Beyond Baba Ghanoush 

Recommended Middle Eastern restaurants

Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen

Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen

Al-Khaymeih

4748 N. Kedzie | 773-583-0999

$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO

One of the spiffier restaurants on a stretch of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean places in Albany Park, Al-Khaymeih has a large menu with all the Middle Eastern standards plus a few rarities like sumac-dusted fried cauliflower and sarouj, marinated and char-broiled Cornish hen. The food is always fresh and tasty, particularly standout appetizers. The smooth, flavorful hummus goes light on the tahini; the grape leaves are tightly rolled and bursting with lemony rice and vegetables; the lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs are nicely seasoned and generously portioned; and the pita bread, served warm, is made by Sanabel Bakery & Grocery, which shares its owner. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Babylon Eatery

2023 N. Damen | 773-342-7482

$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO

This Bucktown spot turns out food every bit as good as that of some of its more regal counterparts, and at half the price. Standards like shish kebab, falafel, baba ghanoush, dolmas, tabbouleh, and Jerusalem salad dominate the menu, but there's a smattering of harder-to-find stuff such as borek stuffed with aromatic ground beef. The space is lovely, with brick walls and high ceilings that make the room seem bigger than it is. They must be doing something right—by the time we left there was a line out the door. —Chip Dudley

Dawali Mediterranean Kitchen

4911 N. Kedzie | 773-267-4200

$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11

I'm never going to say that Kedzie Avenue has too many Middle Eastern restaurants, especially since some of the best are distinctive. But with the familiar menu of shawarma, kebabs, hummus, falafel, fattoush, etc, what does Dawali have that's going to draw customers from the others? For one thing, every day the alluring aroma of baking bread blasts across the parking lot, issuing like a siren's call from its next door neighbor, the grocery and bakery Pita House. Ordering at the counter and getting our own drinks, we sat down to an appetizer sampler of pretty basic baba ghanoush, heavily emulsified hummus, grilled vegetables (masaka'a), and crispy though oddly herbaceous and wet falafel. But the shawarma, with very clearly defined layers of beef and fat-streaked lamb, showed some potential, its exterior bits crispy and nicely charred, though despite the aforementioned fat, it still seemed a bit dry. And yes, the bread comes from Pita House—one of the guys at the counter went over for a couple fresh bags during our meal. Alcohol prohibited. —Mike Sula

Masouleh

6653 N. Clark | 773-262-2227

$

LUNCH: SATURDAY-SUNDAY; DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY | BYO

Masouleh specializes in home-style Persian food—stews, soups, and small sides, many based more on vegetables than meat. While Goly Nassiri-Masouleh works the front of this equally homey Rogers Park restaurant, her husband, Azim, works the kitchen, laboring over regional dishes such as mirza ghasemi, roasted eggplant stewed with tomato and garlic. Gilan, the northern Iranian province where Azim hails from, is noted for its heavy use of garlic, eggs, vegetables, and green herbs that infuse dishes with fresh, grassy flavors. Torshe tareh, for example, is minced sour spinach textured by a small amount of cracked rice and flavored with garlic, cilantro, parsley, and a minty dried herb called khol wash, from a dwindling stock Azim's sister brought over from Iran. Other specialties include zaytoon parvardeh, a side dish of olives marinated in a mixture of garlic, chopped walnuts, pomegranate syrup, and a touch of golpar, a spice that comes from the giant hogweed and is sometimes called Persian marjoram. Then there's the mirza ghasemi, the region's most famous food, which is similar to the northern Indian baigan bharta but for the addition of scrambled egg. The menu also includes a triumvirate of three classic Iranian khoureshte, or stews: vegetable beef with green herbs (ghormeh sabzi), eggplant, beef, and yellow split peas (gheimeh bademjan), and chicken in a thick walnut-pomegranate sauce (fesenjan). And every weekend Azim prepares a more labor-intensive northern dish as a special, for example, morghe torsh, chicken and yellow split peas seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, cilantro, dill, parsley, mint, and khol wash and finished off with scrambled egg. There are kebabs as well, but why bother with the ordinary when you can eat like an Iranian? —Mike Sula

Noon-O-Kabab

4661 N. Kedzie | 773-279-9309

$$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | RESERVATIONS ACCEPTED for large groups only

Mir Javad Naghavi, chef and co-owner (with his father Amin and sister Parvin) of Albany Park's Noon-O-Kabab, says he makes his koubideh, skewers of ground beef and lamb, with a marinade of "ingredients your body needs"—salt, pepper, and onion. He takes a similarly elemental approach to all his cooking, relying on simple marinades and classic techniques to produce the menu of grilled meats; hearty vegetarian entrees like a stew of deep-fried baby eggplant, tomatoes, saffron, and sauteed onions; and traditional Middle Eastern dishes like hummus, baba ghanoush, and kashke bademjan, a delicious appetizer of pureed eggplant, onion, garlic, and mint. There's a full bar; a separate location for pickup, delivery, and catering is located at 4651 N. Kedzie (773-279-8899). —Laura Levy Shatkin

