^
Keep Houston Press Free
4

Baba Ghanoush at Cafe Rita

George Sarikhanian, the Armenian-Lebanese owner of Cafe Rita (along with his eponymous wife, Rita), doesn't act remotely surprised when I tell him that his baba ghanoush is the best I've ever had.  "Of course it is," he exclaims good-naturedly in his thick Lebanese accent.  "Why you think we have so many customers?  We make such good food, everyone comes to eat it!  We busy all the time!"

This should also come as no surprise to Houston Press readers, as Cafe Rita was voted Best Middle Eastern Food in 2007.  Inside their tiny, wood-paneled restaurant on Dairy Ashford, George and Rita proudly display the plaque listing this achievement alongside tiny newspaper clippings, online reviews that someone has printed out on a color printer and sun-faded pictures of Beirut.

George and Rita, who've known each other since they were two years old, grew up in Beirut although they are ethnically Armenian.  Their food reflects a similar pastiche of heritages.  Although most of the food is traditionally Levantine, there is also lavash alongside pita bread, a case of pillowy-looking labneh and plenty of hummus and tabbouleh made with an Armenian flair.

In the case of the baba ghanoush (called mutabal in Armenia), I'm convinced that what makes it the best is Rita's distinctive Armenian method of making it.

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Unlike more mainstream versions of baba ghanoush, the Armenian version mashes the roasted eggplant -- the main ingredient -- instead of pureeing it.  Chunks of smoky eggplant catch on your pita bread as you dip into it with an unexpected yet welcomed heaviness.  And although the creaminess is retained (through the use of brightly-flavored tahini paste), the result is a much heartier baba ghanoush, which is less of a dip or mezze and more akin to a side dish.  Finally, the addition of finely chopped onions and a sprinkling of cumin give it an added bite that you won't find in any other baba ghanoush around town.

As George scooped some baklava into a to-go box for me after I'd finished my lunch, he shook his head and chuckled.  "You know, you say baba ghanoush is best here.  He --" George gestures to a man sitting in the corner, reading a newspaper "-- say the hummus is best here than anywhere else.  Perhaps we have best of everything after all."

--- Katharine Shilcutt

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.

 

Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.