Budget Beat: Persian Garden Café

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I've gone on record as saying that it's not hard to find good Middle Eastern food in the Valley. Choosing among all the great places has become the difficult part. Now, I'll have to add

Persian Garden is at 15th Avenue and Thomas Road in a busy little complex that also houses an awesome-looking hamburger place. When some co-workers and I recently trekked up to West Thomas from our downtown office in search of Persian Garden, we saw the hamburger place and almost called an audible, choosing greasy over healthful. The five of us decided to leave it up to the vagaries of a good old-fashioned coin toss. Obviously, PG won, and our arteries have "heads" to thank.

Persian Garden (and Middle Eastern food, in general) is all about healthful eating. Scrawled on a whiteboard next to the kitchen are a few PG "about us" nuggets: It was the first local restaurant to 100 percent, in 2003. It is the premier vegan-specific restaurant in Phoenix. All of PG's food is macrobiotically balanced.

Now, one of the first rules of journalism is: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." I guess I'm guilty of dereliction of duty because I'm not going to check out Persian Garden claims. But, hey, this is Budget Beat, not Woodward and Bernstein. All I'm going to say is the food was delicious and the ingredients were fresh. 

Many of the staples of Middle Eastern food are on the menu: hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, kebabs, gyros, pita, baba gannouj, dolmas . . . Is your mouth watering yet? 

For starters, the five of us dove into a plate of hummus. The great thing about hummus is that everyone makes it a little bit differently, but no matter how it's prepared, it's almost always good. At Persian Garden, it was more on the creamy side, which is how I prefer it. It's how my Uncle Walid, a native of Syria, makes it. At Persian Garden, the hummus has a real kick to it -- not garlicky, but spicy. We all loved the veggie garnish and the whole wheat pita that came with it.

I ordered the falafel because it's just such a standard dish at Middle Eastern joints. I wanted to see how this one stacked up against others I'd had in the area. The falafel balls were flavorful but a little overcooked. However, the auxiliary elements of the sandwich made up for the dry, hard falafel balls -- great-tasting tomatoes and romaine, tart pickle slices, a generous coating of tahini, and the sandwich's secret weapon: a wonderful mixture of fresh dill, parsley and cilantro. The falafel was $10, but huge. I didn't eat anything the rest of the day.

The best deal to be had at Persian Garden on this visit was the $7.99

A couple of members of my party ordered the chicken kebab and raved about it. It was $14 and I didn't get to try it, so I won't write about it, except to say these two guys pretty much inhaled the dish.

Persian Garden is the not cheapest Middle Eastern option in town (not by a longshot). But it is definitely affordable, service is friendly, and the dining room is clean, welcoming, and tastefully appointed. It's great for a long lunch or a night out for dinner when you want a quiet, nice, sit-down experience without dropping a bundle of money. And, as if you couldn't tell, the food is most excellent.

If you know of some Budget Beat-y restaurants I should write about, drop me a line at jay.bennett@newtimes.com.

Persian Garden Café
1335 West Thomas Road
Hours: Lunch, Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday

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