Arabic cuisine finds a new home on South King Street at Habibi Tasty


“EEverything was made by hand here.” At Habibi Tasty, Suzen Alkatib proudly displays a white table with tiles in Mediterranean tones. A pillar covered from floor to ceiling in sky-blue glass “took a long time, but we made it ourselves. We did everything except the wiring and electricity.”

Alkatib and her partner, Moha Arekat, have revived the quirky Jordanian food truck I chanced upon in Waikīkī in December 2019 as a physical store on the corner of Isenberg Street and King Street in Mōʻiliʻili. They’ve had the space, a former moped shop, for a year, added a huge open plan kitchen and upgraded the dining area with seven tables and rustic decor from their home. Habibi Tasty opened in late June and joins an eclectic mix of shops that include everything from Japanese izakaya pubs to an Indian restaurant and New York-style pizza bodega.

SEE ALSO: Delicious Middle Eastern Food Arrives from a Van in Waikīkī

With the extra space, they expanded the menu. One side is dedicated to appetizers, while the other includes main courses served with rice, grilled vegetables, and hummus or salad. Prices are higher, but that comes with the area having more overhead. The extended selection of appetizers is enough for me to plan my next visit.

You’ll find crunchier falafel options, including a mixed platter ($16) with six medium falafels and two large falafels, one stuffed with red onion and sumac, the other with cheese. You can also have a falafel sandwich ($12) and appetizers like cheese potatoes ($8) and stuffed mushrooms ($8). In addition to falafel, vegan options include hummus ($10), grilled eggplant baba ganoush ($10), and the Arabic salad ($6).

The Chicken Sheesh ($20), marinated chicken breasts turned into fowl-gold nuggets that are bursting with flavor and boasting an ideal amount of char, is a great place to start. As are the lamb kebabs ($32), packed with flavors like peppers, cumin, and lots of garlic. For the plates, I suggest adding a side of Saj flatbread (two for $5) baked to order on a hot stone. The Lamb Mix Platter ($65) is for sharing, with two lamb kebabs, two lamb chops, a lamb sheesh skewer, two saj breads, rice, grilled vegetables, hummus, and salad. It’s a literal feast.

Photo: Thomas Obungen

My friend and I order an appetizer sample ($20) with hummus, baba ganoush, arabic salad, falafel, pickles, and a flatbread, plus a beef kabab platter ($28) for a light dinner. The bright flavors play off the spices and herbs in the grilled meat. Marrying her on a slice of saj bread is tantamount to making the ultimate Korean ssam salad wrap, or an over-the-top hand roll where the elements come together in a flavor crescendo.

There’s just enough food for both of us to take home some leftover hummus, an easy late night snack.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Hale’ Aina Award Winner: Istanbul Hawaii Wins Best Mediterranean Restaurant

When I first encountered Habibi Tasty operating in a converted van on a quiet street behind the Ritz-Carlton in Waikīkī, it was an enchanting scene. Curious residents walking their dogs and peering at the menu, tourists in various stages of sobriety looking for something to eat, and myself sitting on any chair waiting for my kebabs while watching a Europop remix of “Macarena” blares. It was comforting in a way that words cannot describe. If you haven’t been there you’ll have missed some top notch people, but the delicious Arabic food lives on. In the future – I assume when Alkatib and Arekat find time to set up more tables – outdoor seating will flank the King Street side of the restaurant.

The new Habibi Tasty has all the handcrafted appeal of the old van, but with the benefits of ample on-street parking, more menu choices, and reasonable seating. I can imagine venturing here more often.

Open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., 2346 S. King St., @habibitasty


Comments are closed.