Med Alert

An unassuming strip mall houses a spice haven

With its unassuming name, Mediterranean Bakery & Café in Alexandria might not be the most obvious destination for exotic spices and excellent imported foods.

But the strip-mall store is packed with aisles of enticing oils, teas, condiments, and vats of flavored olives.

Restock your spice cabinet with bags of star anise and whole nutmeg, or experiment with lesser-known options like za'atar–a blend of sumac, sesame seeds and herbs–falafel spice blends, and saffron-like osfor.

Check the dairy case for dozens of cheeses, including Armenian string cheese, Turkish feta, yogurts, and house-made hummus and other spreads.

There are also oils, syrups and waters for adding liquid spice. Aromatic rose and pomegranate syrups ($5) are handy staples for impromptu cocktails and sodas.

The name isn't a total misnomer: Chef Abdulah Fawass turns out fragrant traditional dishes at the tiny lunch counter. The warm, cinnamon-packed chicken shawarmas ($4.50)–served with pita chips and hummus–are the most popular orders, but sojoo ($4.50)–a thick, spicy beef sausage–is the heartiest choice.

Stop by the bakery case on your way out for halvah, nut-filled pastries, and even sugar-coated chickpeas, or try some qamar al-din–the ancient ancestor to fruit leathers.

Mediterranean Bakery & Café; 352 S. Pickett St., Alexandria; 703-751-0030