Restaurant Review: Cleopatra’s Café
A cafe of infinite variety
By: Laurel Gladden
Published online: Friday, February 18, 2011
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
3 Chiles chiles
3482 Zafarano Drive 505-
11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
Counter service; Takeout available; Vegetarian options; Handicapped accessible; Noise level: quiet to lively
In short order:
Nothing revolutionary is going on at the
southside Cleopatra’s Café, unless it’s an
attempt to overthrow boring, bland food
or typical bar-and-grill fare. You’ll spot
famous Egyptian monikers on the lengthy,
mouthwatering menu, but it includes dishes
from all around the eastern Mediterranean.
Staff members are always friendly but also
efficient and quick, which is good if you’re
planning to stroll across the parking lot
to catch a movie. Recommended: chicken
gyro, the Cleopatra Plate, and the
King Tut Plate (or any of its components).
*Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles.
This reflects the reviewer's experience with regard
to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value
Though you’ll spot Egyptian monikers on the
menu at Cleopatra’s Café on the southside — Cairo,
the Nile, King Tut, the Sphinx, and even Moses
have plates named for them — strictly speaking,
Cleopatra’s Café isn’t just an Egyptian restaurant
(and anyway, the famed queen was actually Greek).
This restaurant, the sister of Cleopatra’s in the
Design Center on Cerrillos Road, offers dishes from
all around the eastern Mediterranean, including
specialties from Greece — gyros, moussaka,
spanakopita, and Greek salads (the typo on the
menu that turns this into a “Geek salad” may make
you giggle). If you like Middle Eastern food, you
could probably recite a lot of the menu by heart.
There’s a cavernous, cafeteria-like quality to the
dining room — a giant airy cube with a high ceiling
and concrete floor. Tall windows on two sides can
make you feel as if you’re dining in a fishbowl, but bold
earth-toned walls, well-spaced wood tables and chairs,
and mellow lighting warm things up. Music videos and
the occasional commercial for halal meat-processing
facilities flash across the screen of a television mounted
in the corner. One afternoon we ate lunch to the
crooning of a Middle Eastern Julio Iglesias.
Staff members are always friendly but also efficient
and quick, which is good if you’re planning to stroll
across the parking lot to catch a movie at Regal
Stadium 14. Order and pay at the counter — though
you may need a few mouthwatering minutes to
navigate the lengthy menu. Just over the whiteboard
where daily specials are scrawled, you’ll eye the
spinning tower of gyro lamb in the back. Don’t
overlook the soup selections listed on a chalkboard at
the end of the counter. Try the avgolemono, Greece’s
take on chicken soup with rice, which packs a lemony
wallop, but skip the lentil — it’s earthy and well
seasoned but too watery to be very exciting.
The King Tut Plate is a dream for the indecisive
vegetarian, including as it does pretty much every
iconic Middle Eastern offering: puddles of hummus
and baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, a small pile of falafel,
and a couple of tender dolmas. The tabbouleh is
especially good if you like a little bulgur with your
herbs rather than the other way around. The power-
fully tart hummus and baba ghanouj are smooth, rich,
and terrific scooped up with triangles of soft, pillowy
pita. Dense falafel nuggets with a tawny crust are
noteworthy for not being particularly greasy.
The Greek and Egyptian salads (the former is
topped with feta and olives; the latter, garbanzos) are
fresh, cool, and simple — perfect for a summer after-
noon or if you want to eat light. The mild, slightly
sweet, and aromatic moussaka is meat-free, too, and
topped with a unique crust of moistened pita.
The spanakopita had an oddly industrial flavor
to it; the dark-green spinach center was roof-of-
mouth-blisteringly hot, and the crust displayed the
unmistakable toughness of something that has spent
too long in a microwave. Skip it or ask for it at room
Cleopatra’s has plenty for meat eaters as well.
The Luxor kebab platter, skewered hunks of slightly
chewy lamb and smoky, still crunchy grilled onions
and red peppers, is an incredibly generous plate of
food. It includes a small mountain of tender, aromatic
rice; a nice little salad; and a stack of warm pita.
An even better deal is the 10-buck Cleopatra Plate
— mounds of savory chicken and lamb, rice, a salad,
and hummus or baba ghanouj; it’s enough food for
two. You can also choose chicken or lamb for your
gyro. Both meats are strikingly tender and full of flavor
— delicious whether you eat them with pita or not.
Given Cleopatra’s proximity to the movie theater,
crowds often come in waves. With its location, varied
menu, and generous servings, it can be especially
attractive for families. I tip my hat to Cleopatra’s for
including spanakopita and gyros among the dumbed-
down standards so typical of kids’ menus, which one
opinionated New York restaurateur has called “the
death of civilization.”
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