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Turkish delights to make Istanbul proud

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Let’s clear one thing up before even getting started: Anatolia Doner Kebab Restaurant specializes in Turkish cuisine; even the name incorporates Turkey’s favorite grilled-meat street food. While the dishes have similarities to other Arab cuisines both in flavors and presentation, there are noticeable differences. Whether or not you later remember those subtleties, the fact remains this is good food in a quirky little location.

Owners Mehmet and Umut Kokangul relocated their beloved hole-in-the-wall from the back corner of the Central Market store while refocusing their menu on the Turkish food they know so well. Gone were the spicy and messy chicken wraps and a few other fusion-inspired dishes.

In their place are hearty entrées like Shish Kebab ($7.25) and a few items new to locals – Chicken Tava ($7.95), broiled chicken with green chiles and tomatoes. Try the Beef Doner Kebab ($7.25) at least once for the street-food experience.

Anatolia Doner Kebab
LOCATION: 521 W. Central (around the corner on Sixth Street), 242-6718, www.anatoliakebabrestaurant.com
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays
NO ALCOHOL

Lacking on this menu is the parsley and bulgur salad called tabbouleh; the Turks make a variation called Kisik: a fragrant combination of bulgur, parsley, lemon and tomato paste that lends a pinkish hue not unlike Mexican rice. After a nice conversation with Mehmet about the salad’s particulars, he sounds ready to create his own Kisik just to show it off – if you call ahead or he receives enough requests for it.

Anatolia’s atmosphere contains two correlated qualities: that of being a dive as well as embodying everything a traveler might expect in an ethnic restaurant. To put it bluntly, décor is sparse and cheap. It is exactly the kind of place I would hope to stumble upon on a side street in Istanbul, but here you’ll either love or merely tolerate the digs. Hard plastic booths and a few regional posters are the entirety of the view.

Those minimal dining room details recede in importance when you order the Babagannuge ($3.95), a dish with as many spellings as hours in the day. Mehmet’s is possibly the best I’ve had. Even eggplant fans often find this common dish lacking in flavor, with a gloppy texture – not so at Anatolia, where the big chunks of eggplant retain shape and the spiced tahini sauce is stellar. This and other sides are served with their daily special for just $5.99 – check the board when you walk in.

Thick garlicky hummus and tender and tart dolmas show the same care and attention to detail. The yogurt sauce (Cacik) is a perfect balance of rich yogurt with herbs. Small handmade falafel orbs are dotted with green herbs and moderate spices in the crispy exterior. Falafel isn’t normally a favorite dish of mine, and even I will concede these are pretty darn good. In fact, I’d easily nosh on a whole plate of just sides.

End the meal with homemade baklava ($2) or a bracing cup of Turkish coffee ($2.25), savoring the tiny bites or sips.

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