3401 SE Belmont

Lebanese restaurants are usually a family affair. You'll find a surprisingly low divorce rate among families who must use sharp knives and ovens in confined spaces, and what won't kill you will only make you stronger. Hoda Khouri carries on in the tradition of her father's eponymous Nicholas Restaurant, hangs her own name on the door, and serves up a similar menu of Lebanese and Middle Eastern plates, breads, and pizzas at more than reasonable prices.

Hoda's great triumphs come from the oven. Baba gannoujh is smoky decadence for only $3.50 with all the fresh pita bread you care for. Oh, and the bread. Baked within seconds of being consumed, it is light enough to float off the plate, subtly tangy with natural leavening, and an integral part of the meal. Spinach pies and Middle Eastern pizzas are all spawned by the hands of someone who understands baking.

Garlic is an essential component to hummus, though Hoda's lacks a proportion that leaves tracers from your mouth for the rest of your night. Without an obscene amount, one is able to identify the flavor of chick peas, which sink into the rich tahini. I think of Hoda's hummus as a metaphor for the restaurant itself; virtue is found in simplicity, and Hoda's deliberate absence of flash and gimmick allows you to appreciate all the subtleties of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Some items do fall short of the same perfection, like the dense falafel. Hoda's commitment to healthful cooking should be waived long enough for these fried chick pea patties to actually fry and develop a crisp shell. As for the shawarma, clove is the only discernable flavor in this beef marinated in yogurt and "delicate" spices. Despite these flaws, Hoda does her papa proud.