EATinton logo: Fred Kalil
Frederick Kalil reviews

The interior décor at Pasha sets an effective scene of an Ottoman bazaar, no surprise as the restaurant is, in fact, also a bazaar. Those hanging lamps and ceiling tapestries succeed in generating atmosphere, and grocery shelves banked along the wall and rear area complete the impression of being in a Turkish marketplace.

So far as I can tell, Turkish restaurants aren’t popping up on every suburban corner, so having one in Arlington must constitute a distinction. Fortunately for us, a hankering for swooning imam or doner kabob can be satisfied as easily as a traipse to the center of town.

Choose your own adventure

For this type of cuisine, you could make a satisfying meal from an appetizer assortment alone. Alternatively, you may find in this case that devoting time to study the dizzyingly large menu is the optimal path to arriving at a selection. Specific guidance rests with matters of individual taste, the resulting decisions about sharing inevitably a game of concessions. If you eat out often enough, you’ll be immune to your ordering mistakes and buoyed by the happy surprises.

If there’s one Turkish dish you may be familiar with, it’s likely to be mucver, or zucchini fritters. You might expect them to resemble patties as detailed in Pasha’s menu, but they emerged as four stout zeppelins. The soft-textured, mildly flavored interior was given a lift by the yogurt dressing squiggled on top and tomato sauce beneath.

Most-favored appetizer

By common agreement of the appetizers we ordered, the spicy mashed vegetables earned most-favored status. Unprepossessing in appearance, it bewitched us with unexpected layers of flavors and texture. This struck the balance of being simultaneously complex and simple, at first seeming gazpacho-like but with additional bites revealing depths of subtlety from walnuts, hot pepper and tiny raisins (currants?). I’ll add that a confirmed bell pepper hater not only tolerated it but embraced it with what I took to be a sincerely voiced blessing.

Another traditional dish and a personal favorite, hunkar begendi, typically consists of a lamb stew atop creamy pureed eggplant. In this iteration, chewy cubes of meat were joined by chunky vegetables, leaving the nicely turned out eggplant to fend for itself.

Manti worth waiting for

If you’re tempted to order the manti, be advised to expect a wait: there’s no indication on the menu of the 40- to 50-minute preparation time required. I won’t be dissuading you from ordering them. Translated on the menu as ravioli, the meat-stuffed minidumplings looked hand-pinched and recalled gnocchi in their homey appearance. Digging in confirmed it’s a legit comfort-food entry. The tender morsels are nestled in a brothy butter sauce and slathered in garlicky yogurt with mint, all combining to deliver the requisite comfort of a satisfying bowl of pasta.

Delving into the section of offerings from the grill, we picked the grilled skewered chicken accompanied by garlic yogurt sauce for dipping, and it was not a mistake. Lightly marinated and agreeably singed, the meat was judged to be “fork tender” by one exacting diner (our pepper hater).

Choice of sides presents an additional decision crossroad. I’d advise skipping the fries unless you go for the breaded kind and to opt for the superb bulgur pilaf, a nutty cracked-wheat alternative to rice.

Be sure to sample one of the pides listed as Gondola Turkish Pizza. Hand-stretched dough fashioned into a canoe shape is spread with a choice of filling and baked until crispy. Ours, topped with ground lamb and beef, delighted the table. Thin and delicate pastry glistening with a finishing brush of butter cradled the seasoned and lemony crumbled meat. It was delivered sliced handily into shareable portions. We were pleased enough that only an imperative to leave room for dessert precluded ordering a second variety.

Save room for dessert(s)

Pure in flavor with a hint of vanilla and boasting extravagant caramelization on its surface, the baked rice pudding elicited a cascading roundelay of superlatives. (“It’s an A+ rice pudding.” “Just look at the skin on it!” “It does have an impressive skin.” And the inevitable “the proof is in the pudding.”) It is served chilled in an aluminum takeout container. Our second sweet, a buttery kunefe of shredded wheat stuffed with melty hellim cheese, prompted an observation that “the treatment of grains has been consistently good.”

A bottle of red wine from Turkey seemed mandatory, and the one we tried can be recommended: Kavaklidere Kalecik Karasi, chosen by its “soft tannins” descriptor. Menu wines are available from the well-stocked, ingeniously crammed market area, where you can replenish your pantry supply of pomegranate molasses or marshmallow flower tea without trekking to East Watertown.

Pasha Turkish and Mediterranean Cuisine

669A Mass. Ave.

Arlington, MA 02476

781-648-5888

Monday 4 to 9 p.m.

Tuesday – Sunday noon to 9 p.m.

Hours may vary. 


Dec. 3, 2023: Tryst becomes long-term relationship  


This restaurant review of Pasha by YourArlington freelancer Frederick Kalil was published Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

A resident of Arlington, Kalil has been eating food since birth. Starting from a home in which family cuisine ranged from kibbeh to cretons, he has sought high standards and a world of flavor at his own table and when dining out. After years of writing about dining options for the neighboring Tufts community, he now explores local kitchens for his fellow Arlingtonians.