Karar Aljaberi opened his restaurant in northeast Lincoln to meet a need.
“There is no Middle Eastern or Mediterranean food out here,” he said. “I thought there is a good chance to succeed.”
Indeed, much of Lincoln’s Middle Eastern fare is found downtown or along North 27th Street, so it makes sense for Aljaberi to target an area. He opened Habibi Kabob & Shawarma July 22 at 82nd and Holdrege streets where Dickey’s Barbecue Pit used to be.
Aljaberi originally is from Iraq. Seven years ago, he came to Lincoln — where his brother already resided.
The menu is a mix of Middle Eastern Mediterranean favorites, from such sides as baba ghanoush and hummus to gyro sandwiches, kabobs beef and chicken), shawarma (beef and chicken), tikka (beef and chicken) and falafel.
Well-seasoned and plentiful are the best way to describe Habibi’s meats. My wife and I remarked on the flavor of the beef and chicken shawarma as well as the beef kabob we tried on our visits.
We also enjoyed the falafel — breaded and deep-fried ground chickpeas. The falafel breading was light and not overbearing.
The tzatziki sauce served with each dish proved to be some of the best we’ve tried.
The menu features plates and specials, which run from $7.99 to $17.99. For lighter appetites, sandwiches costing $5.99 each are an option. Not surprisingly, the gyro sandwich is the most popular menu item, Aljaberi said. Lincoln diners love their gyros.
Aljaberi continues to tinker with his menu, which is part of the reason he said he didn’t have to-go menus available. On our first visit, for example, our entrees came with side salads. On the second visit, they were served with side salads, hummus and bread. He also plans to add more dishes as well as a children’s menu. Grade: A-
The pine paneling, wagon wheel light fixtures, booths and tables remain from Dickey’s. Aljaberi has hung framed prints and paintings representative of his homeland to go along with a big screen television. Flashing lights frame the large windows of the strip mall location. It has the look and feel of a typical fast casual restaurant. Grade: B
Habibi is fast casual, with counter rather than table service. Customers order from the menu board at the back of the restaurant, grab utensils and/or drinks located around the corner from the counter and then find a seat. Takeout and dine-in tables are delivered to waiting patrons.
The turnaround time ranges from three to 10 minutes, depending on what and how much is ordered. On my two visits, I had my food in less than 10 minutes. We enjoyed our baba ghanoush — one of the cold sides prepped in advance — almost immediately after ordering. Grade: A.
Habibi offers several vegetarian sides, which, when served alone, are enough for a meal. They include baba ghanoush, hummus, tabouli and eggplant, cabbage or vegetable salads, with each costing $4.99. The hot fare consists of falafel, which is served as a sandwich ($5.99) or as a plate ($7.99). Grade: B