Mama Ayesha’s serves Middle Eastern food in a quiet spot on Calvert between Adams Morgan and Woodley Park. Ignore the frumpy exterior; once inside you’re surrounded by deep red walls, glowing lights, and an ornate decor.
The long list of appetizers includes the staples – hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, and spinach pie, along with several salads and fried vegetable dishes. Appetizers are usually where vegetarians win with Middle Eastern food. These all got neglected on our visit, though, because mujadarrah (lentils and rice topped with fried onions) is one of my favorites and became our entree-as-appetizer.
Although the fried onions were divine, the rest of the dish was disappointing. It’s simple, yes, but should have had deeper flavor. We’ll be going back to appetizers-as-appetizers for better luck next time.
Still, it was well worth it to order from the main course menu because a number of vegetarian items piqued our interest, including makloobah, a dish of cauliflower, rice, pine nuts, and almonds, and bamia bil lahmeh, a stew of okra and tomatoes. We chose the mixed stuffed plate of dolma, cabbage, and squash so we could sample a few items. The dolma were moist and flavorful and the cabbage rolls were tender and well-accompanied by tangy tomato sauce. The squash was forgettable though – its high surface to filling ratio made it bland.
For dessert, classic baklava didn’t disappoint. It was dense while not dry, with the right amount of gooey thickened honey in the filling.
Overall the entree prices are a little steep (rice and lentils should not be $14), but vegetarian versions are at least priced lower than their meaty counterparts. Because of its large number of vegetarian options, unique ambiance, and pleasant service, Mama Ayesha’s deserves a try. Order right and it might even earn an occasional spot in your rotation.
1967 Calvert St NW