>> El-Omda Restaurant | Eat the World NYC

13 March 2017

El-Omda Restaurant


The block of Astoria's Steinway Street between 28th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard is often rightly called "Little Egypt" because of its concentration of Egyptian restaurants and hookah lounges. A few restaurants there are now part of a well-trodden tourist trail, having received sweeping and almost unanimous praise. For an alternative to this, a few blocks west on 28th Avenue is a quiet spot that sits out of the limelight. This however seems to be fine with them. El-Omda, with a spacious room and about 12 two top tables, is a great place to bring a big group. It even has an area with cushions in the back for sitting on the floor while eating. This seems to be well-suited for hookah, although I did not see any and the smells here do not indicate that this is practiced.

The decor is reminiscent of a residential interior, the odd color combinations of old highrise building hallways. The dining area is extremely well lit with a dozen or so tin lamps that you see across Northern Africa but most prominently in Morocco. The TV is tuned to a drama or Egyptian music videos, and might need to be turned down a bit as I think the chef is trying to listen from the kitchen.

Order a pot of their very strong tea, served with a side cup of mint leaves. The intensity of bitterness is high, and even people who normally do not sweeten their tea are most likely going to do just that. The sweet mint creation is superb.

The cooking here is described as "authentic home style Egyptian" and seems to focus more on ground animals than seafood. The owner immigrated to the United States in 1980 and started immediately in the restaurant business, working his way up the ranks until ultimately opening up a place of his own serving the cuisine of his homeland.

We briefly caught glimpses of the chef as she was preparing our large meal. At first we mistook our server for her daughter, but she laughed this off when we asked.

Baskets of puffy Egyptian bread (baladi) and a salad of cucumber, tomato, and parsley comes to the table with any order.

Our excitement was kickstarted with the arrival of the falafel ($5, below), which here is made from fava beans. This difference in taste is very interesting, and the little balls also hint of cumin and garlic. A small cup of hummus is served with the dish.

The missaha ($6, below) was a favorite, a cold eggplant and pepper appetizer. The flavors are full, and this is the only dish the table had that was spicy.

Never miss a chance to enjoy ful medames ($5, below), listed as "fava beans" on one of the menus. Break off pieces of baladi to scoop up this "dip." Besides fava beans, there are oils, cumin, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and hints of chili pepper.

Makaroni bshamil ($8, below) is a pasta dish (using penne, not macaroni) and a bechamel sauce, wildly popular in Egypt. Underneath the creamy white sauce are layers of pasta and ground beef, while the whole dish is baked. It becomes a very nice comfort food for winter.

In the mid-1800's, Egypt was doing quite well economically and even the cabinets of the lowest classes of people were filled with various ingredients from various places. Koshary ($8, below), became a way to use all of these ingredients in one dish, and is now as popular in Egypt as anything else we associate with Egyptian cuisine.

With a bed of rice, lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni pasta, it is topped with a tomato sauce and fried onions, perfect for the vegans in your group. Roadside stalls serving only versions of this dish are very common in Egypt, but you can also find it on menus in more formal restaurants.

With so much excitement before main dishes came out, it was almost easy to forget about them. The lamb chops ($20, below) quickly reminded us though, the tender pieces were great. The five small chops are served simply with a half moon of rice, no sauces or extras needed. Foil is placed on each piece for easy holding, no fork and knife formalness necessary.

At different times, two members of the table expressed excitement over the rabbit ($20, below), so it was also ordered. Rabbits not served in stews tend to be dry, but this one transcends this quality and is quite delicious.

The marinade seems to be baked on, the skin takes a slightly hard character. With bites of rice and the mulukhiyah soup (in the background of makaroni bshamil photo), there is nothing missing.

Unfortunately, no one had room for dessert.

El-Omda Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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