The Detroit area is populated with some pretty amazing Middle Eastern food. This is due, of course, to the high population of people from that region. Thus, I operate under the impression that you can’t go wrong with any place because of the big time competition. So when I stepped into Shawarma Kingdom in Birmingham, I walked in with expectations.
What’s chwarma? Some might say it’s simply how you spell schwarma in Morocco. At least that’s what I thought when we stopped at Cafe Restaurant L’Etoile in the Djemaa Al Fnaa (Big Square) of Marrakesh’s Medina. We kind of stopped there on a whim considering every other place we had been to was a success so far, and I proceeded to order a Chwarma Sandwich with a side of frites.
One thing that has been sorely missing from my life since packing up and moving to the more easterly part of the country is Middle Eastern food. You know, that and beaches. But seriously, I found Salem’s in Pittsburgh, but not so much in Buffalo. So when I took a trip back home to Michigan for a weekend Middle Eastern was one thing I craved more than anything else, even more than Coney.
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.
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.
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.