near the ATV studios]
Tarek’s is the kind of inexpensive restaurant every neighborhood — and every city — should have. The staff are friendly and efficient, the steady turnover makes for some great people-watching, the menu is a touch eclectic, and the food is terrific.
Its location on Robie Street doesn’t seem ideal at first. Tarek’s is located in a little strip mall along with a Subway, a drycleaner, and a Money Mart. If you decide to eat in, you can sit at one of eight or nine tables, or at a short counter. It’s a friendly, colorful room, though, and the menu is expansive.
Tarek is Syrian, so much of the food has a Middle Eastern bent, but local specialties abound, too. There’s always a soup of the day, the usual submarine sandwiches, and friends tell us that the fishcakes are delicious. But frankly, we’re usually here for the falafel. Well, all the Middle Eastern food, actually. But falafel first and foremost.
It’s a crime that Ray’s in Scotia Square always wins Best Falafel in The Coast’s Best of Food Reader’s Poll every single year. We prefer Tarek’s. Dense, crusty (but not too crusty) balls of chickpeas and cracked wheat, seasoned lightly with parsley, cumin, and a complex blend of spices; these are the falafel you should try if you’ve never eaten them before. It’s a high benchmark to which all other fast food should aspire.
The tender, two-bite grape leaves are stuffed with a flavorful rice mixture, as are the cabbage rolls. The tahini sauce that accompanies everything is just tangy enough, and the hummus is the best we’ve ever had — earthy, rich and smooth as silk. Tarek’s is a great place to be vegetarian, because you have so much to try, and every vegetable in the place is crunchy and fresh.
There’s always a pasta and a selection of salads: a lemony tabbouleh, heavy on the parsley, as it should be; a broccoli salad flecked with red pepper; two types of Greek salad (“authentic” and “traditional”), savoury rice and vegetables, to mention just a few. All are all worthy sides to the that leave you feeling virtuous and satisfied. We also find ourselves craving the chicken kebabs, and finding an excuse to visit the north end during lunch hour.
As a former restauranteur, it’s also a pleasure to see how well Tarek’s is run. The counter staff work with such economy of motion and efficiency, they make short-order cooking seem graceful. Complex orders are finished fast, and they look like they have fun doing it.
And it’s a good thing the staff work together so well, because this place is always busy. Just by coincidence, my partner and I usually stop in, starving, at odd times— maybe 10:45 am or 3:30 pm— and the small eating area is often three-quarters full. It’s a broad mix: art college and engineering students, young families, businessmen and women, manual laborers, and journalists from ATV, which is just up the street.
But Tarek’s greatest boon is the family atmosphere. Everyone seems to know each other, and they’d like to get to know you, too. The counter staff banter with each other and the regulars, and they genuinely care that everyone who comes in has a filling, delicious meal.
Tarek’s depends on word-of-mouth advertising from their loyal customers, and their customers are happy to provide it. Because Tarek’s is a neighborhood restaurant of the very best kind.
— for Infomonkey