Though not everyone would agree, many of us herald the turnover of a Taco Bell into, well, anything else. And in this case, the change is especially good news: the Bell’s former space on 66th Street and Penn Avenue in Richfield became much improved when it converted to the Mediterranean-themed Aida this February, which has been quietly building up a fan base for its falafel, schwarma, and kabobs. Gorditas got nothing on gyros, especially when they’re made with such flavorful meat.
Gyros notwithstanding, Aida’s menu focuses more on the Middle Eastern rather than Greek portion of the Mediterranean — no surprise when you learn that owner Ahmed Mohamed hails from Egypt. If you have any doubts, the crispy, cumin-scented falafel dispel them. They lack the breadiness of many imposter balls, bringing the chickpea and fava bean flavors front and center. Nestled into a soft piece of naan and topped with garlicky hummus and a cool cucumber and yogurt sauce, the falafel sandwich ($7, also available as a salad for $7, or plate with fries or rice for an additional $2) delivers a satisfying meal that won’t make you feel like you missed out on the meat.
But if you’d rather have animal protein, the gyro ($7 as sandwich or salad) brings together the best of lamb and beef for a primal, juicy bite. Request the baba ghannoush as a topping to add the smokiness of eggplant and, of course, more garlic. While the chicken and beef schwarma ($8 together in a chopped salad) offer the signature spicy flavor of these Middle Eastern favorites, the strips of meat have the tendency to dry out and become leathery. Adding tahini helps immensely, but the dish shouldn’t have to rely on sauce to make it memorable.
Dessert options are limited and sometimes unavailable — it was disheartening to learn Aida was out of baklava on a recent visit. The substitute, a slice of Egyptian basboosa cake ($2.45), proved to be more than worthy, however. The almond-scented honey cake yielded a tender crumb, and the rose-water syrup in which it was drenched added sweetness without an overwhelmingly sugary punch. It wasn’t enough to fully diminish the lingering garlic taste from the main meal, however. Make sure you have plenty of mints for the rest of your afternoon or evening.
While anyone who visits Aida expecting food on par with Saffron would be disappointed, the restaurant offers a fast, filling meal that’s a refreshing alternative to your typical sandwich shop, burger joint, or — yes — taco place. In fact, if you’re thinking outside the bun, you might as well bypass the taco shell and go straight for the naan.
Mediterranean in Richfield
2208 W 66th St
Richfield, MN 55423
OWNERS: Ahmed and Amy Mohamed
Sun 11am-8 pm
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $6.95-$9.99