Saturday, August 20, 2011


(NOTE: I also went to the State Street location in April 2012. It's just OK for me, frankly. If you like this place, that's great. It's just not the first place I'm going to.)

Al-Aqsa, on Royvonne Ave. SE in Salem, Oregon, serves traditional Mediterranean food. It had just opened a few months prior to my visit (and for some reason, the "Grand Opening" sign was still up).

The spread for the "salad" bar

I arrived promptly at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, just as the place was opening for business. One woman basically ran the show at least for that morning, and she was hastily getting the food out for the "salad bar" as I contemplated what to get. Ultimately, I tried some of the food from the salad bar, just getting a few ounces of food ($2 worth at $6/lb). I also got their chicken shawarma sandwich ($6). In total, I paid about $8.

My small sample plate from the salad bar
Chicken Shawarma w/some Sambal Oelek
(yeah,an Asian spicy sauce for a Mediterranean dish...)
Closeup of the shawarma
The chicken shawarma was not the best (but not horrible). The chicken was on the dry side and the spices didn't pop in my mouth. The tahini sauce and tzatziki were nothing to write home about, either, but at least they gave this sandwich some creaminess. The vegetables (basically pickles, onions, and tomato) added some freshness and/or crunch to the dish. The side of spicy sauce tasted like Sambal Oelek. It really gave a much-needed pop and extra layer of flavor to the dish. I am a bit puzzled that Al-Aqsa serves an Asian condiment with a Mediterranean dish. (I learned it's not an Asian condiment, but I still say it tastes like it.)

The salad bar experience was also largely unremarkable. Perhaps the best of the dishes I tried was the Moujadara, a vegan dish of lentils, rice, and onions. It was quite tasty and, for a second, I was fooled into thinking I was eating meat. The dolmas (rice-stuffed grape leaves) were too briny, and the rice inside was too mushy for my tastes. The green beans were OK, nothing to really make me want more of those. The hummus was also not really up to par; I wanted more pop in flavor in that bad boy. Finally, the tabouleh salad (parsley, onions, and bulgar wheat) only left a parsley taste in my mouth...other than that, it had no flavor.

I will say the woman running Al-Aqsa on the day I visited was extremely friendly and let me sample various items from the salad bar. That deserves a slight rating increase.

I'm not planning on returning here, as I feel I can get better Mediterranean food elsewhere.

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