Pita Inn

3910 Dempster, Skokie | 847-677-0211

$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

The first Middle Eastern restaurant on this popular stretch of Dempster looks like a Taco Bell on the outside, but on the inside it's a Mediterranean villa, with whitewashed brick archways, synthetic hanging vines, and lively recorded music. The fare has a Greek influence but is mostly rooted in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. Though the shawarma is sliced off a huge rotating mass of pressed seasoned beef, it's moist and flavorful. The ground spiced meat kifte kebabs, shish kebabs, and falafel are also tasty and made to order, as are the marinated chicken tenders that are charbroiled and set on a fluffy bed of rice pilaf. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Sahara Kabob

6649 N. Clark | 773-262-2000

$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

A storefront plastered with standard-issue gyro and pizza puff signage gives little hint that an accomplished Assyrian restaurant might lie within. But this Rogers Park spot (formerly called Big Buns and Pita) has been praised by the likes of chef Graham Elliot Bowles. Tasty starters include smoky baba ghanoush; falafel made from a flavorful blend of chickpeas and fava beans; lahim beajin—think Middle Eastern pizza on a pita; and kubbat Mosul, a delicious cracked wheat pancake stuffed with beef and onion. Entrees are equally impressive. Tashreeb, a signature dish, is a meltingly tender lamb shank set atop a slightly spicy sour tomato broth and samon, a fluffy bread (the "big buns" in the restaurant's old name) that soaks up the juices. Cornish hen, marinated and charcoal grilled, is likewise terrific, as are grilled fish preparations. Each plate is insanely generous for the price (there's nothing here over $10), accompanied by a savory lentil soup, salad, torshi (pickle), and rice or couscous. Delivery is swift and friendly. —Gary Wiviott

Salam

4636 N. Kedzie | 773-583-0776

$

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

I have oceanic reserves of nostalgia for this once-grotty neighborhood stalwart, so I was nervous when it underwent a major face-lift and expansion under new ownership. The bright new spit-shined Salam—complete with massive full-color portraits of Middle Eastern monuments and mannerly female waitstaff—is certainly more presentable than it used to be. But the open kitchen's move into a neighboring abandoned Quizno's means the rough, chummy banter between cooks and customers has been silenced. Somehow that makes it harder to forgive occasional consistency problems, like spun-dry shawarma or falafel that have clearly spent too much time outside the fryer. All items on the once-minimal menu remain—shawarma and kebab entrees (downsizable to sandwiches), variations on chickpeas such as fatah and mossabaha, and an organ trio of liver, heart, and kidney sauteed with onions and lemon—and still arrive as nearly insurmountable heaps of food, accompanied by bright pink radishes and preceded by a teaser of superbriny olives. There's still fresh-brewed mint tea, fresh-squeezed orange-carrot juice, and rotating specials including grape leaves, zucchini, massef (a soup traditionally accompanied by lamb and rice), and a Sunday wild card that ranges from string beans to Cornish hen. And the menu's expanded along with the space and now features more Arabic dishes, including spinach pies, house-made labneh, and a few of the tomato-onion sautees known as kalaya. But the ominous addition of generic fast-food items—chicken wings, gyros, burgers, rotisserie chicken, and fries—makes my heart hurt. Alcohol prohibited. —Mike Sula

Sultan's Market

2057 W. North | 773-235-3072

$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | Byo

"Spicy falafel to go," I chant almost every time I step up to the counter at Sultan's Market. Why branch out when these tasty pockets of perfectly fried, crispy falafel, Jerusalem salad, hummus, and the spicy stuff are so reliable and cheap? But this deli also serves up deliciously comforting yellow lentil soup (especially good with that squeeze of lemon juice), hearty lentils and rice topped with fresh tabbouleh, spinach pies, and smoky baba ghanoush. The salad bar is another option, with dolmas, stuffed eggplant, marinated artichokes or mushrooms, steamed brussels sprouts, and roasted red peppers, in addition to the raw basics. The store has been remodeled to provide more seating, but it's also nice to sit outside when it's sunny. If you stay in, the spices and gigantic bottles of hot sauce for sale and the lines of people waiting for their meals give you plenty to take in. —Katherine Young

Zaytune Mediterranean Grill

3129 S. Morgan | 773-254-6300

$

LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | closed sunday | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Until Kendall grad Daniel Sarkiss opened this counter-service joint, Bridgeport was probably the last place you'd dream of finding authentic Middle Eastern food. And while you'll see no Iraqi sheep's head, trotter, or stomach stew specials, and Sarkiss griddles his shawerma instead of spinning it on a trompo, the attention to detail and complexity of nearly everything he does—from the freshly turned-out pita to light, fluffy, freshly fired falafel to the herbed fries with kalamata aioli to the big, meaty salads bowls and grilled meat platters with roasted vegetables—rivals and even exceeds far older and more venerable spots in ethnic enclaves like Albany Park and Bridgeview. —Mike Sula

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