My birthday and Father’s Day were the same day this year. Fortunately, my family and I share many of the same tastes and finding a place to celebrate, all of us together, isn’t all that difficult. Especially when Denver provides a restaurant like the Sahara. The Sahara is middle eastern cuisine; Moroccan and Lebanese, and is more vegan friendly than some restaurants I’ve been to lately. There aren’t a great deal of strictly vegan options but, while hummus is on the menu, it isn’t the only vegan option on the menu. The appetizer section is loaded with options like hummus, baba ghannoj, and grape leaves, and fattouch and tabbouleh are tasty items from the salad section. The vegetarian dishes are falafel with hummus, falafel with baba ghannoj, couscous with vegetables, and the the Sahara all veggie special. Part of me wishes I could tell you how the other veggie dishes taste but I don’t know: I always order the Sahara all veggie special. There is one non-vegan option on the veggie special: the plate comes topped with one sanbousak of spinach which contains feta cheese. This is not insurmountable if you, like me, visit the restaurant with a non-vegan family member. The rest of the plate is well worth it.
The Sahara All Veggie Special comes with the aforementioned sanbousak of spinach, a stuffed grape leaf, hummus, baba ghannoj, falafel, saffron rice, fattouch, and tabbouleh. One can tuck in with a fork or my personal preference is to make tiny sandwiches with pita bread. Eating this way is messy so I don’t recommend it unless you’re visiting the restaurant with someone you know well but it has to be my favorite meal. Once the food arrives, there is little conversation as my family and I turn our entire attention to the amazing food.
The service is fantastic at Sahara. The water pitcher is constantly making the rounds so no one ever sits staring forlornly at the aperture, waiting for a glimpse of a waiter while thirsting to death. And, when things go wrong as invariably happens, the staff at Sahara move heaven and earth to make it right. Case in point: my parents ordered a pastilla as an appetizer. (I wish the pastilla was vegan-the mix of savory and sweet spices and the flaky crust is fabulous) and a portion of it was so hard my step-father couldn’t cut through. The staff apologized and he had a fresh one within minutes.
The wine list is not extensive but then it has no need to be because the Sahara offers Le Prieure du Chateau Ksara; a wine from Lebanon. I have no idea if this wine is vegan in its formulation so I enjoy it with a small pang at my ignorance. It’s one of my favorite wines. It’s mellow, like a merlot or a malbec, and I think it has a slight berry taste before my meal. During the meal, as the wine mixes with the spices in the food, the wine stays full flavored but is less fruity as it takes on a peppery tang. Still good, just different.
I indulged in shameless eavesdropping as others seated around me discussed menu options with the waiter and eavesdropping was rewarded. I discovered Arabic Coffee. I’d seen it on the menu before but always had Vietnamese Coffee in the back of my mind. I used to indulge in Vietnamese Coffee when I still partook of dairy and I couldn’t imagine Arabic Coffee wouldn’t come without some sort of cream or milk. Well, one does not know unless one asks and my waiter assured me the coffee didn’t usually come with milk. As I had to make a trip to the bookstore, I ordered one.
I felt a little foolish trying to pinch the handle of the demitasse cup as I sipped the coffee but quickly got over myself. I usually find espresso bitter but this coffee was smooth. It seemed to contain the same spices as the food: I swear I tasted something that might have been nutmeg. I need to have more before I can say for certain. The coffee was served with a little sugar and our waiter told us he drinks his with a dash of cinnamon. I think that sounds like something I could enjoy and plan on hauling my demitasse set out of storage and teaching myself how to make Arabic Coffee.
Last, but certainly not least, I love going to the Sahara on a Saturday night because the restaurant has a belly dancer perform. While I take classes, I don’t know many of the dancers in the Denver area so can’t tell you the dancer’s name. She was so much fun to watch and I managed to limit myself to a few chest circles in my seat, despite the infectious music. I have never had a disappointing experience at the Sahara and my birthday/Father’s Day dinner was full of the fun times, friendly people, and amazing food I’ve come to expect. It’s the perfect place to go as a vegan where both I and my non-vegan family members can find food that satisfies us all.
Want to check The Sahara out? Visit their website here