Overview: Walk by Open Sesame on any given day or evening and the place is packed, which is a good sign for visiting passersby. When Open Sesame arrived on the Belmont Shore dining scene more than a decade ago it spawned a food craze of Middle Eastern eateries along 2nd Street. Some have survived, others have closed their doors but few seem to draw the crowds that Open Sesame does.
Owner Ali Kobeissi arrived to Belmont Shore in 1988 from his native Beirut, Lebanon, and fell in love with the area. In 1999 he opened his first Open Sesame next door to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and it became an instant success. Long lines soon begin to swirl around the tiny storefront, and there was a buzz among Belmont Shore residents about the new Middle Eastern restaurant. Open Sesame proved to be such a success, that when the old Steak-O-Rama went belly up Kobeissi seized the opportunity to expand his restaurant by opening an annex a few doors down. That helped to alleviate the wait for a table, but it certainly didn’t eliminate the lines altogether.
Decor: The original location has all the exotic trappings you might expect from a Middle Eastern restaurant: Plenty of little dining nooks, billowy fabrics, colorful textiles, and throw pillows scattered among the booths. The annex is a bit more streamline with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that can fold back creating a seamless space between the dining room and the postage stamp-size patio along the sidewalk. A long banquette runs the length of one wall with tables scattered throughout the rest of the space. Both restaurants are inviting, and the sound of clanging silverware coupled with lively chatter make Open Sesame a favorite neighborhood destination.
The food: Everybody seems to have a favorite Open Sesame dish. I have a penchant for the Chicken Shwarma Panini, a baguette filled with tender pieces of charbroiled chicken, a schmear of garlic sauce, and cucumber pickles. The Vegetarian Combo is a shareable plate of hummus, baba ghannouj, grape leaves, falafel patties and pita bread. There is also salads, Lebanese-style pizzas, appetizers (don’t get me started on those Fried Potatoes with a dusting of fresh garlic, cilantro and lemon juice), soups and a long list of entrees. I think what sets Open Sesame apart from its competitors is the fresh ingredients and execution of its dishes. Herbs play a prominent role in most every dish, including garlic, parsley, oregano and thyme. Yogurt is used to flavor dishes instead of the more calorie-laden sour cream and legumes, such as green beans and garbanzo beans, are also quite popular ingredients. My favorite drink to pair a meal with is Open Sesame’s green iced-tea. It’s light and refreshing with just a hint of mint, but you can also opt for soft drinks as well as beer or wine.
Service: I always find the service at Open Sesame to be extremely pleasant, from the hostess stationed outdoors to the steady stream of servers. Special requests, drink refills, and attentive service (without the annoying hovering) is consistent. Best of all, if one location can’t accommodate you the hostess will call the other location to see if a table is available. Just like the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Open Sesame is our treasure here in Belmont Shore. IFTAH YA SIMSIM!
Address: 5215 E. Second Street, Belmont Shore
Hours: Sun.-Thursday., 11am-10:30pm until 11pm Friday; Saturday 11am-11pm
Disabled Access: Yes
Parking Info: Metered Parking along second street, paid lots within walking distance
Restaurant type: casual, lebanese/middle eastern foodRestaurant attributes: Casual, indoor and outdoor seating, beer/wine, no kids menu. Credit cards accepted.