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Dining Different in and around Tsukuba

Author: Danno Bookem, Issue: April 2000, Topic: Restaurants, Location: Tsukuba City

For twelve years I have watched the famous and not so famous eat on Japanese TV. I have watched them eat everything from abalone to whale and repeat it with the tedious regularity of the seasons. Watching other people eat has never satisfied me and I do not expect that it ever will. It just makes me hungry. In twelve years I have eaten in just about every kind of Japanese and ethnic restaurant the Tsuchiura/Tsukuba area has had to offer (I will not go to Tokyo risking death to dine). Nine times out of ten, I have been filled but not thrilled. I have narrowed down the myriad Izagaya/Aka Chochin to three that I REALLY like regardless of atmosphere or long legs and low tables. I have narrowed down the myriad ramen shops to three that I REALLY like despite what they may do to my breath or my cholesterol count. I have narrowed down the ethnic restaurants to one, the one that reminds me of California. I object to the perceived need to alter a national cuisine to suit the Japanese taste. I will not eat in many restaurants, because I hate to have everyone eating virtually the same thing at different times.

Ali's Kebab

Ali's Kebab is a different dining experience in Tsukuba. Many of you are familiar with Ali's Yellow Trucks and his Donner Kabab in pita bread. Ali has three trucks on the road and each serves the best sandwich meal west of San Francisco. All along, however, Ali has been planning to open and serve off the road. He has wanted to use his huge kitchen preparing for a more leisurely dining experience since the beginning. He has only recently completed his plans. Having the space, the place and the time, Ali has just recently opened his restaurant, Ali's Kebab on Science Odori (Ed's note: it is now located on Higashi Odori.).

The cuisine is and will be Iranian and as authentic as Ali himself. Iranians will want to eat there to remind them of home cooking. His spices, seasonings, even his specialized kitchen equipment are imported from Iran. He spent nearly two months at the end of last summer tracking down what he wanted and needed.

I won't detail the menu because Ali suggests it is a work in progress. When I visited, the menu offered as many as six pages of Iranian specialties. Each was described in Japanese and English and each had a photo as well. One can order ala carte or complete dinners. Many items can be ordered in a choice of beef, chicken or lamb. Ali is no small guy and the portions in his restaurant may reflect his own appetite: they are generous. In two visits, I have had shish-kebab, ground lamb charcoal roasted and beef Donner kebab, slow roasted sliced beef with vegetables. Both were excellent. The complete dinner was served with a delightful vegetable soup, light as a feather pita bread, salad with a choice of one of Ali's three dressings, long grain white rice and long grain saffron rice. Garnish was a unique pickle that I will have to ask Ali about the next time. This time I was taken with the beef kebab and the long grain rice, also authentically Iranian.

Ali put a lot of time and effort into making his restaurant comfortable. It is small without being close. The Middle Eastern music in the background added to the ambiance as does the art on the walls. Prices are reasonable, ranging from about 800 yen to about 1800 yen. There is a full bar so whether you are on the Japanese date course or the visiting gaikokujin family course, you will find Ali's appropriate. Ali tells me he is prepared for large, even very large parties as well. I will be suggesting that my office has the next enkai there.

Finding Ali's is easy, the second time. Ali's is located on Science Odori in the Tokodai neighborhood of Tsukuba. If you are going west on Tsuchiura-Gakuensen you will want to turn right at the second set of huge steel columns on the side of the road. Go past the entrance to Banpaku Park, but if you pass Shuei High School you have gone too far. After you have made the correct turn on Science Odori you pass the big Tokodai Sports Park, Intel Japan, etc. Slow down a bit and start looking to the right. Ali's has a sign painted on the front and side of his yellow building. Look for the name of the restaurant, caricatures of Ali, a cow, a lamb and a chicken. You can not enter his parking lot from Science Odori, but have to turn onto the street running parallel to it. (Ed's note: Ali's Kebab is now located on Higashi Odori.)

Ali's Kebab is open from 6 PM until midnight nightly, except Monday. Bon appetite!

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