Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Middle East Cafe - a hidden treasure

A Lebanese friend recommended Middle East Cafe to us. He said that Lebanese cooking tends to vary by village, and that this place serves food like his own family's cuisine.

And boy, his family must eat well. My favorites are the Cabbage Rolls. Somehow the perfect balance of tenderness and seasonings. You can get it with meat or vegetarian (in both cases, the filling has a lot of rice -- so if you get the combo, this can replace a rice dish). My other favorite is the Baked Kibbee -- grain and lamb, and pine nuts.

One great thing about this place is that they have a Combo Special, where you pick three items for $6.50. The list includes: Grape Leaves (Meat or Vegi), Baked Kibbee, Meat or Spinach Pie, Shwarma (that's the big roll of gyro meat: Chicken or Beef), Cabbage Rolls, Burgul & Tomatoes, Mujadara (lentils and Cracked wheat), Hummous or Baba Ghanouge, Hashwi (rice, chicken and ground beef), Tabouli (salad of parsley, cracked wheat and tomato).

The worst thing about the place is that's it's hard to find. (Once you know it's there, it's easy, so give it a try.) They are just off West Saginaw on the way out to Lansing Mall, tucked in behind a Tuffy Muffler shop a block or so west of Waverly Road, on the north side of Saginaw.

They are open 8am-10pm weekdays but not weekends. (Hey, the owner has to have time to run to the grocery store once in a while!)

801 W Thomas L Pkwy, Lansing, MI, 48917. 323-9009

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mexico To Go

1825 East Michigan Avenue. 203-4071

A friend of mine who loves authentic Mexican food has been bugging me to try this place. I did and I was pleased. Mexico To Go is cheap, tasty, quick. Makes me hungry just recalling the meal.

They had a three tacos for 2.75 special going on at the time. I had them give me one of each type of filling -- ground beef, chicken and carne asada (stewed beef). They gave me a basket of chips and a squeeze bottle of salsa to go with. (CORRECTION: I meant carne guisada -- which is moist and stewed. They also have excellent carne asada -- roasted chunks of meat, like fajita style. This costs more. But it's also really good.)

The salsa here is kind of mellow -- yes it has a little zip, but it isn't saturated in cumin and sharp flavors. While usually I like all the flavor I can get, I found that this more subtle flavor really brought out the flavor of the other ingredients -- and the other ingredients are choice.

The chicken and carne asada in particular have a great stewed flavor and texture. (The ground beef was okay, but not all that exciting.) The tortillas were fluffy corn tortillas which they had thrown on the grill to heat for me. (If they don't ask if you want the tortillas grilled or heated, be sure to ask, it brings out the flavor and texture.) The chips reminded me a lot of what you get at El Azteco.

I didn't ask for any extras. I went with what the waitress suggested for my first test drive. They may have a hotter sauce if you ask for it, and you could certainly ask for jalapenos if you need more bite.

They are located at 1825 East Michigan Avenue, a couple blocks east of Marshall. (The location on Trowbridge has closed down.)