Authentic Arabic cuisine right around the corner

One bite of Habibi’s hummus sent me flying back to my mother’s kitchen on Aladdin’s rug.

Excuse the cliché, but it’s the truth. Being a native of the Middle East, I am always looking for something to remind me, even for a little bit, of home. Habibi’s Mediterranean Cuisine did that, and not just for a bit.

Just a few blocks away from Gannon University’s campus, Habibi offers a wide variety of choices satisfying each and every taste bud. The restaurant boasts Middle Eastern favorites, served with popular pita bread, like baba ghanoush (eggplant garlic dip), hummus (chickpea dip) and, of course, falafel. I probably don’t even need to say what that is.

But I will.

Falafel is perhaps the most well-known Arabic food item around the world. Whenever anybody asks me what it is, I start explaining how it’s a blend of mashed chickpeas, spiced and fried. At that point, I usually get overwhelmed because I know I’m not doing it justice and end my explanation with, “Trust me, it’s great.”

Fortunately, Habibi – which means “my love” – doesn’t need any judges or votes of confidence for its dishes. Its plates are authentic, delicious, filling and reasonably priced.

Located at 127 W. 14th St., a 10-second walk from the train station, the restaurant features appetizers ranging from $4.99-$5.99. One item on the menu offers customers the option of three appetizers of their choice for $10.99.

Each bite of Habibi’s dishes tells a different story. The restaurant’s appetizers are fresh and made to order. The entrées, too, never disappoint. Each comes with a choice of Arabic house salad or lentil soup, both equally tasty.

For $9.99, I ordered the chicken kabob, skewers of marinated chicken breast, char-grilled and served over rice with grilled vegetables. The chicken was moist and flavorful – a dish to definitely come back to.

The staff and service were great. The food arrived quickly – appetizers almost immediately – and the staff knew the menu items and were very accommodating to my and my friend’s requests for substitutions (vegetables instead of rice, etc.).

In addition to the chicken kabob entrée, the menu also offers a beef platter, a combination of beef and chicken platter, as well as vegetarian platters ($8.99-12.99).

Habibi also serves off-menu specials, made daily, ranging from Mussaqqa (eggplant tomato dish) to fish and pulled chicken entrées.

The restaurant itself feels very personal, yet casual. It’s the place to be to kick back after a long day of work or school. It boasts a bold light purple-bright yellow theme on the walls.

Several seating options are available for small and big groups with booths, tables and the ability to push tables together to accommodate larger groups.

The music is unmistakably Middle Eastern – both old and more contemporary artists can be heard through the speakers. Occasionally, you’d also hear American Top 40 songs playing at the restaurant, too.

Habibi is Samer Mustafa’s second business, after the Syrian native opened the Hookah Café, which is connected to the restaurant, in 2006.

Food is also available to Hookah customers, for those multitaskers who wish to smoke and eat at the same time.

The restaurant is looking to add items to its menu soon before its grand opening at the end of March.

The restaurant is open from noon to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is handicapped-accessible.