Wichita has a lot of Mediterranean influence, but it’s difficult to find restaurants that predominantly deal in shawarma, kibbe and falafel that haven’t been etched into the city’s DNA over multiple decades. New ventures are difficult to come by.
It’s also difficult to find lunch in the middle of the downtown area: The few restaurant spaces that exist amid the office buildings don’t see enough weekend foot traffic to stay in business for very long.
But on the corner of Market and William, there’s a restaurant that has so far managed to shirk both of those trends. Opened by local car dealer Mohammad Awadi in 2014, Downtown Cafe/Mediterranean Style has spent nearly two years offering a home-style version of Mediterranean food that’s simply prepared and elegantly presented.
Downtown Cafe excels at simple preparations that emphasize the essence of each ingredient. The best example of that is in the koufta platter, featuring homemade lamb and beef sausages that offer complex savoriness and well-rounded seasoning with just a kiss of char. The final product tastes meaty but is done in a way that encapsulates everything good that made it popular in Persian cuisine so long ago. Served over a turmeric-tinged rice, topped with a healthy dose of a yogurt-based garlic sauce and served with a cucumber tzatziki sauce, it’s only a handful of main ingredients, but they come together to make something great.
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Garlic is used heavily here, but lemon is used even more. It’s heavy in the tabouli and also in the hummus, though both could use a little salt to round out the acid bite.
The shawarma has been re-imagined. Like many restaurants, Downtown Cafe doesn’t have a rotating spit from which it can slice the meat. Early visits offered a preparation that was more along the line of seasoned little bits of chewy beef, though in more recent visits, the shawarma has taken on a braised consistency like that of beef tips. It may not be as traditional, but the new interpretation is fork-tender and tastes better. It works well stuffed into a pita or piled on top of rice or hummus.
Although it’s on the breakfast menu, Downtown Cafe has a variety of manoushi to choose from, too. The “Mediterranean pizza” of baked dough topped with spices has a softer consistency than a typical pita, and it serves as an inviting platform for a deluge of zaatar spice or labneh cheese. The leftover dough also gets baked further and turned into thick chips for the hummus and baba ganoush.
The menu at Downtown Cafe is a little more expansive than it ought to be, but given the location and the lack of other options within walking distance, the owners may be trying to appeal to a wide palate. The core of the menu is true to the owners’ roots, however, and their clean and honest preparations make for a great option for Mediterranean food in the middle of downtown Wichita.
Downtown Cafe Mediterranean Style
Where: 209 E. William, 316-201-3226
Type of food: Mediterranean
Hours: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Fridays