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'Open sesame': Ali Baba Kebab is a route to ancient spices

On our morning commute from the Sloan Abode downtown via William Street, we watched the somewhat dumpy building at the intersection at Fillmore Avenue and Memorial Drive transform into the cute Ali Baba Kebab. It opened early July.

For those keeping literary score, Ali Baba was a character from the Arabian folktale, “One Thousand and One Nights” who discovered the thieves’ den and entered via “open sesame.” We Ladies-Who-Sometimes-Lunch decided to take our magic carpet (a.k.a. the Hyundai Elantra) to investigate.

The interior is darling, with bright colors and seating at small tables and chairs.

We don’t want to pigeonhole the menu because it touches a variety of cultures from India, its neighbors (Pakistan, etc.) on through to the Middle East. In essence, the ancient spice route.

Chicken tikka masala wrap at Ali Baba Kebab. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

If you don’t know the food, Google a dish’s name to find out what you’re eating like we did. Spices, ingredients and religion play a huge role in each culture. Judging by the humongous spice rack we saw, we give the cook credit for keeping it all straight. Ali Baba uses halal meats, too.

The bottom line is everything we ate on two visits was fresh and delicious. A big, burly guy at the next table told us, “I have eaten almost everything on the menu.” We are on his plan.

Under the kebabs, find sheesh, bihari, shami, chapli, malai, tandoori, beef tikka, chicken schwarma, beef gyro, fish etc. All are $9.99 and come with yellow rice or tandoori naan.

An entire section is devoted to biryani (chicken or mutton, $9.99) or niahari (slow-cooked beef, $11.99).

Jakir Hussain prepares a Tandoori naan in a Tandoor at Ali Baba Kebab. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Curries ($7.99-$9.99) include the usual chicken tikka masala and also goat and fish. Three vegetarian curries feature spinach, chickpeas or eggplant.

Wraps – chicken tikka masala, falafel, chicken or beef sheesh kebab, chicken shawarma, gyro and chicken or beef bihari – are made with tandoori naan and a bargain at $4.99 each. Add fries and a drink for $3.

Waiting for the food, we watched perfectly blistered naan coming out of the scorching hot tandoor. (Naan is $1.99 for garlic or cheese.)

Co-worker loved her chicken tikka masala, especially since it was served so she could pour the saucy dish over the yellow rice, which had a nice kick . The curry sauce was creamy with just the right amount of heat.

My bihari kebab was fantastic. The chicken was nice and spicy, and extremely flavorful. We both had huge amounts of yellow rice. Half came home.

A Tandoori naan is made in a Tandoor at Ali Baba Kebab. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

On visit No. 2, our huge naan wraps – chicken schwarma and lamb gyro – were fantastic. My ultra thin sliced lamb gyro was tender and flavorful. Wrapped with fresh lettuce, tomato and a yogurt sauce, the garlic naan holding it together was superb.

Appetizers include savory samosas ($1.50-$6.99). We split a potato samosa. The deep fried turnover was filled with a delicious spicy filling that was part mashed potato, part chunks. A 10-piece falafel with hummus is $5.99.

Ali Baba does tandoori wings ($7.99 single/$14.99 double) with fries and spicy fried chicken with fries ($6.99 three piece/$11.99 six piece). Family Packs ($15.99-$24.99) are available in combos from items on the menu. All come with salad and dressing.

Ali Baba already is part of our regular lunch rotation. When the snow flies, AB has online ordering and delivers using the adorable smart car parked out front. Now if only we’d only find a genie in a lamp so we wouldn’t have to work at all.

Ali Baba Kebab
900 William St. (Facebook; 800-2222)
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday; Sunday until 10 p.m.
Parking: Small lot, street.
Wheelchair-accessible: Yes
Dietary: No gluten-free menu. Vegetarian options. Zibah Halal meats.

Ali Baba Kebab on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

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