Number 20: Vegan Kibbeh at Saha Arabic Fusion

SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition

Though more than a third of the dishes on its menus include meat, Saha — Mohamed and Marmee Aboghanem's stylish Tenderloin restaurant — has achieved cult status for devoting a huge chunk of its menu to vegan dishes. And we're not just talking hummus. Stuffed and fried avocados wrapped in frilly knaffe, or pastry threads. Maklouba, rice, and spices layered with eggplant, yogurt, and tofu. One of the best of Mohamed's vegan dishes? His interpretation of kibbeh, a Lebanese-Jordanian dish that, almost by definition, is made with a blend of lamb and bulgur.

Aboghanem's vegan kibbeh changes with the seasons. The exterior shell stays the same — bulgur wheat, pressed into an elongated oval — and so does the dab of Yemenese bayaa, a leek-herb pesto, on top. Sometimes the filling is dominated by bell peppers and yellow squash, other times it's butternut. On SFoodie's last visit, when we cut through the shell mushrooms, sauteed until they concentrated into an umami-laden mass, spilled out. The fried bulgur shell's granular crunch is the source of the kibbeh's immediate appeal, and then the multilayered flavors unfold and expand: A hit of cilantro, an intimation of saffron, the bite of pepper, the earthy pulse of the mushrooms. It's a dish as rich and inviting as the restaurant itself.

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