Ibrahim Abbasi loves to feed people. He tells stories about former customers in his longtime Hoboken store, Ali Baba on Washington Street, who asked him to ship his food across the country after they have moved out of town.
“They come back for their anniversaries, or they ask me to send food to them,” he said. “I had one woman in Texas whose sister said to her, ‘If you don’t bring the chicken kebab sandwiches I won’t pick you up at the airport.’ ”
Abbasi is part of a large family in Bergen County. They always held gatherings with lots of food. Family members used to tell him and his mother that they should start a restaurant.
So they did. Ali Baba Middle Eastern Restaurant opened on Hoboken’s main drag in 1983. The city wasn’t as busy back then as it is today, but Abbasi’s store is one of the rare establishments that has survived all the changes in town.
It’s open from Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Discriminating diners choose his small, quiet, family-run establishment for lunch or dinner. “It’s the consistency and quality of food,” he said. “And the quantity. I challenge anybody to come in here and leave hungry.”
Abbasi said he often gives extra food to his regulars, and that a customer once called him and said she needed both a vegetarian and a meat platter for a gathering that night. He quickly accommodated her request.
“Our plates speak for themselves,” he said. “People come back again and again.”
On a recent quiet Tuesday, a new customer from Newport in Jersey City stopped in, telling Abbasi that he had made up his mind to try the restaurant that day. Already seated was a regular customer who said he had been coming there for 20 years.
Abbasi said that the first day he opened up in 1983, the restaurant opened at 1 p.m. and was sold out of the food by 8 p.m.
All the food is fresh at Ali Baba. Abbasi even makes the desserts.
“Everything is prepared fresh on a daily basis,” Abbasi said last week. “The quality of the meats and chicken is top-notch. We pay top dollar for the cuts we use.”
Popular dishes include the chicken shish kebabs and the vegetarian platter, which includes the typical Middle Eastern vegetable spreads: baba ganoush (eggplant), hummus (chick peas), tabooly (parsely and cucumbers), and fulimadams (crushed fava beans).
Those who are health conscious appreciate the fact that the meat and vegetables are grilled, and that there are so many vegetarian options.
On a recent visit, the Reporter tried a meat platter over rice, and the vegetarian grand combo. The meat platter contained garlicky chunks of grilled lamb and chicken, and was delectable. There were several sauces, including baba ganoush and yogurt sauce, to moisten each bite.
The vegetarian dish was also delicious and filling. With balls of falafel (fried chick peas), it was solid enough that you wouldn’t feel you were missing out on meat.
The desserts were worth trying too: baklava (thin pastry dough with nuts and sweet syrup in it), wet honey cake (made with tahini, coconut, and yogurt), chocolate rolls with almond inside, and mabrouma with pistachios. Abbasi said he likes the honey cake with Turkish coffee. The restaurant also serves cappuccino and tea.
The menu lists various items that can be ordered in a sandwich, plate, or vegetarian platter. For instance, one can order hummus (chick pea sauce with tahini, garlic and lemon) for $4.75 in a sandwich, $5.50 in a plate, or $8.75 in a platter.
The same goes for the meat – which includes chicken tikka (hot and spicy), sweet chicken, tandoori chicken, rib-eye steak, lamb chops, beef, and several other options. Diners can also enjoy grilled vegetables on a sandwich or platter.
There are two vegetarian platters, which make for a great, healthy meal. They contain the right mix of sauces and fresh veggies. They cost $12.50 and $13.50.
Other entrees include meat platters, a lamb stew, and a “Harley Davidson Riders” special with grilled, marinated chicken breast and rice.
The restaurant also serves up soups and salads, using ingredients like potatoes, spinach, and chicken. Salads run from $5.50 to $12.50. Soups include split pea and chicken and run from $4.25 to $5.
Side orders run from a spinach pie ($4.95) to grilled feta cheese in a pita ($3.25) to vegetarian or meat vine leaves ($3).
For a while, Abbasi had a second location at Newark Street, but it wasn’t as successful as the original. His mother was involved in that one, but she passed away in 1995, and he closed up shop. Now he works primarily out of his upper Washington Street digs.
He’s looking forward to meeting new customers and continuing to serve the regulars.
Ali Baba is located at 912 Washington St. The phone number is (201) 653-5319. It’s open from Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. They also deliver through Delivery.com.
Caren Matzner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org