Journey to Babylon (Restaurant)

Occasionally, we’d like to talk about the restaurants we visit in Lowell. Find the archive here.

Babylon on Merrimack Street

Babylon on Merrimack Street

Babylon Restaurant is rare gem in downtown Lowell. The restaurant is owned by Leyla Al-Zubaydi, a political refugee from Iraq. It received national attention last year, when Veterans for Peace organized a solidarity “eat-in” after the restaurant was vandalized. Although it was later determined the vandalism wasn’t racially motivated, the support shown by more than a hundred people, including veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is inspiring.

I didn’t know this at the time. All I knew was that Babylon served beautiful and delicious dishes. My party had vegetable Beriyani, a chicken schawarma wrap, and a Falafel wrap. I actually had never had this cuisine, and it’s unique even compared to the Mediterranean, Indian, and Turkish dishes I’m more familiar with. Spices unfamiliar to many Americans create surprising harmonies to even familiar foods like Falafel and (so I’ve heard) Hummus.

The service was, in a word, relaxed. Things are carefully prepared and you’re left to leisurely enjoy your food. I imagine this may be interpreted as inattentive or slow to some American audiences, but I don’t believe this is the case. Rather, there is no rush and diners have time to savor the tastes and conversation and music. From the complementary cup of tea to the friendly tone, hospitality is the only way I can think to describe it. The restaurant also seemed to be a center for the middle-eastern community: during lunch, many folks dropped in to casually chat with the owner in Arabic.

It was a shame that we were the only folks in for lunch. I do see dinner guests in Babylon as I walk by, but it always looks like there’s a few tables available. I’ve heard that downtown restaurants have seen a decline in business as employment has moved toward the periphery of downtown to areas like Wannalancit Mills. It may be a delicate balance to encourage growth in these areas while maintaining a healthy streetlife downtown to support restaurants we all can enjoy.

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