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.

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.

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: mupchurch@seattletimes.com