I have a close friend that grew up in North Attleboro, MA, so I’m familiar with the area. I’m also familiar with the fact that there isn’t much in the way of diverse cuisine there other than chain or fast food style restaurants. That’s why I was so excited when I heard that a new Middle Eastern restaurant opened up. As with all Middle Eastern restaurants I was more than a little skeptical about the quality of the food because so many are just awful even though they remain few and far between. Nevermind the fact that Habibi’s was opening in an area that isn’t known for its culinary diversity.
Quickly, I learned that Habibi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen makes all of their food in-house. That’s a great sign, but after trying their food, I also discovered that they make that food simply by letting the ingredients speak for themselves. That makes Habibi’s one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants to open in the area and is in the top three for me among truly authentic Middle Eastern restaurants in Southern New England. For those that don’t know, the word, “Habibi,” means “My beloved,” so it’s a fitting name for a restaurant that people are sure to love.
Habibi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen
11 S Washington St.
North Attleboro MA, 02760
Service and Atmosphere
There’s nothing really very fancy about walking into Habibi’s. The decor is simple with a TV playing music videos, folding tables covered with picnic style table cloths, and metal folding chairs for most of the seating. Nonetheless, it’s bright, clean, cozy, and welcoming. The wait staff is very friendly and willing to answer any questions about the menu. It’s like walking into a mom and pop pizza shop that serves quality dine-in food (or takeout).
So many Middle Eastern restaurants tend to rely on the fact that there aren’t too many restaurants serving their type of cuisine and therefore deliver sub-par food in the hopes that no one will really notice when there aren’t too many other options. That’s not the case at Habibi’s at all. In fact, I can happily say that Habibi’s is one of the few Middle Eastern restaurants that actually does seem to make all of their food in-house and from scratch. Their food is not only masterfully cooked, but delicious as well. I particularly enjoyed the fact that, unlike some Lebanese or Middle Eastern restaurants, Habibi’s lets the food itself shine rather than drowning mediocre preparations with heavy oil, vinegar, and lemon. I may go so far as to say that Habibi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen may be one of the best, authentic, Middle Eastern restaurants in the area.
Complimentary Bread and Zatar (Za’atar) Spice Dip – The meal started with a simple complimentary plate of delicious Lebanese flat bread (different from the pocket pita that many people know) and a dip composed of zatar spices mixed with oil. I thought it was a bold choice to start the meal this way because many people aren’t use to this kind of spice. Nonetheless, I enjoyed that it was different (as well as lighter) than the usual tahini or hummus starter many places give and even saved some of the bread for the rest of the meal because it was so good for dipping.
Salad – As part of our entree order, the Chicken Shawarma came with a salad. The salad ingredients didn’t really have anything that would distinguish it from a good salad anyone could make at home. The light homemade dressing, however, showcased not only skill, but a comforting sense of home. My mother and mother in-law both make a similar dressing for salads at home that consists of salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic, and some lemon/lime. It’s just a nice, simple salad that I’m sure many people from many cultures have tasted at home.
Soujouk – I can’t say enough about this soujouk dish because it was easily my favorite thing I ate at Habibi’s. The soujouk is cured, spicy, beef and lamb sausage. I’ve had soujouk numerous times before, but I’ve never had it made like this or this good. The menu simply describes the dish as, “Beef and lamb cured sausages sauteed with onions and tomato,” but this doesn’t do it justice. The soujouk comes out sliced and sizzling in the ceramic pot where it’s sauteed. The sausage is covered with onions and tomatoes mixed with oil (and maybe some grease from the soujouk), but also topped with some kind of creamy sauce. I’m not sure if it was labne or what, but I loved everything about it. The sausages were great, but the sauce (even though it’s a bit oily) blew me away. I kept dipping my bread in it and sopping it up until it was all gone. Highly recommended.
Mezza Sampler – Every time I go to a restaurant that I’m excited about for the first time, I want to try everything. Luckily, Habibi’s had a sampler plate that showcased many of the items I wanted to try. It had hummus, baba ghanouj/ghanoush (a smoky roasted eggplant dip), falafel, vegetarian grape leaves, and spinach pies. All of the items on the dish were obviously homemade. No jarred hummus or boxed falafel mix here. I’ll go through the sampler items one at a time:
– Vegetarian Grape Leaves – About 90% of the time, I will never order vegetarian grape leaves when I go out. Aside from the fact that I prefer them with meat, the other, bigger reason, is that most vegetarian grape leaves served by restaurants are from a can. That means they’re cold, slimy, oily, sour, soggy, and just awful. Habibi’s is the first place I’ve ever been that makes their own vegetarian grape leaves. While still not my favorite, I thought they did a very good job with a vegetarian version. They also have a meat filled version, which I hope to try next time.
– Hummus and Baba Ghanouj – The hummus and baba ghanouj were outstanding. Both dips weren’t artificially smooth, which signals homemade. The hummus flavors were perfectly balanced between the chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and cumin. The eggplant stood out as actual delicious eggplant in the baba ghanouj, so that it was unlike any preparation I’ve had, but still a perfect baba ghanouj.
– Falafel – So many places have terrible falafel, but Habibi’s falafel really shined because it’s light, crispy, and fluffy. My next statement is a bold one for anyone familiar with the restaurant, East Side Pockets in Providence, RI, but Habibi’s falafel are as good as East Side Pockets who are widely renowned for their original style of these fried chickpea fritters. In fact, the similarities are surprising. I will also say that by itself, the texture is perfect, but the falafel is a bit on the blander side compared to most traditional falafel, which is more heavily spiced. Nonetheless, that makes it great for people with sensitive palates or who just like a more subtle falafel, dipping, or including in a sandwich. I enjoyed Habibi’s version and remain surprised that they had such good falafel. I’ll surely be back for more. Much more.
– Spinach Pies – Lastly, the spinach pies were also homemade very simply as well. The outside dough of these mini spinach pies had a nice firm texture that tasted good. Personally, I thought the spinach filling could have used something more like onion and salt to make it a bit more like the Lebanese pies I’ve had before. They were a little plain for me, but my wife enjoyed them.
Chicken Shawarma – While the chicken shawarma is also made in house, it is important to note that it isn’t true shawarma where it is carved off of a rotating vertical rotisserie spit. Our server freely admitted this, but proudly announced that they cut the meat and spice it in-house themselves to make it fresh to order. The chicken entree itself comes plated on an open triangle of thin pocket pita, but the entree version isn’t a sandwich, which is also an option. The dish comes with french fries or rice and when I order an entree again, I may opt for the fries over the rice next time. The pilaf style rice was ok, but not necessarily my favorite. The chicken was cooked very nicely and heavily spiced. The allspice (I think) was a little heavy, but in the end it all worked very well. I enjoyed the side of pickled vegetables that broke up the flavors of the dish. The chicken shawarma, unlike the beef or lamb shawarma that comes with tahini, comes with a side dollop of a creamy garlic puree. I’ve had this puree before and usually it is absurdly pungent and overpowers everything it touches. Habibi’s version of this unique garlic sauce/dip is perfect because it’s milder, which makes it very edible, but still offers a nice bite of garlic.
Habibi’s Middle Eastern Kitchen is a breath of fresh air not only because it brings something new to the somewhat uninspired culinary landscape of North Attleboro, MA, but it also delivers truly homemade and authentic Middle Eastern food. I highly recommend Habibi’s as an example of what Middle Eastern food should be like for first timers and as a great place to visit for long time lovers of Middle Eastern cuisine.