In a city like Chicago, and especially in a neighborhood like the West Loop, it’s all too easy to overlook old restaurant standbys that helped pave the way for a dining revolution. Considering the rapid clip that restaurants tend to open in the area, seasoned game-changers like Alhambra Palace seemingly lose luster alongside new hot spots that pop up basically every week. But while other nearby spots have waned (RIP TETE Charcuterie, one sixtyblue), Alhambra has curiously and impressively maintained, and built upon its enduring legacy as a dining destination like no other. Herewith, let’s make the case for Alhambra Palace and what it represents in this day and age in Chicago.
First, an Overview
Open since 2007, long before Restaurant Row became the dining equivalent of the Las Vegas Strip, Alhambra Palace draws its name and inspiration from a palatial fortress complex in Southern Spain. Rooted in the Moorish lore of Granada, it’s a concept unseen anywhere else in Chicago, with a design scheme reminiscent of the movie Aladdin come to life. To dine at Alhambra Palace feels much more like a full-fledged immersive experience than most restaurants. It’s as much about the food as it is about the thematic motif.
Alhambra Palace is the masterwork of Dr. Nasar Rustom, who worked tirelessly to obtain and transport items and artifacts from trips to the Middle East and North Africa. Eventually, he amassed enough unique items to furnish his sprawling, glorious restaurant space on the western fringes of Randolph Street in the West Loop. Turning to talent from Syria, Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon, Rustom was able to design and outfit a restaurant like no other, resplendent with hand-carved wood, lavish furniture, stone mosaics, and twinkling chandeliers galore. The result is a transportive foray into the world of the original Alhambra.
Alhambra Palace Today
People come to the nine-year-old restaurant to dine, sure. But they also come to be entertained. The restaurant is renowned for its belly dancing, its creative drinks, and its Middle Eastern singers. Additionally, every Tuesday and Sunday, the restaurant offers Latin salsa and tango dancing. It’s the type of place that encourages interaction, and you’d be hard-pressed to fine another restaurant in the area where you can get a belly dancing lesson along with your beef shawarma.
Speaking of food, Alhambra Palace boasts the type of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine most prominent in outlying Chicago neighborhoods like Albany Park, where the ritualistic techniques and flavors have been honed over decades and generations. Served in hearty portions, diners can expect items like kefta kabobs, chicken tandouri, lamb tagine, Tunisian salmon, couscous aplenty, lentil soup falafel, and so much more.
The drink list is fun and refreshing as well, a pretty stark departure from the norm in terms of Middle Eastern restaurants this authentic. There’s a bunch of martinis, as well as Mediterranean sangria, some beers, and cocktails as varied as margaritas, caipirinhas, and tiki tipples.
The Alhambra Legacy
Not only is a nine-year-old restaurant something to be proud of, but it’s especially laudable when a restaurant endures in one of the most coveted and competitive dining districts in the U.S. Although it’s positioned a few blocks west of the central fray of Restaurant Row, Alhambra Palace still finds itself vying for attention alongside some of the world’s most popular chefs. It takes a truly special place to retain fandom for so long, in spite of all this. It speaks to the uniqueness and depth of Alhambra Palace and how Rustom and co. have managed to create something wildly special in Chicago. The food is only a small portion of the overarching philosophy, where entertainment, dining, drinking, and a transportive multi-sensory Middle Eastern adventure converge together in perfect synergy.