Behind a simple Golden storefront is a restaurant with opulent decor, large portions & modest prices
To Western palates, the foods from various cultures around the eastern Mediterranean from Egypt counterclockwise to Turkey are more similar than different. In any of those countries, you’ll start a meal with pita to scoop up hummus and baba ghanouj, fork into a fresh salad with lettuce, cucumber and/or tomatoes and select an entree featuring lamb, chicken or perhaps seafood. The side dishes might be stewed or grilled vegetables and a starch like rice or couscous made from semolina. Try to identify the spices that make your taste buds stand to attention, not because they are fiery hot but because they pack so much flavor. Fresh, unflavored yogurt is about the only dairy product you’re likely to find, and fruit juices and tea are the beverages of choice. As I noted, it’s healthy and delicious. The baklava, which none of us had room for, is reputedly a simply delicious dessert.
Various friends and I used to stop at Ali Baba just off Hwy 93 north of downtown Golden en route back from the mountains, and I’m not sure why it had been several years since I had done so. When five of us went there after a recent hike, I was surprised at Ali Baba Grill’s transformation. What had once been a simple place with a few tables and mostly take-out traffic has expanded into space next door that was vacated by a bicycle store and turned it into an opulent Middle Eastern dining room — and yet the prices have remained reasonable. Under a ceiling draped in striped fabric to resemble a tent are ceiling lights that cast a pleasing glow on the rich golden wall coverings, carved wood, artwork and broad banquets along the walls for lounging take diners to a different, distant place — except for the very American oak chairs and tables that do remind everyone that we are, after all, on North American soil.
Fiyahd Aoutabachi, a Syrian-born chef who worked in Saudi Arabia, and Fiyahd Aoutabachi, who was born in Lebanon and worked in Syria, established Ali Baba in 2000. They buy ingredients every day and also prepare all food fresh daily. I think you can taste the freshness and the care taken by the founders and their families who are hands-on and on-site.
Price check: We were there near the end of lunch service and took advantage of the $7.95 mid-day specials, plus appetizers. But prices are astonishingly reasonable at all times. Dinner entrees are $10.95 to $16.95 (the latter for lamb chops) — and the portions are generous.