Ahli Baba is a trip worth taking


Travis LeClair

Ali Baba Kabob

We rushed from crowded diner to crowded diner, with only an hour to spare before I had to work. I don’t know what the hell we were thinking, trying to get a quick brunch Sunday morning in downtown Burlington!

Our stomachs grumbled with defeat. I was sick of bagels, and I wanted something that would make my taste buds dance and my belly full. Then I was struck with genius, a light bulb burst in my brain and I turned to my girlfriend and said, “Let’s do Ahli Baba’s.”

Pretty soon I would be destroying a steak kabob pita, while my lunch date enjoyed the classic gyro flavors wrapped in pita bread.
I still remember the first time I ate at Ahli Baba’s Kabob Shop. My high school posse already knew of this hip, delicious hole-in-the-wall, and were appalled that I had yet to bite into Baba.

I was a mess. I was stunned. There is an art to eating the messy pita concoctions, and I was a novice. My hands were covered in steak juice and bbq sauce, and by the end I was picking up the lost veggies with my fingers, making sure I ate every last bit.
I soon learned that one does not unwrap Ahli Baba all at once.

The restaurant has only two tables, a rack of local newspapers, and a wall covered in iconic record art. Currently, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and Pink Floyyd are hanging out.

The music playing is often loud, amazing, and offensive. During my most recent Baba experience, I was reminded that “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.”

“They can’t play that here,” said one middle-aged woman who sat at the second table.

“They can play whatever the fuck they want!” informed her lunch mate, who also raved about the flavor to price ratio that Ahli gives its eaters.

The second middle-aged woman began embarrassing herself by rapping and saying certain four letter words with every inflection she could muster.

This type of behavior might not be expected during the early afternoon, but this comes in waves during night hours. Ahli Baba’s is one of Burlington’s go-to joints for late-night food, especially if one is anywhere on the spectrum of tipsy to wobbly-wasted. It’s in this hazy state that the dirtiness and crampedness of the place can be overlooked, and even embraced.

It should be noted that one doesn’t actually get their food on skewers, as the word kabob implies, but rather their famous kabob pitas take all the delicious ingredients- grilled meat, juicy tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, peppers- and wraps them in fluffy pita bread.

Up until this point I had only tried the steak kabob pita, and the chicken version of the same. My girlfriend’s choice of the gyro pita tasted as it should- the tzatziki sauce was refreshing with crisp lettuce. The cheap lamb patty of the gyro pita falls short of the steak or chicken.

At Ahli Baba’s the kitchen is small and audible, and often one will overhear college-aged cashiers and cooks shoot the shit.
The big window is converted from a garage door and some of the best people watching can be done from Baba’s.

The steak is never super tender, but never uncomfortably tough. I bit through one of the chunks and took in the aesthetic pink center. Multiple times we congratulated ourselves: “This was such a good idea,” we said.

“These are actually some of my favorite fries in town,” said my lunch companion. As a French fry enthusiast, my interest was immediately piqued. The mid-twenties dude who took our order tossed the single order of fries in a metal container, sprinkling the crispy potatoes with salt.

Ahli Baba’s offers six choices for breakfast burritos and about twice as many pita wrapped choices, including vegetarian options.

Nothing is above $8, and we spent about $23 for two pita sandwiches, two sodas and fries.

Appetizers include sweet potato fries, house made samosas and a Greek salad.

Baba’s is located on Main St. next to the Flynn Theater; It opens at 9:00 a.m. and keeps slangin’ food until 3:00 a.m.

Entrance to bliss
Entrance to bliss