Downtown Bellingham has a new Mediterranean restaurant, 7 Spice Cafe. Named for the unique blend of Mediterranean flavors — coriander, cumin, allspice, chili powder, mustard powder, cinnamon, and cardamom — the new cafe serves delicious fare that’s fast, affordable, and no-fuss.
Owner Helen Neville dreamed up the idea for 7 Spice after falling in love with late-night shawarma shops in Europe. The food was great, but she also liked the kind of fun-loving crowd that collected after a certain hour.
7 Spice is meant to bring a similar scene to downtown Bellingham, particularly once COVID-19 restrictions lift and the restaurant can remain open past midnight.
“Think of being on vacation….at three in the morning, there’s a line around the block. We want it to be fun,” Neville says.
The menu is straight-forward, simple, and affordable enough to become your new weekday lunch destination. Everything on it has gone through multiple rounds of recipe refining, meaning every bite has been maximized for taste.
Choose from street-food style items like Chicken Shawarma ($10) or Lamb Shawarma ($12), both served on fresh, house-made pita. Choose your sauces — tzatziki, schug, and curry fry sauce to name a few — and then top it all off with goodies like pickled onion, diced tomato, and pepperoncini.
All the restaurant’s pita is baked fresh on-site, with a rotating pita oven behind the counter. The chicken and lamb are cooked on a rotating spit, meaning you can watch your entire meal come together right before your eyes. If you’re gluten-free, simply make your meal a bowl. Your choice of protein is mixed with rice and topped with the usual suspects: tahini, feta, and parsley. Add roasted chickpeas for extra crunch.
Like any Mediterranean restaurant worth its salt, 7 Spice offers sides like Tabbouleh ($4), Hummus ($4), and Baba Ganoush ($4). As someone who’s picky about hummus and baba ganoush, I loved both of 7 Spice’s renditions. The hummus is creamy and mild, with the chickpeas and tahini outshining the lemon and garlic. The baba ganoush is also creamy and rich, without the sour tang or chunky quality of some baba ganoush. The eggplant is fire-roasted, creating a delicious smoky, charred flavor. If you’ve never had baba ganoush, this is a great version to start with.
Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will love the falafel, which is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, without being oily or crumbly. Rather than go the easy route and use a dried mix, 7 Spice makes their falafel from chickpeas soaked overnight. The chickpeas are then milled into a paste, mixed with spices, and fried.
Speaking of fries, 7 Spice’s are also insanely good, and for just two bucks more, you can (and should) get them loaded with garlic, parsley, and crumbled feta. For dessert, grab some Baklava ($4), a confection that’s sticky, chewy, and subtly sweet in all the best ways.
This might sound strange, but my favorite thing on the menu, by far, was the Fried Cauliflower ($4). The vegetable is served brown, coated in a heavy layer of the restaurant’s signature seven-spice blend, with a side of fry sauce for dipping. This side is so good that, on the few occasions the restaurant has run out, one loyal customer has brought in his own cauliflower to get his fix.
Once restaurant curfews lift, along with other COVID-19 restrictions, Neville envisions the cafe becoming a nighttime destination like the ones she encountered in her travels. To prepare, bar manager Chloe Howard has been mixing up some new concoctions.
The drink menu is a work-in-progress, but will feature creative cocktails like the Kuma Mule ($7), a twist on a classic mule that features local Kuma Turmeric Liqueur. It may not sound like it works, but it does — the turmeric’s earthiness pairs well with the ginger and balances out the lime.
Even better, in my opinion, is the Rose of Sharon ($7), featuring house-made vanilla-infused vodka, Grand Marnier, lemon juice, and soda, flavored with Calypso Kitchen’s hibiscus sorrel. The hibiscus and vanilla create a show-stopping flavor that’s floral, bright, and slightly sweet.
If hard liquor isn’t your thing, wine and beer are also available.
While indoor seating is limited, the covered patio offers plenty of protected seating, along with a charcoal fire pit to keep you toasty.
“People are just delighted, and that’s what you want,” Neville says. “It’s been the most exciting thing I’ve done in my career so far.” 122 E. Magnolia St., Bellingham, 360.393.3554, sevenspicecafe.com
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