Hours: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner: seven days
Open Late: 24 hours every day
Albany Park's "Restaurant of Restaurants."
Mataam al-Mataam (Restaurant of Restaurants) has a huge television on the back wall, frequently tuned to Al Jazeera and flanked by pictures of New York (pre-9/11) and Elvis (prependulous gut). Breakfast here might be a morning meal of cheese and olives or perhaps "thick cream" (cream on the cusp of curdling into butter, excellent spread on bread). The hummus and baba ghanoush look like identical twins, beige with rivulets of red-brown paprika; both make tasty smears for the pita, which is fresh though not house-made. Borek, minced beef and parsley rolled into a dough skin and fried, are pretty good but like several dishes here, about as dry as the Arabian desert, a condition alleviated by tahini, some lemon, or any of the tasty soups offered--we had white beans and okra in a tomato base. The lamb shank was braised until the meat fell off in soft, toothy sheets, very simple and satisfying, and my dining companion raved about the combination platter of gus (lamb-beef shawarma) and kufta (kind of casing-less ground beef sausage, tweaked up with parsley and allspice). Less appealing was falafel, which seemed fried in advance into sad, soggy pebbles. Kubba was a new one on me, a cracked wheat flatbread sandwiching a thin layer of ground meat lightly spiced with cumin. Yogurt-based laban is a thin, kefirlike beverage suitable for drinking with a meal. Baklava is not of the honey-soaked variety, but flaky and good with some of Mataam al-Mataams typically strong Middle Eastern tea, thick as a barrel of light, sweet crude.