Superbaba, a successful casual Middle Eastern restaurant


What’s behind the Superbaba success? Fresh local ingredients whenever possible. The flavours. The made-from-scratch cooking, the pita, the halva in one of their cookies, the sauces

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Where: 2419 Main Street

When: 11:15 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily

Info: 604-423-5578;

Dallah El Chami always loved to cook, but as career choices go, the tech industry was the better parent-pleaser. Cooking became a side hustle, with occasional pop-ups called Dallah Menu featuring Middle Easterninspired foods.

But passion got its way with him and he ditched tech for his true love. With a team from the Tacofino group, he opened Superbaba, a Middle Eastern spot in Victoria. And whaddaya know — super success! Next, they punted the concept over to Vancouver, with Robbie Kane of Medina on board, first as a food truck and then, last November, as a restaurant, taking advantage of pandemic rent easements. Until the viral blight is over, Superbaba is operating as takeout only.

El Chami learned cooking from his mother, but he took it further. “I spent time in Lebanon researching, finding people who made bread and pastries, and improving techniques,” he says. “I’m Lebanese but was born in Saudi Arabia and spent my life between Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.”


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The “super” in Superbaba is a partly a kitschy nod to superlative adjectives like “Best” or “No. 1” that he sees in names of quick-service restaurants. “Baba” is a term of endearment in Arabic. “Dad sometimes calls me that, and I do the same,” El Chami says. “It comes from very strong family bonds, and I’d like that in the restaurants. Middle Eastern food is about sharing around the table.”

What’s behind the Superbaba success? Fresh local ingredients whenever possible. The flavours. The made-from-scratch cooking, the pita, the halva in one of their cookies, the sauces.

“This is the best falafel I’ve had,” my husband declared upon tasting it. We have had enough dry or stale falafels to notice this one with a crisp surface and soft interior moistened with herbs and onions. The Canadian chickpeas are given a good long soak, loading up on moisture, and the falafels are fried to order, not reheated. “You don’t make french fries 30 minutes before. Why would you do it with falafels?” El Chami asks. The falafels ($5.75) come with tahini sauce, one of three sauces available. The other two are sumac mayo and shug, a mix of cilantro, serrano pepper, garlic and lemon juice.

Speaking of french fries, I did have a question for him: Why does he put french fries into the chicken and the steak wraps? Was it his novel idea, because I wasn’t nuts about it. He said it is actually an authentically Middle Eastern thing these days.

“In Beirut or Riyadh, if you order a shawarma wrap, a lot of times, there are fries in there. I don’t know at what point in history that began. I know they did in the ’70s when my parents went to school in Beirut. They really love American foods over there. When McDonald’s and KFC touched down in Beirut, they had valet parking.” As for the pita bread used in wraps, he bakes them fresh daily in a pizza oven.


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Steak bowl at Superbaba.
Steak bowl at Superbaba. jpg

The chicken wrap I tried ($11.25) was cooked with shawarma spicing and embedded with the fries, shredded cabbage, pickled turnips and sumac mayo. It was super-flavourful and bundled up tidily and with just enough pressure that my clothes didn’t have blotches of sauce and drippings.

The main players on the menu are the wraps and basmati rice bowls, which are topped with ingredients similar to the wrap fillings. A steak bowl ($13.95) with marinated grilled sirloin had a lot of nice flavours going on — sumac onions, baba ganoush, pickled cucumber, tahini and shug.

We also had a side of crispy fried eggplant served with shug and tahini sauce. It had a light and crispy tempura batter. El Chami uses the same in a rice bowl, calling it a sabich bowl.

“Sabich is something that’s really popular in Tel Aviv by way of Iraq. You wrap fried eggplant, Israeli salad and hard-boiled eggs into a pita sandwich,” he says. As for the hummus, it wasn’t my favourite, as I’d have liked it looser with a little snarl of garlic and coo of lemon.

For dessert, there are two cookies — turmeric, and a halva corn flake. The first is a riff on turmeric semolina cake or sfouf, a Lebanese special. “I converted it into a cookie because I love that cake so much. I knew people wouldn’t buy it as cake and thought this was more approachable.” The halva corn flake cookie honours his dad. “For breakfast, he’d eat corn flakes or halva on bread with butter and jam.” Traditional halva is a tricky confection to make, requiring soapwort root to create a foam before mixing with seed paste and hot sugar syrup, so El Chami makes his own “rudimentary version.”

It would appear this will not be the second and last Superbaba to open. “We have a good workplace culture and the only way to provide opportunities for staff is to grow. We think we have a good product and team and we want to grow the business. It would be selfish to have just one or two,” El Chami says.

Dallah El Chami is co-owner of Superbaba.
Dallah El Chami is co-owner of Superbaba. PNG


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