Aldeerah, the new Saudi Arabian restaurant in Vienna, is feeding a very big need—the hunger Saudi expats have for their native land and its exotic cuisine.
Today, there are approximately 3,000 Saudis either working in a diplomatic capacity or attending college in the Washington DC Area. Before Aldeerah opened, there was no restaurant that served the distinctive food Saudis know and love. In fact, there is no other Saudi Arabian restaurant in the Mid-Atlantic. For that reason, Aldeerah, which means “homeland,” provides more than sustenance; it now serves as a gathering place for countrymen to share the flavors and textures found under the starry nights of the Arabian Desert.
Regular customer Saud Al-Saleh, a student at George Mason University, explains it this way, “The owner of Aldeerah Restaurant is a real life saver. I’ve been in the DMV area for a very long time, and I really missed my mom’s delicious food. Dr. Mody didn’t just introduce us to a restaurant, she introduced a very welcoming home.”
Owner Dr. Mody Alkhalaf is the assistant attaché for cultural and social affairs at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Vienna, Virginia. She is well known locally for supporting Saudi students who attend school in the United States and for promoting cultural exchange. “While the main goal is to provide kids who are homesick and miss their family meals, I also want to teach other cultures about Saudi Arabia. I want them to know about our food, customs, our music, and the arts,” says Dr. Alkhalaf.
Dr. Alkhalaf was inspired to open Aldeerah, when as a single mother of two boys, she couldn’t find a place in the area where they could dine on Saudi food. Dr. Alkhalaf enjoyed cooking, but with a full time job, they would often dine out. “It was tough to find time to eat a homemade meal, and working at the Cultural Mission, I couldn’t find caterers who offered dishes we wanted. So the idea of the restaurant has been in my mind for years,” she explains.
The interiors of Aldeerah dining room are a thrill to behold. Most impressive are the ebony-stained tables adorned with colorful dishware, and heavy wooden chairs with cushions decorated in traditional Saudi patterns. These furnishings were designed by Dr. Alkhalaf and custom made in Saudi Arabia. In the space next door, which she calls Aldeerah Lounge, mats and pillows allow diners to sit on the floor and commune around tablecloths where guests will share food family-style. On the ceiling, ribbons and tassels add coziness to the room.
To better appreciate the artifacts inside Aldeerah, it is helpful to understand the Bedouin culture that inspires them. For centuries, these nomadic people thrived, as their home was at the intersection of international trade routes. Travelers introduced the Saudis to spices and recipes from many countries, including neighboring Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain.
So on Aldeerah’s menu you’ll find a few familiar dishes, like samosas and baklava, though the spelling is slightly different. But Aldeerah’s signature dishes come from the central part of Saudi Arabia called Najz. “The menus go back to the Bedouins living in the desert, depending on things that can last long, that are fulfilling, and aren’t that expensive,” describes Dr. Alkhalaf. For example, the popular Jireesh is made of cracked wheat, slow cooked for hours, and infused with buttermilk and yogurt. Quersan is thin whole wheat bread marinated in a savory vegetable broth: it’s thicker than soup, with the pleasing crunch of vegetables.
The two standout appetizers are Mutabbaq which consists of a thin layer of crepes, lightly stuffed with ground beef, onion and egg, then grilled on a hot skillet; and the Potato Kibba which is ground beef engulfed in a puffy potato crust.
Saudi Arabia’s national dish is called Kabsa, and Aldeerah serves a chicken and lamb version (all the meats here are halal). The meats rest atop spiced rice, garnished with fried onions, raisins and nuts. Aldeerah will offer daily specials, like Sayyadiyah, grilled fish served on Wednesdays and Sundays, and Harees, wheat grains cooked with lamb on Saturdays.
It is common to linger over Saudi coffee, which is fragrant with saffron, cardamom and cloves, and served in a Gahwa, or pot, usually side-by-side with a bowl of dates. Save room to sample at least one dessert, like Kinafa, a nest of sweet, pastry noodles covering layers of cream.
Dr. Alkhalaf says her mother is a great cook and is dedicated to caring for her family. She taught Dr. Alkhalaf how to cook at a young age. The spice mix used at Aldeerah is based on her mother’s recipe, even though it’s made here. “My mom always showed her love with food, meal after meal, snack after snack,” says Dr. Alkhalaf. That’s why Aldeerah lives up to its name, a homeland for local Saudis, and a delicious cultural experience for diners who enjoy trying new cuisines.
262 Cedar Lane, SE
Vienna, Virginia 22180
Open daily 12-10 pm, with weekend brunch 11:30 am- 1:30 pm