Best of Tucson 95

Best Middle-Eastern Restaurant

Tork's 1701 N. Country Club Road

READERS' PICK: Tork's is a small, six-table restaurant where you'll feel like you've been invited into someone's cozy kitchen for a meal. Exquisite smells drift from the kitchen. A menu, equally divided between meat dishes and vegetarian fare, offers everything from sandwiches to complete dinners. Shawerma, made from lamb, chicken or beef, sautéed with green peppers, onions and tomatoes, makes for a filling, delicious and inexpensive sandwich. Vegetarians can lunch on falafel-stuffed pita. The dinner selections include kabob, as well as stuffed cabbage, zucchini or grape leaves. Sambusa--pastry-wrapped rice, onion and fava beans fried in a cast-iron skillet--is a taste treat. Dinner specials are featured on some evenings, including couscous served with seven types of vegetables. Don't miss the baklava.

READERS' POLL RUNNER UP: What holds the cooking of the Middle Eastern palace and peasant together are the sinuous smells of coriander, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon, the perfumes of saffron and rosewater, and the textures of rice, spinach and eggplant. When Mukhtar Chatila, chef at Le Mediterranean Restaurant, 4955 N. Sabino Canyon Road, was young, he worked at his family's sea-side restaurant in Beirut. At Le Mediterranean, Chatila oven bakes eggplant, mixing the coarse chop with a mash of sesame seed called tahini, a bit of fresh lemon juice and garlic. Served as baba ganoush it is a fine start with warm pieces of the layered pita bread. Order it with hummos, the coarse mash of chick peas also with sesame oil, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, and you have the start of a meal to satisfy the most exacting vegetarian palette. The smells that emanate from Le Mediterranean's kitchen tantalize beyond these staple dishes. Predominating is the perfume from a mix of spices. At Le Mediterranean, zatar is thyme combined with roasted sesame, pomegranate seeds, a bit of cumin and cardamom, a spice as ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cooking as it is treasured. Le Mediterranean's coffee, redolent with cardamon, is an ancient treat for desert dwellers from the Sahara to Sonora.

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