Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Prices: Basic burgers from $1.95, subs from $2.45, pizzas from $4.25, and Middle Eastern dishes from $5.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit cards: None; cash only.
Special facilities: Carryout; booster seats for kids; inaccessible to wheelchairs.
The Hungry Majid is a strange place.
We found it not long ago while walking by the subway construction pit near Tenley Circle in upper northwest Washington. It occupies the ground floor of possibly the ugliest building in Washington, a grotesquely conceived and constructed three-story stone house worthy of a Dracula movie. This, in turn, is perched beneath one of the gigantic television antennas towering above Wisconsin Avenue.
But the Majid is well worth visiting if you're after basic American food at rock-bottom prices, or if you'd like to sample a limited but intriguing cross section of Middle Eastern cuisine.
The guiding spirit of the restaurant is none other than Majid, a Palestinian who discovered after studying in a university here a few years ago that he was always hungry for either the food of his boyhood or the most vulgar American college food he could lay hands on.
Thus, not only does his name grace the menu, but his tastes are responsible for an offering that ranges over the culinary map, from subs in the Philadelphia tradition, Saturday night pizzas, everyday American burgers and New York deli fare to the unusual food of the Middle East.
Part of the problem with eating authentically at the Majid is that if you don't know the dishes and the logic behind them you may be perplexed. We've found a simple approach that serves the American stomach while honoring the traditions of Majid's kitchen.
The trick is to understand that the basic ingredients of this cuisine are cereals and vegetables, with a minimum of meat but lots of flavors and textures. The typical sequence for ordering is to start with vegetable appetizers, work though hot and cold variations of vegetables with perhaps a few meat dishes, and end with a horrendously sweet dessert followed by a knockout coffee.
First-timers are advised to order communally. You don't know what you're getting anyway and should probably try a bite from every dish. Besides, that's the way it's done out in the desert.
We let the kids order any of the family food they liked and let them pick from the communal plates as their curiosity allowed. Our two made do with a well-made chicken salad sandwich equal to anything found in our kitchen, with lettuce, tomato, pickle and potato chips ($2.25), and a truly heroic cold-cut sub ($2.45). Sodas and milk cost 65 cents. All the traditional American food we've eaten and seen in several visits to Majid are cheap, basic and filling.
Meanwhile, adults can start their meal with a large order of hummous ($2.95), a cold appetizer of pureed chickpeas with garlic, olive oil and parsley. Unfortunately, this was the clinker of the evening on our last visit. The portion was small for the price and there was a large glop of hot pepper relish sitting squarely in the middle of the plate, which even the waiter was unable to explain.
We soon moved to more pleasant fare by ordering a "salad." Again, first-time visitors take note: you should be prepared to ignore the menu, which imitates American listings of appetizer, dinner and salad separately. Before ordering any cooked dishes, in fact, you ought to at least consider ordering one of the salads and sharing it communally after your appetizer.
Tabouli, for example, is a large plate heaping with cracked wheat mixed with onions, tomato, cucumber and parsley in lemon juice and olive oil ($2.95). Scoop it out onto pita bread and munch it before the hot dishes arrive.
My wife's main dish was falafel, the hot dog of Israel, so common it's sold from pushcarts on street corners. Falafel is also Egypt's national treasure, often eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Majid's falafel is a fair rendition of this old standard: fried patties made from dried white beans and spiced with onions, garlic, parsley, cummin, coriander and pepper ($4.25).
My choice was Arab pizza, or lahmi bil ajeen ($3.95), a flattened round of dough topped with chopped meat, onions, nuts and spices and served with plain yogurt. It sounds awful, but you'll find it delicious, dainty and eye-pleasing.
Our guest expert chose kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon and Syria. Majid deep fries the kibbeh shells, which are stuffed with minced meat and wheat and served with lemon and yogurt. The shells are made from a paste created by pounding finely cracked wheat, grated onion and ground lamb. It sounds weird, but tastes good and is well worth the $4.25.
Dessert was kannseh, a tooth-numbing sweet of thin noodles, cheese, pistachio nuts and honey ($1), followed by jet-black Arabic coffee that raised the hair on the back of our necks.
Leaving Majid's we're never hungry.