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Best Middle Eastern

Tork's Cafe
1701 N. Country Club Road

READERS' PICK: To call this tiny place cozy would be generous. But even with the increased competition in Middle Eastern cuisine in the Old Pueblo, Tork's is a perennial favorite. The secret is outstanding food, prepared fresh and individually, as if each meal were the only one being served that day. The beef, chicken and lamb shawerma are heavenly; the stuffed grape leaves balance tartness and richness; and even the rice is perfect--each grain full and fluffy, but not sticky. But the real star here is the tabbouleh, which is so redolent with fresh chopped parsley it's like a salad and breath freshener in one. If you're claustrophobic, you can call ahead for a take-out; but come back some time for the pleasure of this family restaurant's ambiance and attention. On Tuesdays and Fridays, opt for the lamb (or vegetarian) couscous dinner special, with a tall, cool glass of mint tea--pure heaven. Makes us think that if there were a star worth following in the desert today, it would lead to Tork's.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Amidst the numerous chains popping up in the University neighborhood of late, it's comforting to see a locally owned--and relatively new--restaurant succeed. Located in the Geronimoz Plaza, Sinbad's Restaurant, 806 E. University Blvd., offers economical, casual dining. Of particular note are the many vegetarian selections such as Sinbad's mouthwatering stuffed grape leaves, creamy baba ganouj, and crispy falafel. For a quick jolt, be sure to try their Turkish coffee as well. It's far superior to the espresso to be found at those nearby corporate coffee houses.

CLUE IN: Ali Baba Restaurant, 2545 E. Speedway Blvd. We thought about focusing on the market side of the establishment, and calling it "Best Place to Pick Up a Good Lookin' Hookah." Fortunately, the good food surpassed our questionable taste: from the tabouli to the hummus, although we're not so sure about the baba ghannouge. How would you even know if it's bad? Even the shish kabob sandwich seems to harbor some secret spices that you don't normally meet for a quick lunch. This magic carpet ride on East Speedway sailed into our hearts forever when they broke out that flaky, nut-encrusted baklava. We were saddened by one thing, though: A sign by the register reads, "Fresh Lamb Here." Poor Shari Lewis has only been dead a few months, and this is what happens?

Case History

1997 Winner: Tork's Café
1996 Winner: Tork's Café
1995 Winner: Tork's Café

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