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Enchanted Mediterranean: Mazaya serves kebabs, shawarma, falafel, with a nod to New Mexico

A testament to the endurance and appeal of New Mexican food is the fact that nearly every independently owned restaurant in Albuquerque gives a tip of the hat to the food that made us famous.

Mazaya Cafe’s focus is squarely on Mediterranean food, but even it offers homage to the land of green chile.

Every meal comes with a dish of freshly made hummus featuring a Zia symbol made of paprika and extra-virgin olive oil.

Touches like this keep our feet firmly grounded at home while we experience the world’s cuisine. Mazaya, despite acknowledging its love for New Mexico, is a northern Mediterranean-inspired gem in the Brick Light District, just south of the University of New Mexico campus, offering such fare as beef kebabs, chicken shawarma, baba ghanoush, rotisserie chicken and falafel.

Last weekend, I tried the beef kebabs and the Greek salad. The salad was a big platter of fresh veggies, Kalamata olives, two kinds of tomatoes, a delicious and delicate homemade dressing, and the “Burque” hummus with pita bread.

The Greek salad at Mazaya Mediterranean Cafe is a big platter of fresh veggies, Kalamata olives, two kinds of tomatoes, a delicious and delicate homemade dressing, and the “Burque” hummus with pita bread. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

At $5.99, the Greek salad is plenty filling as a meal in itself – and it would be an ideal appetizer for two diners – but it really makes a great intro for the main entree.

The beef kebabs ($12.99) are exceptional. Two skewers with top sirloin chunks are marinated overnight, then grilled on an open flame and served with rice and mixed vegetables, including green and red peppers and onions. The beef was grilled exquisitely and had an amazing charred crust with a tender, juicy interior. The meat was also trimmed well, with almost no fat, and with a slight wood-smoked flavor.

The kebabs also came with a unique salad with finely chopped lettuce, crispy crouton-like chips, and a tangy, citrusy dressing. It was great.

The best part was the dessert, though. Mediterranean eaters don’t overdo it with epic, fattening desserts; instead, they focus on flavors. Nothing packed quite as much flavor as the freshly made (probably in-house) pistachio baklava.

Dozens of individually applied layers of filo dough mingle with fresh honey and herbs, and then towards the bottom of the layer pastry, a dense clump of freshly ground pistachios and honey explode with flavor. For only $1.99, you couldn’t plan a more perfect, lighter ending to a meal than Mazaya’s baklava.

Even if you forget to save room, take the baklava to go.

Mazaya is a beautiful mixture of Old World recipes, exceptionally clean interior design, fast and friendly service, and honest pricing, in the heart of Albuquerque in Lobo country. Even picky eaters will find several delightful items on the menu, including a few with children in mind. And it has even found a way to pay homage to its surroundings, the people of New Mexico and our rich history, while staying true to its Middle Eastern tradition.