Old Cairo, Burke, VA

Old Cairo is the only Egyptian restaurant I know of in the area (and I say “Egyptian” with a grain of salt because it has only one indigenous Egyptian dish).

Located next to the Wal-Mart (unless you live in Burke, that’s your only hope of finding this), most of the fare here is in familiar Mediterranean territory. Although the space is large, the decor is almost non-existent, and the food is served in styrofoam bowls with plastic utensils.

The pita bread is purchased, but wrapped in foil and heated in the oven, and can be used with virtually every dish here. The Baba Ghannouge ($3.95) is slightly smokier than the norm, and is decent, but the Red Lentil Soup ($3.95) is fabulous – thick and rich like a purée, so it stays piping hot for a good twenty minutes. If you’re only going to get one appetizer, go with the soup and you won’t regret it.

Koshari ($5.50) is the native Egyptian dish, and worth trying. It’s a bowlful of brown lentils, chickpeas, rice, elbow macaroni, (good) tomato sauce, and the force that brings it all together, caramelized onions. Mix it all together, and eat it with a fork or a spoon.

Everything up to this point is vegan, but I added a skewer of lamb to my Koshari, bringing the price up to $11.50. It was five chunks of excellent grilled lamb, medium-rare on the inside, and the owner told me it was Halal meat, but the six-dollar upcharge is severe.

The Mousaka ($6.50, or $9.00 with soup or salad) took forever to arrive. I thought surely it was because they’d baked it in a large pan, refrigerated it, and were heating it in the oven (i.e., not a microwave), so was surprised to see a single-serving aluminum tray. Although I’m not sure, I suspect Old Cairo purchases their Beshamels (they have three kinds) which is no great sin because the Mousaka was very close to being good.  It had all the right flavors and textures – eggplant, ground beef, tomato sauce, a touch of nutmeg, beautiful browning on the top – but ultimately failed because of an unacceptable amount of oil at the bottom of the tray. I can recommend this dish, but only if you spoon it out into a bowl and leave the oil behind.

No alcohol served, but worth forsaking a beer for the chance to try what might be the only Egyptian dish in the area.

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