Dining

Middle East melange

Amena offers the moistest falafel balls in Vegas - that’s a good thing

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Amena Bakery’s chicken shawarma sandwich
Photo: Beverly Poppe

Two restaurants using the buzzword “Mediterranean” to describe their respective cuisines sit in a modest upper Charleston Boulevard mall. Both of them serve food that is more Middle Eastern than anything else, but that label still carries a stigma as far as owners are concerned—or so it would seem.

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Amena Bakery and Deli
2101 S. Decatur Blvd., 382-1010.
Mon.-Thu. 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun noon-6 p.m.
Suggested dishes: veggie soup, $3.99; falafel, $7.29; chicken shawarma, $8.79.

Amena serves dishes from owner Amer Hamed’s native Israel, and indeed, there are Israelis here at any given moment, chatting away in Hebrew and eating shawarmas. The restaurant also doubles as a bakery. Fresh pita bread, hot rolls and delicious pastries and meat pies are made on the premises daily, and that includes Saturdays.

I haven’t had better, moister falafel balls than these here in Vegas. They are made from scratch, rather than from a powdered mix, out of garbanzo beans and spices, and have the light crunch of homemade street fare in Tel Aviv. Shawarma, shards of spiced, marinated meat, can be chicken or beef here, tender, flavorful and redolent of allspice.

You can have any or all of these items in a pita, or as a combo plate, served with Israeli condiments such as hot sauce, pickles, cabbage, tomatoes, marinated onion and preserved lemons. The taste is authentic and the portions plentiful. One combo plate makes a terrific lunch for two.

Soups and salads are also generously done here, although you’d better get used to the idea of eating them from plastic cups and plates. The veggie soup has fragrant spices and a good amount of chunked carrots and potatoes, while the heartier lentil soup uses onions and a hint of hot spice to make its point.

Amena salad is similar to a Greek salad, if it had walnuts added to the mix. Tabbouleh, a Lebanese specialty, is composed of chopped parsley, bulgur wheat, tomatoes, mint and green onions, all mingling in a dressing made from lemon juice and olive oil.

The menu advertises specialty breads such as za-atar, a flatbread topped with a paste of thyme, sesame seeds and spices, and a specials board trumpets Israeli comfort foods such as shakshuka, eggs scrambled with tomatoes and spices. The restaurant also serves pizza, although I didn’t have the chance to try one.

For dessert, there are several varieties of baklava, and also an original creation called cake pudding, a plastic dish containing a moist cake topped with creamy custard. There is also rum cake pudding, if you prefer. Be patient, whatever you choose. These guys are on Mediterranean time, that’s for sure.

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