Tell people in Lexington you’ve never eaten at Sahara, and they’ll automatically know you’re not from around here. You might as well say you’ve never been to Keeneland, never heard of Adolph Rupp, or you’re not a fan of bourbon.
You may think I’m going overboard with that statement, but just ask anyone in Lexington how they feel about Sahara and you’ll see.
Located in a strip mall off of Harrodsburg Road behind Applebee’s, Sahara is a Lexington institution. When I told people I was planning on doing a review on Sahara, they asked me “Why bother?” At first I didn’t fully understand the question: a restaurant is a restaurant. Then I started doing some research I realized that everyone – and I do mean everyone – has eaten here, and that every last one of them loves it here. At this point, it’s the Lexington Food Critic equivalent of doing a travel show in Venice or a romance movie on top of the Empire State Building.
I don’t consider myself an authority on anything, let alone Shawarma. In fact this was my first time ever trying the stuff. People may be surprised to find out that even though Long Island has a near infinite amount of options when it comes to restaurants, there are shockingly very few Mediterranean restaurants open, and the majority of those aren’t worth the effort to try and track down.
When I walked into Sahara, the first thing I noticed was how relatively cheap the lunch special was compared to other places around town: $6.46 for a large – and I mean LARGE – portion of food of your choosing. I chose the Lamb and Beef Shawarma.
Along with the lamb and beef, the meal included hummus, a Greek salad, rice, pita bread and some garlic sauce.
Let me just say…there’s a reason everyone loves Sahara: it’s fantastic. Everything on this plate was exquisite, right down to the salad. The garlic sauce compliments the shawarma perfectly, and the shawarma itself is tender and perfectly seasoned. It was, in a word, well…perfect. The hummus was the best I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. In fact, I originally didn’t like hummus - I thought it was too grainy – but this changed my mind completely. This was so creamy, so full of flavor, and so magnificent when combined with all the other ingredients available in my dish.
I can’t stress enough how much of a steal this lunch special is for the customer: It’s hard to imagine someone finishing the whole plate in one siting. In one day, Sahara had converted me from a guy who didn’t know a Kibe from a Falafel to a regular customer.
I was so enthralled by Sahara I actually went back the next day for lunch again, this time to make a to-go order. I picked out a Lamb & Beef King Shawarma: lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, garlic sauce, and pita bread. It’s also served with markouk bread, which is a little like pita bread but a little healthier and a little thinner.
In retrospect it was probably a bad idea to make this the dish I ordered for take out. It was difficult to pick up, even though they cut it up into manageable pieces for you, and it’s not meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. They also covered it with even MORE shawarma and garlic sauce, so good luck trying to pick up pieces without getting greasy. I also didn’t notice that much of a difference between this and my lunch special outside of it being double the amount of food, plus I didn’t care for the tomatoes in the King – they were a little hard. However I’m sure it would have been much better if I ate it at Sahara instead of ten minutes later at work.
On other visits I’ve eaten chicken shawarma, had beef kebab sandwiches and a Sahara chicken (a twice-marinated baked chicken with rice and garlic sauce), which were, of course, all exceptional. On one visit Kat had the Sahara chicken, however she didn’t really think it was anything special. I tried a piece and it was fine but she was right: It wasn’t as good as when I ordered it for myself on a separate occasion. There may be some consistency issues in the cooking or preparation but nothing major.
I could go on gushing about everything Sahara (and the market next door that is associated with it) has to offer, but literally EVERYTHING at Sahara is fantastic. Try the hummus, try the Shawarma, or try the Falafel, but just make sure you at least try Sahara. Of course, I’m talking only to you out-of-towners. The Lexingtonians are already in the know.
- John G