The University District's smaller, cheaper Cedars, billed as Seattle's oldest Middle Eastern restaurant, is quite a deal. The food is cheap — and good.

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Cedars, on Northeast 43rd Street in the University District, first opened in 1974 and bills itself as the oldest Middle Eastern restaurant in Seattle. It moved to its present hole-in-the-wall location — with takeout window — in 1976. (Don’t confuse it with the U District’s other Cedars restaurant on Northeast 50th and Brooklyn Avenue Northeast, which has no connection to it.)

The food is cheap — and good. The atmosphere is informal, and owner Antoine “Tony” Khoury a genial host. The menu is genial, too, coming with a glossary that doesn’t just explain what the dishes are but gives the Arabic words for “Welcome” (“Ahlan Wa-Sahlan”) and “Hello” (“Marhaba”).

The menu: Cedars offers both carnivore and vegetarian fare. Entrees are under $10, although platters for two run to $19.95 for the “Completely Vegetarian” and $25.95 for the “Cedars Delight” (both are samplings of various items on the menu).

What to write home about: The chicken plate ($8.75), marinated chunks of meat topped with fried onions and tahini and served with rice, couldn’t be more tasty — or more filling.

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Most entrees come with rice, salad and pita bread. The salads are fresh, crisp and lightly flavored with a lemon-and-olive-oil dressing. In the case of the chicken plate, they’re also topped with crunchy pita croutons.

The marinated beef in the shawarma plate ($8.75) has a lemony tang to it. For a smaller dish, try the falafel plate ($8.25), which includes six deep-fried patties — a mixture of garbanzo and fava beans and spices — served on crisp greens.

The spanakopita plate ($7.75) is the best deal on the menu. These little spinach-and-cheese-filled pastries come with salad, hummus, steamed vegetables and pita bread.

Cedars offers a bargain dessert option, too: Turkish coffee and a good-sized portion of baklava ($4 for the combo). The heated pastry is sticky, nutty, chewy: everything baklava should be. And the coffee cuts it nicely.

What to skip: The pita bread is on the dry side.

The setting: Cedars is a bit of a time capsule. The faded airline poster of Beirut and the mural of a Lebanese landscape look as if they’ve graced the walls since the 1970s. Middle Eastern pop music plays quietly in the background. The lighting is a little harsh and the quarters a bit cramped. It’s the food that is the attraction here.

Summing up: The bill, for four entrees and a dessert and coffee, over two visits, came to $47.98.

Michael Upchurch:

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