It’s a new semester, and luckily there’s a new restaurant in the neighborhood that’s perfect for a quick meal on a student budget.
The Mazaya Cafe, located on Harvard Drive right across from Main Campus, serves up an impressive range of Mediterranean-fusion dishes at very reasonable prices.
A few months ago the manager Rojesh Maharjan and his team moved into their current location, a spot that has seen several restaurants come and go in the last couple years. Despite the apparent curse on the location, Mazaya has been slowly winning over loyal customers, and this reviewer is now one of them.
Walking in the front door, I was immediately struck by the cleanliness and the beautiful Mediterranean-style decor. We sat down at a comfy booth under a big screen TV tuned to ESPN.
We started with the lentil soup, which was shockingly flavorful and filling thanks to the chicken broth. For $3, this could easily be a light lunch on a cold day all by itself.
Next up was the Kofta kebab plate, a beautifully presented platter of ground beef kebabs served on sela rice cooked with turmeric. The beef was very juicy and tender, seared perfectly but still moist inside. The meat was surprisingly light and not greasy at all.
The platter also came with a minty Fattoush salad with diced cucumbers and tomatoes, very fresh and a cool compliment to the beef. There were also dolmas, prepared with a simple filling of rice and spices. Be sure you ask for a side of the chili sauce and yogurt, it takes the kebab to a whole new level. The platter was truly huge, and at just $11, it’s an affordable meal that can easily be shared by two people.
Next on the menu was Mazaya’s fresh made hummus, prepared with pure olive oil from Palestine and a touch of chili powder, along with their Baba Ganoush. Both were quite different from the stuff you get at the grocery store, obviously made fresh with quality ingredients.
The Baba Ganoush made a particularly strong impression, with its beautiful presentation, pomegranate seeds, creamy, fluffy texture and smoky eggplant flavor. The generously added pure olive oil really made these dishes stand out.
Next up was the chicken shawarma wrap, a perfect on-the-go lunch for just $7. This beauty features mounds of tender, juicy chicken with homemade pickles, tomatoes and a tasty garlic sauce, all wrapped in a lightly grilled Frontier tortilla. The chili sauce and cool yogurt comes with it, and is perfect for dipping.
You also get a side of their perfectly seasoned, slightly spicy french fries, and an assortment of pickled veggies and olives. Again, the portion size was truly impressive, and could also probably be shared with a friend.
Last but certainly not least, we got to try all four of Mazaya’s amazing desserts. All of them are made with a surprising amount of pistachios, and each one of them was better than the last.
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We started with something familiar, the baklava. It was very buttery and extremely sweet, and the crust was softer and less flaky than others I’ve tried.
Up next was the ossmalleya, which had a crunchy outside texture made of deep fried vermicelli noodles, with a gooey layer underneath, followed by a layer of pistachios. It was crunchy and sweet but also spiced, with a lingering flavor of cardamom.
We then tried the Burma, which also featured the deep fried vermicelli coating rolled up around a tightly packed candied pistachio center. It was very sweet, almost like a pistachio candy bar.
My favorite, and one of the coolest looking desserts I’ve ever seen, was the Bird’s Nest. Made from a square of buttery, extremely flaky crust with a mound of sticky pistachios in the center, the corners of the square are folded to the center like origami. Truly beautiful presentation, and it tasted even better than it looked.
I’d highly recommend going to Mazaya just for the desserts, which are all around $1.50 and go great with coffee for breakfast or a quick snack. They also have their own orange juicing machine. I’ve been on a major fresh orange juice kick lately so I had to try it. I’ve got to say, it’s better than the orange juice at the Frontier, and at only $3, it’s a great value.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, don’t fret. There are a ton of terrific options for you, like the falafel and Baba Ganoush. They even have gluten-free offerings.
All in all, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at Mazaya Cafe. The staff was friendly and helpful, and were happy to explain anything on the menu. They clearly take pride in their food and their restaurant. As a bonus, students get a 10 percent discount with ID.
Jonathan Baca is managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JonGabrielB.