Budget Beat: Ararat

By Jay Bennett

Hummus, kebabs, falafel — just say the word and I'm there. So when a Budget Beat reader named Natalie said the word, I was more than willing to oblige. She suggested I hit up one of her favorite Middle Eastern spots, Ararat.

So the missus and I headed for a faraway land called Avondale to check out Ararat, named after the mountain in Turkey where Noah's Ark supposedly was found. Also, legend has it that a Roman emperor once ordered the crucifixion of thousands of Roman soldiers who'd converted to Christianity. Feel free to discuss and debate the merits of those claims on your trek out to Avondale, on Phoenix's west side.

Located in a shopping mega-complex and in the shadow of a Harkins multiplex, Ararat is a tidy little storefront, with about 10 tables and several clocks on each wall. The clocks were incorporated into some questionable, '80s-esque artwork. I really should've asked what was up with those clocks.

We started with a hummus plate, which included a generous bowl of the chickpea concoction and plenty of toasted pita triangles. I love to try hummus whenever I see it on the menu because no two hummi are the same. Ararat's version was light on the lemon and the garlic, which allowed the tahini flavor to burst forth. We thought it was great.

We got a couple of Greek salads to go with our entrees (you can upgrade from a boring ol' house salad for $1, so we decided to go whole hog). The nice-size serving of Greek salad was topped with something I'd never before seen on a Greek salad: tzatziki. (You know, the white sauce made out of yogurt, dill, lemon that is often served on a gyros or souvlaki sandwich.)

The Greek salad: Even with tzatziki, it's pretty good.

I was skeptical (because why tinker with the classic Greek salad formula?) but it turned out to be quite good, complementing the feta cheese and the tangy (though not quite lite enough) Greek dressing. The salad was cold, the veggies were crisp, and it was garnished with two yummy pepperoncinis. (I'm such a sweetheart that I donated one of mine to the missus because she likes them so much.)

She ordered the falafel sandwich because doing so is kinda like ordering a burrito at a Mexican joint — it's the standard by which the eatery can be judged. The presentation left a bit to be desired, and it couldn't really be eaten as a sandwich because the pita was too thick and not big enough in diameter. And what do you know? It was topped with tzatziki, something neither of us had seen on a falafel. Usually that sandwich is best served with a tahini-based sauce. She wasn't crazy about this innovation. On the upside, the falafel balls were spicy and moist — not dry and mealy, like at some Middle Eastern restaurants.

The falafel: You'd best eat with a fork.

I ordered the lamb kebab, which was served on a tremendous rice landscape. I recalled from Natalie's e-mailed suggestion that she really loved the rice at Ararat. Well, it was indeed light, fluffy and flavorful . . . but Holy Noah's Ark, that was a lotta rice! Anyway, the lamb was very good, cooked just right — to the point that the lamb medallions were still juicy but not too rare — and grilled with judicious use of Middle Eastern spices.

The lamb kebab: I can't eat that much rice. Can you? (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)

Neither of us finished our entrees because we were pretty stuffed — Ararat really gives you lots of grub. All in all, I liked the place and would suggest it to anyone who lives in the West Valley. It certainly would be a decent place to get a quick bite before wandering a few doors down to the Harkins theater to watch the latest in major motion pictures.

My one beef with Ararat (besides the Kenny-G-meets-Ali-Baba-and-the-40-Thieves music) would be the prices. The falafel sandwich was $9.99, which seems a bit high, especially when you can get a comparable falafel for $4 at a coupla places in downtown Phoenix. The lamb kebab was $14, which seemed a lot when you consider that so much of the plate was just rice.

Thanks to Natalie for the cool suggestion. As always, we here at Budget Beat headquarters are always looking for readers' ideas on where to dine, be they in Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, or even far-off exotic locales like Avondale.

Ararat 10210 West McDowell Avenue, Avondale 623-474-2252

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