Dearborn’s Aliz Seafood House is a great catch

Dishes come from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states

Spicy fish casserole from Aliz Seafood House.
Spicy fish casserole from Aliz Seafood House. Tom Perkins

Aliz Seafood House

14507 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Monday
Seafood $6-$29, sandwiches $6-$10

The list of seafood choices at Aliz is dizzying, and as far as I can tell, they’re all good. The English-Arabic menu has a chicken section, a Mexican section, a burger section, and a pasta section, but I didn’t go there. It was enough to try to sample the fried platters, grilled platters, skewers, casseroles, and whole fish, aided by stealing from my friends’ plates.

The “House” is one big room with bare tables and booths, lightly decorated: a net, a little anchor, a few fish hung on the walls, signs reading “Seas the Day” and “Sea la Vie.” Short staffing means a longish wait for your food, though it’s worth it. Dishes come from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states.

My stand-out choice, making me wish I weren’t a restaurant reviewer so I could order the same thing on my second visit, was a whole grilled bronzini (branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass). Full of tiny bones, yes, but think of that as a good thing, as they slow you down, the better to savor the rich yet delicate flesh, a tiny bit sweet. It’s grilled with a simple green sauce and served with a side of tahini, but I thought it was fine with no dipping.

One night all our dishes came with three tasty crisp quesadillas, another night not; perhaps the cook who does Mexican was off that day. The kitchen produces lots of variations: different rices and potatoes in addition to all the ways to cook shrimp, salmon, and at least seven other species.

If you want potatoes, you can get fries, wedges “loaded” with shrimp, cheese, or fish that also come in a spicy variety. I found the giant mound of spicy ones disappointing, too soft and cut too small, but they did impart a faint sensation reminiscent of cumin lamb. Rices were uniformly well executed, each grain distinct. One version is white with tinges of pink and orange, possibly saffron, another is yellow and cinnamon-inflected; a third, sayyadiyah, is dark with fish oil, topped with caramelized onions and crunchy cashews.

But let’s start at the beginning of the meal. I had two great soups, an anomalous tomato-basil and a white shrimp. The latter is not a usual shrimp bisque; something subtle happens with the spices, though it’s not hot at all. It’s creamy and includes mushrooms.

The fattoush benefits from crisp pita and pomegranate seeds but I thought the pomegranate dressing could have been less generous; ask for it on the side. Hummus is average, not garlicky, and baba ghanoush is excellent, smokey and creamy with lovely pools of golden olive oil and a dust of paprika.

Moving into mains, those grilled whole fish are a top choice; besides the bronzini are red snapper, whiting, golden pomfret, sea bream — and sardine! They’re $28, so if you want to go cheaper you can order a selection of skewers in various preparations, as my tablemates did, either fish morsels ($6) or shrimp ($7): marinated, Provençal, spicy, minced, tawook, Mexican. Or the Grilled Platter for One includes fish, fish kafta, and shrimp skewers. It came with tartar, tabasco, and “cocktail” sauces, but believe me, you don’t want these.

The casseroles are not what I think of as casseroles, not the Minnesotan “hot dish.” They’re just perch or shrimp baked in one of three sauces: marinade, spicy, or white. I adored spicy fish and spicy shrimp, which came bubbling in the same hot, oily sauce — lots for soaking up with your rice. The fish in white sauce was milder, of course, but still assertive. No fish is overcooked; all have the right firm consistency.

After all these somewhat unfamiliar preparations, grilled salmon with herbs seemed almost pedestrian, with a normie melange of vegetables on the side, except that it was so good, with a mustardy sauce that did not obscure the salmon flavor. Salmon is also possible salted or with spicy or white sauce.

Lemon mint juice, in which the mint is not just a garnish, it’s pulverized so that it suffuses the whole drink, is reason enough to return. Mango juice, not so much. There’s no alcohol. The one dessert is kunafa, where melted mozzarella, warm, is encased in crisp browned shredded phyllo and drenched with sugar syrup. It’s large, as is every dish at Aliz.

The name, by the way, is kind of a pun. The owner’s name is Ali, so “Ali’s.” But when I plugged in Google Translate for aliz, I got “tastier” and “splendor.” Indeed.

When we saw the dreaded QR code on our table, one of my friends remarked that “starting a meal on your phone is not a good look.” So true. You can ask for a paper menu. In any case, get past it and come hungry.

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About The Author

Jane Slaughter

When she's not reviewing restaurants, Jane Slaughter also writes about labor affairs, having co-founding the labor magazine Labor Notes. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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