I hadn't paid a visit to Aladdin's Café since 2001. I'd driven past the Lebanese restaurant in Casselberry several times over the years, but the pandemic gave me cause to finally pop in and grab some takeout.
Inside, the tastefully spartan space has gracefully aged since its opening more than a quarter-century ago. I remember how the restaurant suffered after 9/11, and how fear and racism shook owner Hassan Hafza and his wife Samia to the core. I also remember how the community, and members of various faiths, banded together to help the restaurant get back on its feet.
Nearly 20 years later, the food at Aladdin's Café has an air of familiarity to it. The shanklish, a crumbly aged cheese coated in spicy za'atar, is as salty as I'd remembered, and the hummus, anointed with olive oil, paprika and parsley, just as wonderfully creamy. Shish tawook was my lunchtime kebab of choice, but giving the menu a closer perusal had me thinking about my next takeout visit. I've got my sights set on the harira soup, lamb sausage and sautéed quail. No, Aladdin's Café hasn't changed much since 9/11 and neither, it seems, have the times.
(Aladdin's Café, 1015 State Road 436, Casselberry, 407-331-0488, aladdinscafe orlando.com)