Al Amir Arabic Restaurant

Unhurried groups of elderly Arabic regulars tend to socialize at Al-Amir, an encouraging sign for a Syrian restaurant in downtown Budapest. Al-Amir marries a counter-service and a bare-bones sit-down format. (Most upscale is the downstairs section, usually taken up by hookah-smokers during the cold months - note that hookahs aren't allowed in the summer for business reasons.)

Overall, the food at Al-Amir is far from memorable, but a few dishes are very satisfying. The restaurant’s main appeal to me isn’t so much the food, as is the Middle Eastern atmosphere, in part thanks to the ever-present outdoor tables, even in the dead of winter (they’re heated!), and the Arabic customers of course.

Unlike the bland pitas they serve in most Levantine restaurants in the Budapest, at Al-Amir they're of the fluffier kind. Dishes I also enjoyed the mezzes (hummus, baba ghanoush, and matbukha in particular), the falafel, and the shish taouk. I wish the lamb kebabs came out a bit more charred. For fans of baklava: they’re nicely moist and flavorful here.