Friday, July 19, 2024

A wrap at Ali Baba near East Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Bet you didn’t know it (I didn’t), but as you approach Sullivan Station on Washington Street, much of the hillside across from Tavern at the End of the World isn’t Somerville, but part of Charlestown. That brings up the conundrum of the many “just across the line” eateries that intrigue our culinary curiosities; pushed by readers requesting looks, we’ve decided to stretch the gastro GPS every now and then.

Our first epicurean venture outside the zone is Ali Baba, a Turkish diner. Housed in a nondescript cement building next to a Dunkin’ Donuts, there’s an ample parking lot to pull into, but nothing to chain a bike to. Once inside, away from the clang-bang of the trucks and buses on Washington, you’re in a long narrow space with warm blue accents and the casual vibe of a diner car.

The menu is vast, yet focused when you break it down; kebabs, falafel, kofte (ground lamb or beef) and döner (shawarma), many coming as plate offerings or wraps. There are grape leaves, labni (thick yogurt with garlic and dill) and hummus to be had – and that golden hummus, rich and smooth, is the secret got-to-have.

When I popped in for lunch, I had my eye on enjoying a pide, a Turkish flatbread that comes with cheese, pastrami, beef and Turkish sausage varieties, but was told it would be 30 minutes or more because the oven was baking the breads of the day. (Ali Baba makes all its bread in-house, which one can tell from the warm, yeasty smell that welcomes you as you enter.) Crestfallen, I settled on a wrap – but the chicken döner, or adana? I went with the latter: juicy cubes of chicken in a pliable, thin wrap with some of that far-better-than-store-bought hummus, lettuce, tomato and onions. Simple and divinely flavorful; the hummus blends with and brings out the spice used to season the chicken chunks.

The meal came with a housemade hot sauce and a cool, creamy yogurt, dill and cucumber dressing to mete out as you please. That hot sauce is a gauntlet drop for people who like fire in their bellies. A dash, from what I sampled, is certain to pop most mortals’ eyes open and clear the sinuses. To wash it all down, I had the Ayran yogurt drink, which had the viscosity of milk and the satisfying tang of a yogurt lassie. The combo’s worth a return, and while that’s certain, I still have a pide to see about.

Ali Baba, 99A Cambridge St., near East Somerville in Charlestown


Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.