In the last 20 years or so, it hasn’t been too hard to find a decent falafel or shawarma in and around Boston. There have always been iconic places one could go to get these. But, where could one go to get truly authentic Lebanese fare? Outside of asking your Lebanese friend’s mom, there really wasn’t anywhere you could go. That’s why, in the early spring of 2012, Café Beirut first opened its doors in Jamaica Plain.
Chef Ali Hachem and Sami Saba teamed up to bring the residents of JP, and the rest of Boston, authentic Lebanese down-home cooking. All the dishes are prepared exactly as they would be if your Tayta or Sitoo (grammy or gramma) would.
Chef Ali uses ONLY Halal meats in the preparation of his dishes as well as only the freshest produce available. (Halal denotes or relates to any meat that is prepared as prescribed by Muslim law). He uses lots of aromatics and fresh herbs to enhance the flavors of our dishes; he really takes a no-holds-barred approach to preparing his meals! He doesn’t try to tone down any of the flavors in order to satisfy the western palate. Instead, he uses cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cardamom and in ways that we in the west are not accustomed to.
It’s true that Café Beirut does serve Falafel, Shawarma, Hommous, and Tabooli, but, where the selection ends for other Middle Eastern places, ours is just starting. Chef Ali makes two kinds of sausage from scratch, makes his own Labneh (a strained yogurt) from a culture that’s been in his family for over 100 years, and he cures his own Bastorma (without trying it, it could only be described as the Lebanese love-child of corned beef and pastrami). We also carry a fried chicken liver roll-up sandwich as well as a lamb brains roll-up (you gotta try it before you say “ewe”…..pun intended!!!)
We implore you to come on down and give us a try. Let Chef Ali transport your taste buds to a place very few people get to go. Between our excellent food and superior customer service, you will not be disappointed with your time at Café Beirut.
Sami was born and raised in Boston. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Sami didn’t exactly have a normal upbringing. His parents started Boston’s very first falafel food truck just before he was born (Sami’s Falafel). You can say he has falafel in his genes. Every day, before school, after school, during the summer, Sami spent his spare time learning the ins and outs of the “falafel biz,” focusing most of his efforts on the management and customer service aspect of things.
After graduating from Boston Latin School in 1998, Sami went on to receive a Bachelor’s of Science from UMASS – Boston with a concentration in Managing Information Systems. Soon after college, Sami’s father was diagnosed with colon cancer, at which point he was finally handed the proverbial keys.
In 2012, Sami decided he needed to do something on his own. After some restructuring, he handed the reins to his sister so he can start Café Beirut with his partner, Chef Ali Hachem. He thought it was about time Boston got a taste of REAL Lebanese food.
*Just under a year after opening, his father, the founder of Sami’s Falafel, Ghazi “Big Sam” Saba succumbed to complications caused by his cancer.
**Sami’s still has one location, just a stones-throw from the original spot on Longwood Ave.
Chef Ali Hachem
Ali was born in a small sea-side village near Tyre, southern Lebanon, in early 1968. From a very early age, he had aspirations of providing the masses his culinary creations. From mini chicken and garlic roll-ups to chilled pomegranate and rose water drinks, Ali would serve whatever he could to the people at the nearby beaches.
At the tender age of 9, Ali went to work at his cousin’s restaurant nearby. This is where he learned the basics of how to run a kitchen. He continued here part-time until he was about 11, when his father passed. He quit school and went on to work in restaurants full time, honing his craft.
When he was 15, he went to a culinary institute in Beirut where he not only learned everything there was to learn about Lebanese cooking, but he also learned of the other cuisines from around the world. It was this new-found knowledge and years of experience that led him to his new job in the border town of Naqoura.
At just 16 years old, Ali found himself running a large restaurant just outside the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) base. He was responsible for feeding everyone from the basic UNIFIL staff to foreign dignitaries every day. Business was booming, both figuratively, and unfortunately, literally.
Due to the constant civil unrest and volatile environment that is southern Lebanon, Ali had a decision to make. So, Christmas-time 1988, Ali backed up his bags and made his way to the US. For the next six years, Ali worked hard and saved his pennies. He worked as a clerk at what used to be Christy’s Market (now 7-11) in JP. He was a line cook at McDonalds as well. He also worked in the kitchen of some other well-known Middle Eastern restaurants such as Sabra, The Phoenician, and The Middle East.
In ’94 he opened a small shawarma counter inside a halal met market in Roslindale Square. After a few years of success, he partnered up with his cousins and opened up Shawarma King in 1996. Business was good for them. They moved from their Northeastern location to Brookline and made a killing.
Time went on and Ali and his cousins got married and had kids. The one business was too small to support everyone. So in 2012, Ali sold his stake in Shawarma king and partnered up with Sami Saba to start Café Beirut.