Cafe Barada’s menu, with options for all, preserves taste of Lebanon deliciously

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The chicken thigh special is one of 25 rotating specials at Cafe Barada in North Cambridge. (Photo: Cafe Barada)
The chicken thigh special is one of 25 rotating specials at Cafe Barada in North Cambridge. (Photo: Cafe Barada)

Cafe Barada has roots in the Middle East and Arlington, where it opened in 1985. Then 9/11 hit, and its business plummeted. Most people did not know that the owners are Lebanese Christians.

121113i Guttman Cafe BaradaThe cafe moved to its current spot, on Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge, and a recent renovation almost doubled seating.

Throughout this, Cafe Barada’s owners have maintained the quality and taste of their Lebanese and Middle Eastern food.

Linda has always said they have the best hummus around. It is smooth with a mild garlic and lemon flavor, but with plenty of sesame tahini. It is served with a drizzle of olive oil and pita on the side. Make sure you order a hummus appetizer plate to share. We have ordered it to go and taken it to parties on many occasions.

Uri is a big fan of their falafel. The appetizer plate comes with three large falafel balls, which are very crisp and with just the right spicy flavor. Break them up, drizzle some tahini sauce on them and eat them with some tomato and lettuce in a piece of pita.

The falafel can be ordered in a sandwich or as a side on other dishes. Cafe Barada makes very good versions of other classic Middle Eastern appetizers, such as baba ghannouj (roasted eggplant dip) and tabbouleh, a salad of bulgar wheat and herbs.

Speaking of salads, don’t miss out on those. Cafe Barada makes its own olive oil, lemon, garlic and mint dressing, which is the highlight of these dishes. You can get Syrian salads in a side dish size or a larger one with additions such as grilled meats or falafel. Good feta cheese is usually on the salads but can be omitted if you don’t want dairy. A delicious fattoush salad is mixed with sumac and crisp pieces of pita chips.

For entrees, you have a choice of grilled kebabs or various stews and specials. Kebabs can be chicken, beef or lamb and come with rice pilaf and grilled veggies (usually onion, squash and tomato). They are marinated and grilled properly to your taste. The meats also can be ordered in sandwiches that are wrapped in pita and mixed with Syrian salad.

What used to be a special and is now a standard stew on the menu is bazella – one of our favorites. It is a mix of carrots and peas with chunks of tender lamb in a mildly spicy tomato sauce. It comes with rice pilaf, which is perfect for sopping up the sauce. The other special entrees rotate from a list of 25, and your server will tell you which ones are available that night. We have been on their mailing list, and the cafe will notify you if your favorite special is on the menu.

Special diets, such as vegetarian or vegan, are easily accommodated. Most of the food is already vegetarian, and pretty much the only dairy used is feta cheese, which can be omitted. When we dined there with a group, one woman ordered koosa, a vegetarian stew of zucchini, carrots, peppers and chickpeas cooked in a Lebanese tomato sauce. The flavors were beautifully blended. It is served with rice pilaf. There are also many vegan entrees, specials and side dishes, so this is a great place to go with a group with different food interests.

Desserts are few but classic. Of course, a sticky baklava is at the top of the list.

Cafe Barada has a beer and wine license, too, and several beers on tap and more in bottles. Also served is a good selection of Stewart’s sodas (yum!) as well as sparkling water.

When you go, bring cash; credit cards are not accepted. Parking is on the street, but there are meters all up and down Massachusetts Avenue, so it isn’t a big problem in the evenings. Lunchtime may be a bit tighter for parking.

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In their occasional Bread & Butter column, Linda and Uri Guttman review dining experiences in and around Cambridge.

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