I hope you’re ready to make weird sex noises.
Thinking about Basil Mediterranean Cafe, I was having trouble finding a way to truly sum up the experience and then I remembered what happens every time I visit this little Uptown 23rd restaurant: people get vocal.
And I know right now you thinking I’m joking, which is fair, because I joke around a lot. But this ain’t that. People at Basil Med really do make some food-gasm noises on the regular. Try it yourself and you’ll see/hear it, too.
It’s not a fancy place, but they have put in plenty of work to transform what was a fast food restaurant into a welcoming space with hints of decoration reminiscent of a Middle Eastern bazaar.
Basil is one of many reclamation projects along NW 23rd Street. It used to be littered with fast food chains (and a few are still hanging on), but the last decade has seen a lot of turnover with locally owned businesses filling in the empty storefronts. I mention this only because it’s part of what makes Basil so comfortable. The layout is one you’ve no doubt experienced before, but with food that’s so much better.
Speaking of, let’s get to it:
Do yourself this favor: Take a friend. When you visit Basil Mediterranean Cafe for dinner and get two entrees, you also get free hummus. And let’s not pretend for a second that you weren’t planning on getting hummus.
The classic hummus ($4.50) is wonderful, all creamy and ever-so-slightly sweet, but I think the pesto basil hummus ($5.25) and “world-famous” spicy hummus ($5.25) are worth the upgrade. Particularly the spicy hummus, which--look, I don’t know where in the world this is supposed to be famous, but it’s very good. A ton of spicy chili peppers are ground up with cilantro into a gorgeous paste that kicks the hummus up several notches.
For an appetizer that doubles as a meal, the always delightful vegetable sampler ($9.95) is one of the best ways to try lots of dishes at a pretty friendly price. It comes with dolmas (aka stuffed grape leaves), falafel (fried chickpea patties), spanakopita (cheesy spinach pie in phyllo dough), grilled asparagus, pita, hummus and tzatziki sauce. Even meat enthusiasts will walk away from this dish feeling quite sated.
Gyros are like sex and pizza--I want them, but I’ll probably have to pay. Also the thing where even bad ones are good. Well, I don’t think Basil’s gyro ($5.25) is anywhere close to bad. I’m not going to blow smoke up your shawarma hole and say it’s the best you’ll ever have, but it’s definitely at or near the top of my list every time I visit. Lots of quality, tender meat. Nice mix of salad. Loads of tzatziki sauce. There’s nothing not to love.
There are variations, as well, and I think the one I’m most likely to recommend is governor gyro ($5.95), which reminds me a bit of The Sultan from the late, lamented Gyros by Ali. This pairs gyro meat with grilled chicken, sauteed red onions and bell peppers and the rest of the usual salad on top of a pita. It’s a lot and you’re liable to make a mess, but you won’t mind.
I also highly recommend the slightly more European gyro delivery system of the gyros platter ($9.50), especially for a more leisurely evening meal. You get a pile of salad, some rice, pita and a mountain of freshly shaved and fried gyro meat. Eat with a fork! You might like it!
In the same vein is the ieskandar kabob ($9.95), which I loved, but it was also a lot.
You know when you get a dish that’s very tasty, but then, as you’re eating it, it becomes more than you can handle? That’s ieskandar kabob. The gyro meat is cooked in a richly spiced garlic tomato sauce and served with rice, yogurt, sauteed bell peppers and pita. I loved it until I couldn’t. This is a good one to share.
Have you noticed that all these dishes are priced very reasonably? Even the combo chicken shish kabob and kubideh ($14.95) is a steal. The chicken is tender, thanks to being marinated in yogurt, and those sugars tend to caramelize on the grill for some really addictive flavors. Kubideh is a spiced ground beef skewer, like a long Mediterranean meatball. Lots of places screw up kubideh, leaving it dry and flavorless. Basil nails it every time.
There’s also a skewer of grilled vegetables, tons of rice and lots of lovely tzatziki sauce.
Chicken bandarri ($9.50) is another dinner-time dish, for when you have a few minutes to eat without shoving everything in your mouth and driving at warp speed back to your office. Here you get juicy chicken thighs cooked in that rice garlic tomato sauce and served over rice with pita bread. If that doesn’t sound good to you, I don’t know what I could write that would change your mind.
Finally, the desserts. Basil serves these cake rolls for ~$5 in a variety of flavors. Strawberry and chocolate are good. Pistachio cannot be beat. I know it’s useless to say, “Save room for dessert,” so instead I’ll just tell you to get over it and feel almost sick from being over-full for a bit. Totally worth it.