Friendly and efficient counter service and fresh, well prepared Middle Eastern food are hallmarks of Café Lili. The decent-sized place is clean and often crowded during lunchtime. It seems that the local Lebanese community makes up a good portion of the business at other times.
The items served at Café Lili are similar to many of the other local Middle Eastern restaurants: salads, dips, pita sandwiches and kabobs make up much of the menu. There are a large number of small dishes, so there is an array of choices that can work as an appetizer or a side dish to a sandwich. In addition to the popular hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli and stuffed grape leaves, Café Lili serves fatoosh salad (lettuce, tomatoes, parsley and fried pita chips); moussaka (a hearty dish of eggplant and béchamel sauce); fried kibbe; laban (a house-made yogurt dip); meat pies; spinach pies; and various salads of yogurt and cucumber, lettuce, feta cheese, lima beans and green beans.
Café Lili does a fine job with salads of all varieties here. Both the baba ganoush and the hummus are less creamy than most other versions in the area. But both are commendable, especially with some additional olive oil poured on top.
The hot sandwiches, wrapped in pita bread, are a falafel, beef shawarma (no chicken shawarma here) adorned with tomatoes, and kabobs of flame-broiled beef, chicken and a kafta kabob (ground beef). Café Lili’s version of the falafel sandwich comes loaded with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, marinated peppers, cucumbers and tahini dressing. All are good, though one drawback is that the pita bread is packaged, and not fresh from the oven or as flavorful as at some other local restaurants.
More substantial, and larger dishes include the kabob plates featuring beef, chicken, kafta or a combination of kabobs served with rice and a choice of hummus or green salad. These are pricier, but are still a good value given the amount of food that is served. There is also a Chicken Kabob Salad with romaine lettuce, feta cheese, green onions and tomatoes with grilled chicken breast, and Chicken and Rice, boiled, shredded chicken served over rice and topped with cinnamon and pine nuts. Desserts include baklava, plus rice pudding, caramel custard and date and coconut cookies.
Though the decor is somewhat spartan, Café Lili has some charm. Photographs of the members of the owners’ family along with those of the formerly beautiful city of Beirut adorn the walls. Televisions are located above the dining area, but are not obtrusive as they are often tuned, with low volume, to one of the financial news stations for the crowd of mostly office workers.
5757 Westheimer (west of Chimney Rock)
Houston, Texas 77057
Copyright Mike Riccetti. Adapted from Houston Dining on the Cheap, and used with permission.
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