In Seattle's Hillman City, Mawadda Cafe owner Rami Al-Jebori greets patrons with a genuinely warm welcome and an array of dishes that range from satisfying to sensational.

Mawadda Cafe serves up big platters of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food with a side of the American dream.

The dreamer is owner Rami Al- Jebori, who studied to be a chef in New York City and worked in the food industry for years before buying a dilapidated sandwich shop on South Graham Street a few years ago.

“For a year and a half, I worked 14 hours a day, open to close, just by myself,” he says. “Every penny I made I put back in the place.” He upgraded the kitchen, put in new tile, painted the walls cinnamon and mocha, and bought new furniture. Now he has three employees and nurtures a hope of one day opening a fine-dining restaurant.

In the meantime, he greets patrons with a genuinely warm welcome and an array of dishes that range from merely satisfying to superb.

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The menu: Gyros, falafel, kabobs and shawarma are among the expected offerings on this mostly Middle Eastern menu. But there are a few surprising Italian imports as well, including chicken Parmesan and spaghetti with meatballs. Every dish at Mawadda is prepared in accordance with halal dietary laws, as prescribed by Islam, and they’re all made fresh to order. That means service isn’t the fastest in town. But Al-Jebori encourages you to call and order ahead, so your food is ready to eat or take out when you arrive.

What to write home about: Creamy, extra-garlicky tzatziki is served alongside nearly every Middle Eastern entree on the menu — it’s divine. So is the hot, hot chai that grows more flavorful as it cools.

The setting: Bright, clean, cozy, with seating for about 20: Mawadda is one of the more outwardly appealing little storefronts in Hillman City.

Summing up: My family of four started with an appetizer of sambosa ($5.99) — a tasty triangular pastry filled with meat and served with that heavenly tzatziki — and then split a variety of dishes to sample a full range. The grilled lamb shawarma ($10.99) was mildly seasoned and moist, and served with saffron rice. (Like it spicy? Order it extra hot.) Falafel salad ($8.99) came with four big falafel balls of an almost crumbly texture, with hummus, garlic sauce and tzatziki on the side. Chewy, delicious spanakopita, stuffed grape leaves and hummus were partnered for a vegetarian combo ($9.99). On the side we ordered an additional yummy gyro ($5.99); forgettable Greek fries ($2.99) and extra pita (1.99) — because the entrees, while large, were skimpy on the bread. One chai ($2) brought the bill to $48.93 plus tax — a dream of a deal.

Lynn Jacobson: 206-464-2714 or