The food truck Zaaki was started by Samar Abdalelah, who moved to Boston from Saudi Arabia in 2013. The truck’s main dish is koshari (pronounced KO-shar-ee), made with layers of spiced rice and lentils cooked together, topped with a vinegar-spiked tomato sauce, chickpeas, small pasta such as macaroni, and a generous crown of golden caramelized onions.
In Arabic, the word zaaki means “delicious” and for many residents of the Fertile Crescent and other Middle Eastern regions, rice and lentils are familiar, nourishing, and comforting. Koshari (also spelled kushari, koshary, and kushary) sounds like it’s laden — combining four carbs in a bowl will do that — but Abdalelah’s version is surprisingly light and exceptionally good; there are no animal fats, though you can top the rice with chicken shawarma, beef kebab, or falafel. She learned about koshari in Saudi Arabia from the Egyptian community there, who considers it their national dish.
Four weeks ago, Abdalelah, with her husband, Basel Abusharkh, a water purification consultant, opened a brick and mortar Zaaki on Commonwealth Avenue outbound in Packard’s Corner, Allston, opposite a Herb Chambers dealership. There are just a few commercial enterprises in the small strip where it’s located; you could drive by and never notice it.
Zaaki restaurant offers koshari with and without the pasta (apparently some customers think three carbs is OK, but not four). There’s a fiery version, another one with a yogurt-mint sauce, one with a fattoush salad, and one topped with the Indian favorite, butter chicken. You can order any of these online, or come into the shop and build your own bowl, perhaps with bulgur instead of rice, tahini sauce in place of the tangy tomato sauce. Whatever your combination, for $7.99 it’s a generous, filling meal, carefully prepared, delicious, and Halal.
For the same price, you can order a wrap with shawarma chicken and fries or beef kufta (ground meat) with garlic sauce. A falafel roll-up contains hummus and a green salad. Zaaki’s superb hummus isn’t overwhelmed by tahini, as some are, and the baba ghanoush is smoky and a little chunky. For dessert there’s basboosa, a lovely square of semolina-coconut cake soaked with a syrup that’s not too sweet.
The restaurant is located in a former pizza shop and the owners are using the oven to toast a cheese steak sandwich and make pizza and flatbreads. The large space holds two four-top tables, which are spread out; three more small ones outside each seat three. The location serves as the catering commissary to load the truck (it’s at the Harvard Science Center Plaza on Tuesdays, West Atlantic Avenue near the Greenway on Thursdays, both for lunch).
A successful formula for opening a little restaurant in Boston probably doesn’t include a pandemic, an unfamiliar name, a location just a few blocks off the beaten path, and a house specialty that many will not recognize. Zaaki’s food is worth the detour.
Zaaki Mediterranean Fine Food, 1147 Commonwealth Ave., Allston, 857-361-9660, www.zaakifoodtruck.com