Mombar is settled in the middle of a segment of Steinway Street known as Little Egypt. Twenty years ago it was just a copy shop, on a stretch of road filled primarily with Greek and Italian businesses. Its transition to one of the most talked about destinations for Southern Egyptian cuisine probably played no small part in inspiring the neighborhood to become what it is today—a string of cafes, restaurants and shops studded with hookah in every size, shape, and color. Halal shops feature various meats on skewers, warm pita accompanying crushed lentils and chickpeas, and strong coffee served with honey-soaked pastries.
Mombar pops out to any pedestrian walking down the street. Designed and run by chef/owner Mustafa El Sayed (his brother, Ali, runs the Kabab Cafe a few doors down), the whimsical storefront and dining room took seven years to decorate, and features a kaleidoscope of mosaics, mugs, children’s-crayon-drawings, pillows and tapestries, creating the playful ambiance of a Technicolor cantina.
The array of menu offerings is equally whimsical, though each individual dish is fairly straightforward. This is not the place to come for fusion, or an Americanized rendition of Egyptian cuisine hidden beneath sauces or cheese. This is the stuff of serious Egyptian culinary purity, and won’t taste like anything comparable to the unfamiliar palate.
Moustafa himself prepares each and every plate to order, so expect to make an evening of it. Appetizers range from $7 to $8, and entrees are $12 to $25. A tasting menu is available for $30 per person. You can also build your own tasting, simply by giving your server a set price in which you’d like to work.
Lamb testicles are boiled, then peeled and sautéed in a lemon-garlic cream sauce—something like an extremely tender herbed chicken sausage meatball. The server stirs a quail egg into a clay pot of lamb cheek, which tastes extremely similar to a hearty Bolognese sauce, served with toasted pita points. Da-jaj bel-zitoon arrives in a clay pot of savory chicken tajeen with stewed olives and vegetables. The roasted rack of lamb, braised in butter and spices and blanketed in wilted greens, literally falls off the bone.
Beer and wine are available, but be sure to try the hibiscus tea, made with hibiscus imported from southern Egypt. Or a mango lassi, which arrives unstirred, a swirl of salty and sweet.
On a visit to try the El Sayed’s cuisine, chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain expressed his envy of those fortunate enough to live nearby. There’s nothing quite like this anywhere else, that’s for certain. But for the adventurous diner, it’s well worth a trip to Astoria for the experience.
25-22 Steinway Street, Astoria
5-11 p.m. daily except Mondays
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