Advertised as “healthy Mediterranean cuisine,” the food at the charming Alhambra is as enticing as it is diverse.
From gazpacho and guacamole to gyro and Greek fries, the nearly 100 items are about evenly divided between classic Spanish dishes and Middle Eastern staples. The two cultures haven’t co-existed this comfortably since before the Inquisition.
With such an ambitious menu it’s tough to do everything well, but there is plenty to satisfy.
Owner Antonio Awais, a Coral Gables High grad whose mother is Spanish and father is Lebanese, hired two chefs to satisfy his hankering for the foods of his heritage.
The West Kendall strip-mall space is charmingly outfitted with arched mirrors, rustic tiles, wrought-iron hanging lamps and cozy brick-colored booths. On weekends, a talented belly dancer entertains a family-friendly crowd that bridges cultures and generations.
At night, the young servers in tight black jeans seemed more personable and capable than the daytime crew, but all are pleasant. (And most are more proficient in Spanish than English.)
Within moments of sitting down we were enjoying toasted pita bread strips and a super salty Kalamata olive tapenade while looking over the encyclopedic menu.
This is a great place to come with a crowd so you can start with the generous mezze platter, a six-sided star plate beautifully laden with smooth and creamy hummus, whipped babaganoush, golden falafel, tabbouleh, tahini and tender vegetarian grape leaves. It’s a meal in itself.
Nicely browned kibbe is studded with pine nuts, but too-fishy bacalao fritters are overwhelming.
A signature Bistec Alhambra, a 12-ounce rib-eye, makes a satisfying dinner that could feed two. Likewise the plump Pollo Alhambra, a gorgeously roasted, amber-colored half chicken, is a treat with its crispy onion rings, shallots and sautéed button mushrooms.
Lamb options are limited, but what there is satisfies. The kebabs are juicy and the chops, though thin, are tasty.
Several side dishes are worth sampling, too. The nutty jasmine rice mixed with fried vermicelli and the garlicky couscous with fresh spinach are well handled.
Potatoes come in many forms, but the best is the petite patatas bravas — cubed in dice-size squares, nicely crisped outside and fluffy in the center — drizzled with pepper sauce and flavorful aioli.
For those who prefer a different take, the Greek fries are addictive. Crisp, pencil-thin sticks are topped with creamy feta cheese and loads of fresh parsley and a touch of lime. Sadly, though, ours were barely warm on both visits.
Salads are big, bright and fresh if a bit generic with anemic tomatoes and commercial dressing.
However, the Middle Eastern desserts had me considering a drive-back. Skip the shipped-in cheesecake but do not miss the flaky baklava, especially the nutty walnut version.
Wines and beers are run-of-the-mill, but this place is anything but. The friendly owner and manager are always on hand. And you should rely on them for advice navigating the menu.