For years, there was no obvious place in Des Moines to quell a falafel fix, but that changed when Open Sesame came to the hip East Village neighborhood in 2010. The menu is short, but long on flavor. If you've never had Lebanese food before (or if you have and want to retaste a greatest-hits platter), order the generous appetizer sampler, which includes hummus, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh, falafel and pita. At lunch, there’s a variety of pita wraps to choose from: moussaka, shawarma chicken, cauliflower and more (all $9 each and served with soup, salad or fries). Love gyro meat? Try it on a pizza, salad or rolled in a traditional pita sandwich. Dinner entrees ($14 to $18) include kabobs and currylike stews. (Ask for extra pita to mop up the yummy sauce.)
All the food hits the mark, but what makes Open Sesame especially fun is an atmosphere that tiptoes right up to the edge of camp. You enter through heavy drapes, as if stepping into some sort of boudoir; inside, funky lanterns cast a warm glow on the dark red walls. Adding to the sultry vibe, on some evenings, a belly dancer wiggles between tables. (We found ourselves a bit unsure of the etiquette. Ogle? Eat? Applaud?) Middle Eastern music twangs, and the bar serves martinis well into the night. All this is a far cry from the building's previous greasy-spoon Baby Boomers tenant and a far cry from what you might expect in downtown Des Moines. But it works, and locals agree, it's fun to go somewhere a bit different.