Shisha Cafe – Persian “pub grub” without the “pub”

28 01 2008

I decided to check out the Shisha Cafe this weekend because I was in the mood for something different and inexpensive. After looking through the local paper’s top dining picks for Middle Eastern fare, Shisha Cafe fit the bill and was close to where I work. The cafe occupies a small spot at the end of a strip center and has indoor and outdoor seating. Despite its name, however, I am inclined to report that this place is more of a lounge or parlor rather than a cafe, and I will have to respectfully disagree with the Express News’ assessment that the fare is worth investigating.

“Shisha” is the Arabic term for what many know and refer to as a “hooka” pipe. And as the name implies, the focus of the cafe is indeed smoking (“oh, and by the way, we serve food”). Evidence of this fact became more apparent as my family took a seat inside on plastic patio furniture and torn rattan tables. Thank goodness the music is kept at an acceptable level because I can only take so much of watching overly-produced Persian music videos featuring Western looking people singing in Guiness record-breaking tone and voice modulations. Popular American board games await on a shelf at the front counter for patrons to pass their time until the place closes at 4am. Rather than visiting a restaurant, the large bong (oops, I mean water pipe) assortment made it seem like I had entered a reincarnation of a “Magic Habits” head shop sans rock music, glow in the dark posters, and age limit warning signs.

My first disappointment is with the pricing. As usual, I checked out the menu on their website (which is done pretty well, by the way) and was excited to see $2.99 appetizers. I figured we could order several to get a good sample of the fare and still stay within a budget. The actual prices for the appetizers at the cafe were $3.69. I know that sounds petty, but it is almost a 20% difference (substantial). My second disappointment (and more appalling, actually) came just as swiftly when I ordered water. If I wanted water I would have to buy bottled Ozarka (at $0.99 no less). Ridiculous! We’re not in Iraq, for goodness sake. I’m pretty sure they do not have an ice maker, thus necessitating the bottled water. In addition, a can of soda would cost me $1.29. Man, the food better be good.

We ordered two appetizers: the hummus and the fool mudammas. For the uninitiated, hummus is a dip made from mashed chick peas, sesame paste, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice and is served with pita bread. Made well, hummus is a fantastic dip featuring a smooth texture and garlicky taste. Done poorly and you get Shisha Cafe hummus. It was just plain bland, lacking both garlic and salt. Plus, its difficult to spruce up something you serve on a disposable plastic plate. The fool mudammas was better, but not great. Similar to the hummus, it is made with mashed fava beans and served warm. This version still had a chunky texture that seemed to highlight the beans more and was seasoned well. The only weird thing about it is that it was so oily that it would not stick to the pita. You had to spoon it on and carefully aim for the pie hole. Additionally, it would be nice to be served homemade pita in a Persian restaurant (oh, right, this is a cafe).

We also ordered the Beef and Chicken Shish Kebab sandwiches, both of which come with lettuce, tomato, and pickles (in plastic baskets, thus bolstering my claim that the “cafe” is really no more than a glorified pub with no alcohol). The chicken comes with a creamy garlic sauce (hmm, I seem to have missed that) that added the moisture necessary to prevent the sandwich from being dry. The beef is supposed to be skewered and grilled ground beef with hummus. If this was ground beef then they pressed the heck out of it. The beef was like a dry and chewy piece of cheap steak and the hummus did nothing to soften the blow. Both sandwiches were wrapped in flat bread that was grilled a little too long, resulting in a chewy wrap.

After tax and tip, I spent around $26. Certainly not worth it in my book. I know nothing about what their hookas are like so I can’t comment on them. If you go to Shisha, go there to hang out with friends, not to find good Persian food. But if you are looking for a place to hang out and eat, there are other places that offer much better “pub grub.”



6 responses

30 01 2008

Thanks for the warning. A relative of mine said he went to Shisha too and was just as disappointed – only his issue was with the atmosphere (not sure if he actually ate anything substantial). He has been to Shisha bars in the DC area and it seems this one did not come close to measuring up.

2 06 2008
Hicham Hachem

Nice elaborate review. I think that before giving such review you should 1st learn the cuisine. Persian as you call it is a very specific type of food that is originally in Iran. Shisha Cafe offers Middle Easter Food that is served in a totally different area and pretty far from Iran.
As you mentioned yourself, this is a cafe that offers food. Sorry that you got disappointed. If you go visit it again, you will notice a big expansion happening. This means only the need of a bigger place needed to accomodate the more and more customers. Shisha has become our usual hangout because of the Friendly People, service, hooka that is a very old tradition, way older than the USA (that has nothing to do with your drug’s large bong as you describe it). The Food part, is not the best food ever but is good. As mentioned, this is not a diner but a friendly hangout that offers a lot that others do not offer. There are even to large screens where video music is played, middle easter and american. During sport season Spurs fans gather to watch the game and enjoy friends and hookas.

5 06 2008

Hicham: coupla things. 1) Persian, Middle Eastern, Semantics (sorry). 2) I’ve had Middle Eastern food numerous times that is quite good, so I do have a barometer to compare to. 3) The bong thing, just some humor. 4) Shisha looks like a great place to hang out with friends. In fact, just the kind of place you would find me were I several years younger and sans kids. However, my main critique is on the food, which I found lacking. But, thanks so much for reading and for the feedback.

11 12 2008

Thanks Hicham, The review sounds really flip and uninformed to me, even after the ‘semantics’ comment. I frequent the place often and for the food, as well as, the atmosphere. If it’s such an awful place, I wonder why it is expanding? I am 50 years old and of course a lot of young people go there, but I found it refreshing and the staff very nice. Just for kicks, I lived in the Middle East for a long time and I should think San Antonio, as big as it is, should have more places like Shisha’s.

18 12 2008

Well, it’t always interesting to hear what others have to say- first we are NOT a PERSIAN restaurant we are a Middle Eastern- Arabic Style food cafe meaning we are very casual. It is called a cafe because we have many that come and smoke and eat or just eat and hang out for two hours. Back home people play backgammon, chess, and checkers at cafes like this.
Secondly, if our food tastes so bad why are we always getting people from other cities in Texas and the Middle East come to try us out after their friends or family have been eating at our cafe. We take pride in what we serve- the hookahs, food, and drinks, including bottled water- when we first opened we had people order one hookah for six people and order tap water and they would sit for four hours or so- that is not going to help us is it? We can’t serve other customers if we have such tables taking over our space so we decided on bottled water and for your information, many restaurants/cafes are taking the same approach?!
Third, we are almost finished expanding our cafe so that the indoor space has doubled and we have built a patio outside- I ask if our food and service is so poor like you say, would we even bother?
I ask you to come by again and try our food in early January when the dust has settled from our renovations (including the kitchen) and then make a judgement but please be better informed when you write something that will be published.

18 12 2008

Farah – Thank you so much for reading and commenting. If you are the business owner then I commend you for taking a hands-on approach to managing what people say about your business online. I’ve only seen one other establishment do this. You are well-spoken and polite.
But, let me please defend myself. First of all, my apologies about the Persian misnomer. Nevertheless, your website says you serve Mediterranean food. Second, I never said that the food tastes bad. Third, thanks for the input on the bottled water. I completely understand and think that was a wise move. Fourth, I only write from first hand experiences. How much “better informed” can I be than to actually put the food in my mouth? I’m just telling it as I experienced it. Lastly, I would be happy to return to try the food again (read my comments on Big’z). Any recommendations?

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