Hailing from the closest thing to the Middle East outside the Middle East (Michigan) I often crave me some schwarma. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh wasn’t satisfying this craving until I heard about Salem’s Market & Grill in the Strip District. The restaurant is set up kind of like a cafeteria, but with the addition of spinning spools of meat. There was Indian food as well, but I was at Salem’s for one thing only.
I’m not sure what it is about my two business school trips, but both have somehow led me to eat Turkish food, which I love but certainly eat rarely. First I went to Cafe Turko in Seattle and this time it was Anatolian Kitchen in Palo Alto. Based on my experience, the menu seemed pretty authentic. Of course, that is just the opinion of a man who has been to Turkey once, but in my mind that was enough.
When I settled in San Francisco, I realized I had to eat something I had been craving for a while: schwarma. Or, if you’re at Arabi in the Rincon Center: shawerma. Whatever the spelling, I needed it. And I needed it with chicken. And I needed it with sauce. And I needed it with nothing else except some pita to wrap it. I hoped that Arabi would satisfy this need, but I was way off.
Genuine Turkish food isn’t exactly easy to find. Sure, other Middle Eastern food seems to be everywhere, but it’s not often you come across pide, or the word “kebab.” Cafe Turko in Seattle’s Fremont area though, is one of those places. With a menu that is nearly unpronounceable to an American, I knew I had found a good place. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was with a Turk who vouched for the authenticity of many of the dishes.
Straddling the campuses of Carnegie Mellon and Pitt, Craig Street is where ambitious students can often be found eating lunch or dinner between classes. On that street is a little Middle Eastern restaurant called Ali Baba, which I found myself eating at based on a high recommendation. The recommendation was mostly based on something that have called Kibbee Nayyee, which is a raw lamb dish that is apparently pretty hard to find.
It’s funny how a small college town can feel quite big when winter is so long and eating out is so much more money than a box of mac and cheese. (you need that money for beer, not food). So while I was a student at Michigan, I think I made it to Pita Kabob Grill once. But upon my return to Ann Arbor recently, I found myself with someone who had glorious memories of that little Middle-Eastern hole-in-the-wall and so I doubled down on my visits.
It’s not often I get out to Playa Del Rey for food, but there’s something about house sitting in a place that inspires you to eat there. In the mood for an adventure we took a walk around and stumbled upon Playa’s Pita, a possessive and alliterative Lebanese restaurant that seemed a lot better than pizza or Chinese.
Look at the picture to the left, ignore the title of this post and tell me what you see. If you are like me, you probably think that is a burrito. It has the signature Chipotle foil, a nice fold and the grill marks that usually come with a tortilla. But this is no burrito, this is a chicken schwarma wrap from Pita Kitchen in Sherman Oaks, a hole in the wall to be remembered.
While LA has its fair share of Middle-Eastern restaurants, Kabab Grill in Palms boasts something I haven’t seen elsewhere: its own pita oven. Growing up with the Middle-Eastern restaurants of southeastern Michigan, I just kind of assumed every place had their own oven, but in LA I learned this was not the case. Yet, a pita oven alone does not make a place great, so I was eager to see how this Syrian-flavored place would taste and hoped it didn’t taste like the blood and tears of civil war (too soon?).
As an unvegan, I usually shy away from falafel. It’s not veggie-based, but it’s also not meat and I would typically rather fill my stomach with schwarma when I have the opportunity. Yet, in heading out to Falafel Arax, I had heard they had the best falafel in the land of Los Angeles and I knew I would end up getting some. The place resides in a little corner strip mall in a strange part of town east of Hollywood that I usually wouldn’t find myself in, but the temptation of having amazing Lebanese falafel was enough to get me there. Oh, and before I go any further, I should mention they are cash only. With that said, let’s get on to the food.