26 September, 2022, 16:15

Bountiful Bosnian Cuisine at Chef Alisah’s Restaurant

"It's fresh, it's good, it's Bosnian food."

One of the United States’ only Bosnian eateries, Chef Alisah’s Restaurant, is tucked away behind the Sunset Plant Nursery in a strip mall on North Oracle Road.

While the location might be unassuming, the food is anything but. Chef Ahmet Alisah’s Bosnian classics such as cevapi sausages, stuffed grape leaves, and tufahija pack a hearty punch. And Guy Fieri — Food Network personality — agreed, after his visit to Chef Alisah’s.

The restaurant is bright and open, with royal purple walls and matching tablecloths. The Bosnia and Herzegovina flag is prominently displayed, along with photographs of the country, renown for its natural beauty and architecture left behind by the Romans, Ottomans, and Austro-Hungarians that occupied Bosnia at various points in its history.

The Ottomans left a particularly strong mark on Bosnian cuisine, which bears similarities to the cuisines of Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East.

The family’s commitment to Bosnian food is fueled, in part, by their personal history: Alisah was held in a concentration camp during the Bosnian War, and the family immigrated to Tucson in 1998, as part of a refugee program.

Starters include Sopska Salata ($8.50) — a Bosnian-style salad served with sheep’s milk cheese — and a platter of Tzatziki and Ajvar ($8) — a vegetable spread that includes bell peppers, onions, eggplant, and tomatoes.

The Sarma u Japraku ($8) — or stuffed grape leaves — are served warm and filled with lemony rice, onions, and garlic. The stuffed grape leaves are served with Chef Alisah’s tzatziki, which uses parsley-studded sour cream instead of the usual yogurt, and a basket of homemade wheat bread.

The list of entrées — separated into vegetable dishes and traditional Bosnian dishes — is extensive. Vegetable dishes include Mahune i Grasak ($13) — a green bean and lima bean stew — as well as Patlidzan sa Zara ($13) — grilled eggplant with red bell pepper.

Traditional Bosnian dishes run the gamut from Goulash ($14) to Stuffed cabbage leaves ($17) to Wienerschnitzel ($14) — a throwback to Bosnia’s Austro-Hungarian days.

A customer favorite is Janjetina sa Grahom ($16), lamb with white beans. The tender lamb and creamy, jumbo-sized beans are smothered in a fragrant red sauce and served with a cabbage salad dressed in lemon, parsley, and black pepper.

Lamb with White Beans at Chef Alisah's Restaurant (Credit: Wren Awry)

Lamb with White Beans at Chef Alisah’s Restaurant (Credit: Wren Awry)

Chef Alisah is well known for his Cevapi, a piquant Balkan sausage made of beef in Bosnian cooking. The restaurant sells orders of 100 at $48 for customers to take home and offers cevapi as an entrée ($12.50 for 10, $16 for 15).

Chef Alisah’s main-dish cevapi is served with chopped onions, sour cream tzatziki, and two slices of a homemade, toasted bread reminiscent of ciabatta. Bosnia is a Muslim-majority nation, and the cevapi, along with all of the meat served at Chef Alisah’s Restaurant, is halal.

Chef Alisah doesn’t hesitate to introduce himself and check in with each table about their food. Alisah, who is gracious and gregarious, opened the restaurant in 2008 with his wife Halida Alisah and their son Emir.

The family’s commitment to Bosnian food is fueled, in part, by their personal history: Alisah was held in a concentration camp during the Bosnian War, and the family immigrated to Tucson in 1998, as part of a refugee program. Prior to his ordeal, Alisah worked as a chef in restaurants across Europe.

The dessert menu includes Baklava ($3.50), Bosnian shortbread ($3), and Tufahija ($4.50), a stewed apple stuffed with walnuts and homemade ice cream. Tufahija, now distinctly associated with Bosnia, originated in Persia and arrived in the country with the Ottomans. The light ice cream offsets the rich, sweet apple in a delicious balancing act.

Beverage options include coffee ($3), tea ($3), mineral water ($3), orange juice ($2.50), and two kinds of soda from the Balkans: Jupi and Cockta (both $3). Jupi is an orange soda, whereas Cockta, a Slovenian beverage made with rose hips, tastes like a lighter and herbier Coca-Cola.

Chef Alisah’s Restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. Check out the daily specials and book in advance to guarantee a seat.

Chef Alisah’s Restaurant is located at 5931 N. Oracle Rd. Ste. 117 and can be reached at (520) 887-5305. For more information, visit alisahrestaurant.com.

Wren Awry is a journalist, essayist, and poet who--when they aren't writing about, making or eating food--studies folklore and fairy tales.