Don't judge a book by its cover, or a restaurant by its furnishings. Nadia Khabazeh knows the tables at her family's restaurant don't exactly lend themselves to what some may picture when thinking of a good local eatery, but it's what's put on the table that keeps her customers coming back.

Nadia opened Khabazeh at the SAC Club in Lowell in early August; the Middle Eastern eatery is her family's first restaurant venture.

"We decided 'what the heck, let's do it,'... to be successful in America you need some sort of business," Nadia said.

A beaded curtain separates the kitchen from the dining room and a window on the back wall gives guests a glimpse of Nadia's older sister, Wadia, and Wadia's sister-in-law, Sahar, preparing fresh traditional Syrian meals to-order.

Wadia prepares the same food for restaurant guests as she does for her own family. In fact, all menu items are dishes the family grew up with -- there was always hummus or stuffed grape leaves waiting on the table for whoever was returning home from school or work.

"I want people to feel like they're at home here," Wadia said.

It's funny, Khabazeh means "bread-maker" in Arabic, yet the Syrian bread, served with most dishes at the 45-seat restaurant, is the only item on the menu not made from scratch. A surprising menu item made in-house at Khabazeh is the ice cream, particularly Wadia's Special Ice Cream, made with rosewater and pistachios. Pistachios, Wadia said, are typically a staple in Syrian desserts.

Many of the dishes are named after the Khabazeh family. There's Giddo's Favorite "The Sampler Platter" of Hummus, Baba Ganoush (roasted eggplant, tahini, fresh lemon, olive oil), Vegetarian Grape Leaves, Kibbeh Krass (bulgur wheat, stuffed with ground beef and onions, and fried), Syrian bread, and green and black olives (named after Nadia's father, "giddo" means grandfather in Arabic), and Ned & Mike's Favorite Burger, a burger wrapped in Syrian bread, and named after Nadia and Wadia's brothers.

"I don't use a lot of spices," Wadia said. "I want people to taste the flavors of the food."

Khabazeh at the SAC Club

7 Hanover St., Lowell, 978-455-2129

  • Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Monday.
  • Parking: On-street parking.
  • Reservations: Accepted for parties of all sizes
  • Menu: Not your average Middle Eastern cuisine
  • Price range: Appetizers $1.75-12.95; entrees $9.99-12.99; salads $2.99-10.99; wraps $6.99-8.99
  • Atmosphere: Casual and quiet
  • Try this: Vegetarian Grape Leaves, Chicken Kabob, Mama Khabazeh's Baked Haddock, Kibbeh Krass (available as an appetizer or entrée) and for dessert, Baclava (it's made with pistachios instead of walnuts and is much less sweet than the traditional Greek varieity).