Budget Beat

Haji Baba: Lunch $10 & Under

We've been craving Haji Baba's falafel sandwich ever since it made our 100 Favorite Dishes list. A food craving is like a song that gets stuck in your head, but ten times worse: Not only can you not stop thinking about it, you can literally taste it in your mouth and your stomach's not happy until that warm fluffy pita and deep-fried falafel are inside.

Needless to say, we finally caved and grabbed a late lunch at Haji Baba, which is imperative to avoid the regular noontime rush when it's impossible to snag a table.

We order a side of hummus and a handmade pita first, mainly so we don't inhale our falafel sandwich in 2 seconds flat. The hummus is simply delicious and the handmade pita is an upgrade, but at 49 cents each, it's also one we can afford.

When our falafel sandwich gets to the table, we hastily unwrap the tinfoil, squeeze on some Siracha and ravenously devour it in less than 15 minutes.

Under the falafel's fried exterior lies a green herbaceous center:a mix of ground fava and garbanzo beans spiced to perfection. Loaded up with lettuce, tomato, pickles, tahini sauce and Siracha, this sandwich is a total disaster waiting to happen. We resorted to a fork and knife after demolishing the wrap and dripping sauce all over our face. (Luckily, we kept it off our clothes...)

If falafil isn't your thing, (insert collective gasp here) then you're still in luck. Haji Baba's schawerma (beef or chicken) is also mouthwateringly good. Try the kabab koubideh or kafta if you're craving more traditional fare. And if you're feeling extra adventurous or are simply enamored with offal, go for the lamb tongue: The menu promises, "Try it once, you will not stop talking about it."

All the sandwiches are less than $5. None of the plates are more than $8. And the combination platters range from $6.99 to $13.99, going up in price with the more meat you get.

Middle Eastern music plays in the background and a giant mural of temple ruins and sand dunes flanks the side of the place, putting us in the mood for as much Middle Eastern culture as we can ingest.

So we order up an Arabic coffee and baklava to wash down our meal. The coffee is more like espresso and comes in a crazy contraption called a dallah - a little metal coffee urn with a spout and super long handle - and you drink it from a miniature cup and saucer.

When you stop for lunch, don't forgo the experience of shopping in the attached market. You can even pick up your own copper dallah with a carved wooden handle. We just want to take everything home all the Middle Eastern goodies, because the packaging is so awesome.

The bill for our mid-afternoon feast came to just $8.91, and seeing as we won't be hungry for dinner anytime soon (if at all), that's one hell of a bargain in our book.

Haji Baba
1513 E. Apache Blvd.

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Hannah E Williams