May 23, 2013

Eat and Run: Olive Cafe, Portland

A fan of the Mediterranean region's cuisine finds the shawarma, falafel, hummus, pita bread and lots else to like.

Better late than never, right? Such is the case with my discovery -- some four plus years after it opened -- of Olive Cafe in Portland's Old Port. Not only do I clearly need to get out more, but I need to do so more on foot, because I'm definitely playing the "it's easy to miss from the car" card on this one.

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Nice lighting and pleasing decor are among the attractions – along with very good Mediterranean food – of Olive Cafe.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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The Ya Babba flatbread pizza features baba ganouge, fried cauliflower, banana peppers, tomatoes, parsley, tahini and hot sauce.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 127 Commercial St., Portland. 772-6200;

HOURS: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Dinner, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

CHEAPEST GRUB: $8.50 for several salads and wraps

WAIT: 10 minutes

PARKING: On street


RATING: ****

Based on a five-star scale

But now that I've found it, I couldn't be happier. And neither can my lunch date, as it was first-time experience for the both of us.

There are a few cuisines to which I've always been partial. The first is Italian, the second is Mexican, and the third is most certainly Mediterranean, which is what Olive Cafe is all about. The restaurant also adds a few surprising twists that I will chomp my way through this summer and fall.

I learned a new word during my lunch, and it's one I plan on saying a lot: "Shawarma." It's sort of like a gyro, but even more awesome. I ordered the chicken shawarma ($8.99), and it was a perfect mix of marinated chicken, garlic sauce, tahini sauce, lettuce, tomatoes (mine were held) and pickles wrapped in pita bread.

But not just any pita bread. This bread was thin and oven-toasted, adding an unexpected and much-appreciated crunch to a meal that already had a lot going for it.

Olive also has a beef shawarma (also $8.99), and I can't wait to try it.

My lunch date went for the Mediterranean Plate ($9.99), which was a glorious array of hummus, falafel, tahini sauce, seasoned and fried cauliflower, house salad and fresh pita bread. She said it was plentiful and flavorful, and a heck of a bang for one's buck. Suffice to say, neither one of us can wait to get back there.

Upon my return to Olive, I'm going to have a heck of a time deciding what to order, because the menu includes chicken and lamb kabobs, several thin crust pizzas ($8.99 to $12.99), a whole mess of wraps and tacos ($8.50 to $9.50) and a mouth-watering selection of salads ($8.50 to $9.50).

Sorry it took me so long to find you, Olive Cafe. But rest assured, you had me at hello. Extra points for the welcoming atmosphere, pleasing but not over-the-top decor, and good lighting. 

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $10.


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