If you’re going to eat one thing at Princess Market in Mesa, make it the hummus. You’re probably thinking, “Seriously? Hummus?” But I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never tasted hummus this good.
The chickpea dip you know will pale in comparison to the feather-light hummus at this market and restaurant. Served under a thin layer of top-quality olive oil, sprinkled with cayenne, it’s whipped until the peaks of dip stand high. It’s rich in flavor — with deep, toasted notes from sesame paste and mellow piquant garlic, while a hint of lemon cuts through layers of fat and oil. Somehow, none of it overpowers the subtle nuttiness of the chickpeas themselves.
The restaurant’s hummus has become so popular that owner Noor Alsadi has started selling it at farmers markets as well as in containers in the market adjacent to his restaurant. In addition to the plain classic hummus, you can buy tubs in flavors including cilantro jalapeño.
For 13 years, this small Middle Eastern grocery, located on Broadway Road just east of Loop 101, has been selling market staples. Alsadi’s father originally started the business, but he died last year and the son has taken over the business along with his sister, Deena. You’ll almost always find either one or both of them bouncing back and forth between the restaurant and market checkout counter.
Noor aims to focus the business more on the restaurant than the market, and though there are only 18 tables and service can be slow, the affordable Middle Eastern fare at Princess Market makes it a worthwhile stop.
Aside from the spectacular hummus, Princess Market’s falafel also makes a grand impression. The uniformly shaped fava bean and chickpea patties come fried to a deep hue of brown with a crunchy coating that gives way to a tender, green inside. A top crust of toasted sesame seeds provides rich, deep flavors that make a nice contrast to the garlic, onion, cilantro, and parsley. They’re served six to an order with a cup of tahini in the middle, and I wouldn’t blame you for wanting the whole thing for yourself. You easily could make a meal strictly of small plates — order falafel with some hummus; lebni, a yogurt cheese spread; and kibbeh, deep-fried patties of bulgur wheat and meat made slightly sweet thanks to the inclusion of allspice and cinnamon.
If you do make it beyond the appetizer section of the menu, the kebab combo is a good place to land. For $13, you’ll get a generous platter that includes hummus, salad, rice, and pita bread as accompaniments to three different kinds of meat. The surprise standout is the chicken kebab, which offers moist pieces of chicken breast with just the right amount of char. A beef kebab, with a near-buttery texture and tart citrus notes, is also good; it’s only slightly less memorable than the kofta, a ground beef kebob that evokes childhood memories of meatloaf, except better.
All three can be ordered stuffed inside sandwiches or on platters independently.
As at many ethnic restaurants, there’s a secret menu of sorts at Princess Market. Technically, it’s a breakfast menu, but unless you speak Arabic, you’re unlikely to receive it unless you ask.
Some of the offerings (you can order off the breakfast menu all day) won’t be unfamiliar. There’s hummus, scrambled eggs, falafel, and a simple breakfast egg sandwich that comes wrapped in warm pita bread. Other dishes, like the kidbah, are likely to be unrecognizable to American diners. Combining sautéed liver with tomato and onion, it makes for a hearty breakfast, if not one with mass appeal. A safer bet is the mgalgal, which swaps your choice of beef or chicken for the drier, tinny-tasting offal meat.
The hidden gems of the breakfast menu are the two types of cheese. The gamer qishta cheese lives up to the menu description comparing it to mascarpone; served with a drizzling of honey, it’s buttery, sweet, and mild. And despite its rather uninspiring name, puck cheese tastes somewhat like cream cheese, except fresher, cleaner, and with much less fat. Both are excellent scooped up with pieces of warm pita bread.
Homestyle fare also can be found during the restaurant’s Friday lunch buffet. From noon to 3 p.m., the buffet features an array of Mediterranean food including familiar dishes such as hummus, tabbouleh, and Greek salad. The spread also includes some dishes that don’t make it on the regular menu; these rarer offerings, made by Noor and Deena’s mother just once a week, included, on our visit, a dish labeled “Arabic burrito.” Unfortunately, the combination of chicken wrapped in pita bread was a little too dry.
I recommend ending your meal with a Turkish coffee. The order may take a while to arrive, but when it does, you’ll receive a brass cezve (open-topped Turkish coffeepot) filled with strong, unfiltered coffee mixed with cardamom. The woody, spicy, slightly mentholated scent of cardamom makes the perfect ending to what’s sure to have been a filling meal. If you like it enough, you can purchase it by the pound to take home, and Noor will be happy to offer brewing advice.
With a small staff, service at the mostly family-run restaurant can be slow but charming. By my second visit the server, Omar, greeted our party with a pleasant smile and offered friendly — but not obtrusive — conversation throughout the meal.
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On your way to the counter to pay, you can peruse the market’s aisles, which include an impressive selection of reasonably priced olive oils from around the Middle East and a pastry case with several types of housemade baklava.
Whatever you buy, don’t forget the hummus.
2620 West Broadway Road, Mesa