On a sunny afternoon in late August, the sun dances across the floor of Almanqal Mediterranean Grill in Wallingford. At the single table out front, a couple dives into their feast-like order, as life streams by along the 45th Street thoroughfare.
Inside, Chef "Haqi" Aljanabi is masked up in front of the fiery oven. He methodically places circles of dough on his bread paddle, inserting it into a custom-made oven that heats up to 920 degrees. This allows the pita to balloon into perfectly soft, blistered creations in just under a minute.
Business partner Moe Abdul watches his friend hard at work, sharing that this is Aljanabi's dream since he grew up baking and has 26-plus years of culinary experience. He has full confidence in his abilities.
"Anything he does," Abdul says, "People are going to like it.”
Aljanabi and Abdul, natives of Baghdad, Iraq, met in their home country 16 years ago. They both immigrated to Houston in 2010 (they tried to open a restaurant there, but it never seemed to be in the cards). Aljanabi relocated to Seattle a couple of years ago, and Abdul recently followed.
In light of the pandemic that arrived this spring, the timing of their Almanqal restaurant opening - January 1, 2020 - could not have been much trickier. Yet despite the astronomical demands of Seattle rent and COVID-era hurdles faced by all small businesses, they are trying to keep things afloat with their flavorful, fresh fare that has already gained a steadfast following.
Their restaurant, named “Almanqal,” translates to the small grill used outside for barbecues. Although it’s an Arabic word, Abdul explains, Persians and Turkish people use it too.
The number one thing this duo wants you to know: All of their food is lovingly made from scratch. Unlike many restaurants that simply reheat frozen or pre-made products, this eatery is dedicated to creating each item themselves - from the salad dressing and fresh housemade lemonade to the divinely smooth hummus (topped with a puddle of olive oil and a fresh olive), which truly may be some of the best we’ve ever tasted. Those who like a bit of punch will enjoy their spicy hummus, too!
Aljanab, whose family had an eatery in Iraq, has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, working in restaurants that span genres from Turkish and Persian to Greek and Italian. This Seattle venue seems to be a beautiful melange of all that knowledge and experience. Their healthful dishes here feature fresh veggies, plentiful herbs and spices, plus lots of olive oil.
"When you taste it," Abdul says, "you can feel it’s fresh.”
So what is Aljanabi's dish of choice? The lamb shawarma with hummus. Abdul loves the shawarma, too, or the mixed grill - a delightful combo of rice, ground lamb and beef kofta kebab, chicken kebab and lamb kebab, marinated with signature seasoning. The shrimp is exceptional as well.
We also fell in love with Aljanabi's falafel with tahini sauce and pickled eggplant starter dish. Their black tea with cardamom - served in stunning, traditional glass vessels - is the perfect low-caffeine way to digest and relax post-meal. Abdul discusses the quandary of trying to keep prices reasonable while also accurately reflecting the quality (and quantity) of what they so passionately prepare and serve.
The restaurant is currently open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Within this grueling schedule, each partner tries to take off one day a week. Aljanabi does all the marinating ahead of time, leaving the “easy work” for Abdul, he jokes. He's shocked to learn just how exhausting the restaurant industry can be. He now relates to why his mom and wife were always so tired after spending extended time in the kitchen, he says laughing.
Yet all the hard work seems to be bringing joy - to the customers and owners - and they hope to continue sharing their culture and cuisine with Seattleites from all different backgrounds.
Before we head back out into the afternoon sunshine, full and content, Abdul utters some parting words of wisdom: “In the end, we’re all human.”
This makes us want to root even more fiercely for this small, inviting business, run by two close friends with a shared passion and a dream.
Looking to support other diverse local businesses like Almanqal Grill? Seattle Refined is proud to collaborate with Intentionalist, an online guide that makes it easier for you to find and connect with diverse local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.