- 3713 Klondike Ln., Louisville, KY, 40218
- (502) 454-4406
- Overall User Rating:
- (2 ratings)
- 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
The first time I visited Alwatan Restaurant, back in 2005, I described it as a “little button of a restaurant.” Back then there were three tables tucked into a tiny space — but the food was first class.
In the years since, Alwatan has moved and grown, and the little strip of Klondike Lane where it sits has become a thriving destination for both diners and shoppers in search of Middle Eastern cuisine and groceries (right next to Alwatan Restaurant, there’s a fine market that features freshly baked pita, halal meats and a generous array of bargain-priced groceries, cheeses and specialty items).
The restaurant now seats about 50 people in a room that’s brightened by blue and white tiles and lighting as bright as an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.
Service is casual, both in its manner and pace — you can expect a friendly, quick greeting, and on normal nights your food will show up pretty quickly (very likely delivered directly by someone from the kitchen), but the place has a neighborly feel — neighborly enough that your server may not feel much urgency about handing you your check and shuffling you out the door!
But unless you’re in a rush, you might as well hang loose, anyway. Sip a cup of gently spiced Arabic coffee, or some hot tea. Nibble on a piece of baklava. Listen to the pulsing Middle Eastern music that plays softly in the background.
Alwatan’s owner, Majdi Abudahb, hails from Palestine, and his menu is rooted in the simple, fresh flavors and techniques of the eastern Mediterranean: grilled meats, yogurt-based sauces, rice, chickpeas and lentils.
Eating at Alwatan always makes me feel as if I’ve stumbled onto one of those magical cuisines that’s both delicious and healthy. Consider the falafel, for instance: Mash up some chickpeas with herbs, tahini and oil. Form the paste into little nuggets and fry them until they’re crisp. Why should that seem healthier than any other fried snack? I don’t know, but at Alwatan they’re as crunchy as can be on the outside, soft and luscious on the inside. And there’s not a trace of residual oil — even when you let them sit on the plate for a while to cool off (which you generally won’t, since the dozen or so that come on a plate, along with tangy, creamy yogurt sauce, will disappear pretty quickly, $3.99).
If you don’t care for fried snacks, there are plenty of other options that can serve as light meals or shared dishes: hummus (another great use of chickpeas, $4.99); grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and so forth (four for $1.99); and other choices made from fava beans (foul madammas, $4.99); cooked eggs (shakshoka, $6.99); and the like.
Eggplant is important in this cuisine, and Alwatan features two contrasting treatments. Mutabil ($4.99) is a creamy, slightly smoky, mashed eggplant dip that many of us know as baba ghanoush. But there’s also a wonderfully tangy dish made from chunks of grilled eggplant and other ingredients that this menu labels as baba ghanoush, but which many of us might call eggplant caponata ($4.99). Just ask, and your server will let you mix and match some of these offerings, so you can compare and contrast.
You can also make light snacks from the tabouli ($3.49) or the grand lemon and olive oil-dressed salad called fatoush ($7.49). And all these dishes come with freshly baked pita bread from the bakery next door.
Salads (which are included with entrees) include a tahini-dressed Jerusalem salad ($3.49) and a lemony Arabic salad ($3.49), both of which are variations on a tomato, cucumber theme.
Then there are entrees, combo plates and specials — all of which are priced with either fries and a drink or rice and a salad, and which run in price from $4.99 to $12.99 — making Alwatan a supremely affordable restaurant.
Juicy pieces of grilled, herbed chicken shawarma can be ordered entree-style on a bed of yellow rice ($10.49), gyros-style or as a well-engineered wrap surrounded by flatbread with fries ($6.49). Lamb and beef can be had both ways as well (and for the same prices), but maybe the best meat dish on the menu is kefta — wonderfully seasoned ground beef that comes to life with a bit of yogurt sauce.
Vegetarians will find plenty to like here as well, including veggie kebabs ($8.99) and an iconic dish from the Levantine: mujadara, a mix of lentils and rice, gently spiced and dusted with a brick-red sprinkle of ground sumac.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.