I don't want to write this review of the Hush Hush Café. I know it's my "job," and my deadline is looming, but I'd really rather keep this one to myself. The tiny café is tucked into the corner of SW 4th and Washington, and it's easy to imagine hundreds of people walking past each day without even noticing that the Hush Hush is there. Though it does a bustling lunch business, when I've gone for dinner I've had my choice of tables in the quiet restaurant—and I swear to god, if I have trouble getting a table after this review comes out, I'm going to be pissed.
I shouldn't begrudge the Hush Hush more business, though. The Palestinian owner is friendliness personified, and his warm, wood-toned little café is an affordable addition to the downtown dining scene. If his from-scratch food also happens to be so delicious that pretty soon there's a Nicholas'-esque wait for dinner, well... more power to him.
The menu is familiar Mediterranean fare: falafel, gyros, kabobs, and other standards. The vegetarian maze plate ($8) is a great place to start; it comes with parsley-heavy tabouli, baba ghanoush, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and all the fresh-baked pita you can eat. The pita appears on the table puffy and full of steam, and it's hard not to scald yourself tearing into it too quickly, while the addictive hummus is as good as any I've had—smooth, well balanced, and addictive. The maze plate could easily be a meal in and of itself, but it's worth ordering a few items to share. The fatoosh salad is a crowd pleaser, combining romaine hearts, tomatoes, onions, and cucumber with pomegranate extract and olive oil for a bright, refreshing flavor.
I'm not a falafel fan, but the Hush Hush's falafel wrap got the thumbs up from my vegetarian dinner date—I err on the bloodthirsty side, so I tried a variety of meat dishes, all of which were exceptional. The lamb in the lamb shank plate ("highly recommended" on the menu) was braised in tomato sauce and "special spices," and required little persuasion to fall off the bone. The meat was tender and aromatic, and even when my sister tried to make me feel guilty about my meal choice by doing a pretty convincing impression of a cute lamb frolicking in a meadow, all I could think about was how good little Lambikins would taste if the cook at the Hush Hush chopped her up and stuffed her in a pita.
I'm accustomed to thinking of rice as an uninspired source of starch, something I cook with vegetables when I'm too hungry to cook real food, and too lazy to walk to Beulahland for nachos. The fragrant, nutty basmati rice that came with my lamb platter at the Hush Hush politely reminded me not to be a jackass and to never underestimate rice again. Other standout menu items included the chicken shawarma plate, pieces of nicely charred grilled chicken served over rice, and the juicy chicken kabobs.
On each of my three visits to the Hush Hush I've been the only native English speaker in the restaurant. It makes me feel like a force of culinary gentrification to say this, but if you want good Middle Eastern food, go where the Middle Easterners go: And FYI, they go to the Hush Hush Café.