The Pyramids, a taste of the Middle East in Hawaii

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HONOLULU -- One of the best deals in town for a buffet lunch can be had at the Pyramids on Kapahulu Avenue for $9.95.

It seems as though people from all walks of life know about this place: celebrities, politicians, news anchors, beachgoers and tourists. Its hard to keep a secret when it comes to good food. 

The cuisine is Egyptian and Mediterranean, so I always begin with the Greek salad. Its a light, refreshing and crunchy start.

Fresh pita bread sits next to the hummus, a creamy, blended concoction of garbanzo beans, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. This is such an addictive dip that almost anything tastes good with it. The fried falafel balls (deep-fried patties of ground and spiced garbanzo and fava beans) make a great sandwich when combined with the hummus and served on pita bread.

Im not shy, so I venture back for some tabouleh, a mix of bulgur wheat, fresh tomato, onions, chopped mint leaves, lemon and olive oil. There are also some out-of-place, spiced french fries on the line as well as a dish called bamia, which is okra braised in thick tomato sauce, and basmati rice.

For a meat dish, try shwarma, a blend of spiced and marinated beef and lamb cooked vertically on a spit and sliced into thin strips. A little tip: Take the meat from the lower part of the pan because thats where all the juicy pieces are; the top strips tend to dry out.

In another pan, youll find shwarma chicken, tasting of Middle Eastern spices and char-broiled smokiness. Top the meats with a tangy and creamy yogurt sauce.

Rice pudding follows, seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, topped with crushed nuts.

Dinnertime brings an a la carte menu. The spanakopita is a spinach and feta cheese marriage, wrapped in phyllo dough and baked until golden brown and crunchy. 

The fool moudammas is a simple dish of baked fava beans with lemon, olive oil and seasonings. Fava beans are a soft, almost creamy bean, popular in Middle Eastern and Italian cuisines. Another popular appetizer is stuffed grape leaves with a filling of rice, parsley, chopped tomato, onions and lemon, steamed and served with a yogurt sauce.

An entree to try would be moussaka, a baked dish of layered, fried eggplant and ground beef topped with a creamy bechamel sauce. Another is reiash, lamb ribs that have been marinated for two days and charbroiled slowly. Then theres shish kabob, cubes of lamb served with basmati rice. They do a shish shrimp, as well. One more interesting item is the kibbeh, a mix of ground beef and lamb, cracked wheat, onions, raisins and pine nuts.

Belly dancing is the entertainment weeknights at 7:30 and 8:30, earlier on Saturdays and Sundays; call for times. There is free parking behind the restaurant.

Matthew Gray is a former food writer and restaurant reviewer for the Honolulu Advertiser, Hawaiis largest daily newspaper. He can be reached at (800) 715-2468.

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