By Julie Lawrence & Molly Snyder Edler   Published Dec 31, 2007 at 5:26 AM

Shahrazad Middle Eastern restaurant, 2847 N. Oakland Ave., opened almost 15 years ago (in June of 1993), and although its lunch and dinner menus have long featured a vast amount of vegetarian items -- from lentil soup to falafel sandwiches to hummus platters -- it only recently added a daily vegetarian lunch buffet.

On a recent visit, we were impressed with the presentation of the buffet, which featured a lengthy line of colorful dishes and savory sides for the all-you-can-eat price of $6.95.  The dishes rotate daily, offering four main dishes, and a variety of classic dips and side dishes -- hummus, baba ganouj, couscous, etc. -- all handsomely displayed on a bed of ice.

The service is traditionally very good at Shahrazad, and it was once again during our lunchtime visit. Despite going the serve-yourself route, we were pleased with the amount of attention the staff dedicated to our needs -- answering questions about the dishes and filling water glasses promptly. We returned from the buffet line to find a plate of four falafel balls and a basket of warm pita waiting for us at our table.

Shahrazad's falafel is one of its most delicious delicacies. Never spongy or over fried, the balls are crispy on the outside, and soft and warm on the inside -- a perfect complement to the buffet's two hummus varieties and baba ghanouj -- a puree of eggplant, tahini, lemon juice and garlic. Some Middle Eastern restaurants tend to over do it on the parsley when it comes to this classic dish, but Shahrazad's was particularly well done, blending a soft smoky flavor with a zest that wasn't overly lemony tasting.

One of four main course dishes offered was Egyptian rice, an eclectic dish that is served many different ways, and usually with beef, depending on the region. Shahrazad's vegetarian version was perfectly prepared with protein-packed lentils, and was spicy in a zesty, rich sense, rather than “hot.” 

The couscous came bathed in a tangy tomato sauce and surrounded by large chunks of zucchini, onion and other vegetables -- a refreshing change of pace for the typically much drier dish.

Our only real disappointment centered around the fact that Shahrazad's delicious and famous lentil soup wasn't a part of the buffet, but it is available to buffet diners for just a dollar.

In general, Shahrazad is well maintained. There is always an interesting array of hookahs -- which are available for smoking upon request -- and ornately framed paintings. The walls have been painted at least once since they opened, and there are always folded napkins and, sometimes, flowers on the tables. The window tables are the best seating in the place, providing diners with the chance to people watch East Siders bustling down Oakland Avenue.

Although the space is modest, it almost never feels crowded or stuffy, perhaps to do the efficient service and split-level dining room. If you're a lover of lamb or other carnivorous shish kebabs, the regular dinner menu might best suit your taste buds, but if it's a light lunch you're looking for, Shahrazad's new buffet is worth a try.