I’ve walked by nuba a million times and it’s always packed. Now, I’m not big on middle eastern food. I like it enough, but I’ve had enough bad late-night falafel experiences to be a little bit wary. Clearly, nuba is in a different category entirely.
The menu consists of mezze, pitas and plates – that is, small, medium and large portions. The mezze plates ($5 – $6.50) come with pita and pickles; the pitas ($5.25 – $9.50) come with lettuce, tomato & pickle; and the plates ($9.00 – $11.00) come with taboulleh, salad, hummus, pita, and your choice of brown rice or roasted potatoes. There are lots of vegan, vegetarian and meat-containing choices, and they serve organic vegetables whenever possible.
I had the mezze plate of najib’s special, which is billed as “crispy cauliflower with organic lemon, sea salt & tahini”. I don’t think the description does it justice. The cauliflower are flash-fried just so: the florets are crispy but not oily, and almost fall apart to a powder in your mouth. The trunk of the cauliflower is cooked until just tender, but still has a nice bite to it. Despite being deep-fried (in a vegan fryer, no less) it’s not oily-tasting or overly heavy. I think the coolest thing about it was the hint of being burnt, but without having a burnt taste. Kind of like how caramel is technically burnt sugar, but a proper caramel tastes of delicious, and not of burnt.
The fried cauliflower florets soak up all the acidity of the lemon, which brings a nice brightness and kick to it all. It’s perfectly seasoned – not too bland, not too salty – and served with a really nice tahini drizzle.
The kicker, of course, was the pink pickled cabbage. They found that perfect mixture of salty, tart, acidic and flavourful – and the cabbage is sliced super-fine and is still crunchy. It’s to die for. You can buy the pickles by the jar, for $3.50.
You can ask for hot sauce, which is made in-house from seeded jalapenos, garlic and olive oil. Unfortunately, the hot sauce isn’t available for purchase – but it should be. It’s really spicy but flavourful, and refreshing and bright on the tongue.
I also got little tasters of the mjadra and veggie hushwi. Mjadra is a traditional Lebanese lentil and rice dish. nuba’s is slightly spicy, giving a nice warmth to the back of the throat. Despite looking like, well, mashed lentil and rice mush, it had great texture and a surprising savouriness, given that it’s a vegetarian dish. It’s topped with crispy fried onions and diced avocado.
The veggie hushwi consisted of mushrooms, red peppers, pine nuts and onions, served on brown rice. The mushrooms had great texture and the pine nuts impart a great nuttiness, but I wasn’t such a big fan of this. It’s not that it wasn’t tasty, but that compared to everything else I’d eaten at nuba, it didn’t quite measure up.
They have two desserts on the menu, a baklava and mamoul, a shortbread cookie with pistachio and rosewater. Both are shipped in from Toronto, and they didn’t have any of either when I stopped by. I guess I’ll just have to pay them another visit.
They’re not licensed, but they do have those tasty San Pellegrino orange and lemon sodas.
nuba (2 locations):
322 West Hastings Street
1206 Seymour Street