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Good shawerma in Chicago?

I'm visitting Chicago for the first time next week (from San Francisco). A former Chicago resident agrees with me that the San Francisco shawerma offerings are weak and claims that Chicago has options that are "way better". But sadly she can't offer any concrete suggestions.

I'm aiming to sample some of the Chicago shawerma offerings that are near to where I'll be, though I might have opportunity to venture out a little further for anything considered spectacular.

- I'll be staying at the Congress Plaza Hotel.
Address is 520 South Michigan Avenue.
Believe the neighborhood is considered "South Loop".

- Will be spending much of next Fri/Sat/Sun at The Hideout
for the Touch & Go Records 25th Anniversary Party. This is
at Wabansia & N. Elston. Neighborhood is shown as Bucktown /
Wicker Park.

Would much appreciate any shawerma recommendations in these areas!

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  1. The short answer is No, you are not going to find outstanding shawerma in either the South Loop or Bucktown/WP. The neighborhood you should go to is Albany Park, reachable via the Brown Line el, get off at the Kedzie stop. Search here and on lthforum.com for discussion of Salam, Semiramis, City Noor Kabab,... The neighborhood is an interesting mix of Arab, Mexican, Bosnian, with a lot of Korean just to the west. I'm not sure if any of these places serve after 10 (per your other query), but perhaps someone else can chime in.

    enjoy your stay,

    2 Replies
    1. re: Amata

      Shawerma can be tricky in terms of quality because an optimal degree of turnover is needed. Not enough and the meat can dry out while too much turnover can lead to poorly browned meat. This is the same problem with Greek gyros and Mexican al pastor. Nobody seems to be totally consistent, so you have the luck of the draw. The odds are better in Albany Park with a bunch of competing Middle Eastern restaurants from various ethnic and religious groups than in a yuppified area such as Wicker Park and Bucktown. In Albany Park most of the customers will be from the Middle East FWIW.

      Salam and Semiramis are roughly across the street from each other on Kedzie just south of the Brown Line stop. Both serve shawerma that has been subject to debate on lthforum.com. Semiramis closes at 10 PM and is closed on Sundays. Most of the other Middle Eastern restaurants on that strip close at 10 PM. City Noor Kabab is roughly the same distance north of the station. Early on (two years ago)they were not using their vertical spit but were griddling the shawerma. It has been a couple of months since I ate there but seem to recall that the spit looked pretty pristine.

      Mataam al Mataam (NW corner of Kedzie and Lawrence) used to be open 24 hours and may still be. I avoided it because it also used to be extremely smoky. It is on my list for trying in the near future if they seem to be complying with Chicago's ban on smoking in most restaurants.

      The Adams and Wabash and State and Van Buren (Library) Brown Line stops on the Loop elevated line are very close to jflesh's hotel. None of these restaurants are more than a standard block from the Kedzie stop.

      1. re: Eldon Kreider

        I also should have noted that most Chowhound posts on the Kedzie restaurants are at least two years old. There have been a lot of changes since then with a fair number of older restaurants replaced be newer ones. City Noor Kabob had a pretty bumpy start but got their act together.

    2. A little out of the way, but about two blocks north of the loop is a good Lebanese place called Kan Zaman (617 N. Wells). I've never had the Schawerma, but the Veggie plate, Hummus, and Gyros are all very good, so its a good all around place. I've been there a couple of times. FYI, its BYO, so bring your own (Binny's is a good beverage store nearby at 213 W. Grand. If you're walking/cabing from the loop, its on the way). Also, Belly Dancing on Friday/Saturday nights. Several good restaurants on the same block - Tizi Meloul, Crofton on Wells, Sushi Samba Rio, Lou Malnatis Pizza, Pepper Canister is a good Bar.

      1. BUCKTOWN:
        Babylon on Damen Avenue just North of Armitage serves up great middle eastern food. The homemade sharwerma is excellent.

        GREEKTOWN: Very high quality food for dirt cheap prices.
        Rodity's has delicious homemade Grecian style gyro's. A bit greasy but fantastic! Try the spanakopita as well.

        Santorini at Adams and Halsted for more upscale serene atmosphere. Amazing seafood, lamb, steak, etc.

        1. Dunno if they're open on weekends, but there is one possibility downtown: Oasis Cafe, at the back of the Jeweler's Mall at 21 N. Wabash. Cheap, tasty, high turnover (again, don't know what the deal is on weekends). It seems Lebanese to me.

          If you need any watch repair or maybe a ring stretched or engraved, you could also get that taken care of while you eat.

          1. Re Oasis, Metromix says:

            "Oasis is closed (they are moving to 17 S. Wabash Avenue). The target reopening is October of 2006."

            I agree that Oasis (when open) is a good lunchtime option considering the limited offerings in the Loop. But it closes pretty early, or at least it used to (for future reference).

            1 Reply
            1. re: Amata

              I called Oasis to confirm and somebody answered and said they were on target for reopening 10/1, with longer hours (including weekends) and more space. Yay, East Loop revival.

            2. Pita Inn, 3910 Dempster in Skokie (north shore suburb), 847-677-0211, lunch and dinner only. It's a long cab ride, and not readily accessible by El or Metra. Clientele is mostly Middle Eastern, college kids and chowhounds (average tab is about $8). This is not a hip foodie place - tables are battered, and don't take a real close look at the floor. But the shawarma is awesome, unless you're a purist who needs to eat shawarma from a pushcart. Expect to wait for a table, unless you go about 3-4 in the afternoon. If you speak Arabic, you may have more leeway in ordering specials. Have fun in Chicago -

              1 Reply
              1. re: Grenouille

                I love the Pita Inn, but Skokie is a LOOONG Cab ride from 520 S. Michigan - probably a $30-40 cab ride each way. Could be an hour ride if you get stuck in rush hour. And not a lot of cabs up that way when it comes time to go back. But you're right - it is great cheap food. I go to the one out in Glenview every couple of weeks. If only they'd open one in the loop...

              2. Al Khayyam-eh is so good and the chicken shwarma is incredible. It is just south of lawrence on kedzie. mmmmm. I have tried most of the restaurants mentioned above and stand by this statement that it is the best.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jonesybot

                  Hmmm. Thanks for the Al Khayyam-eh rec. What stands out at Al K.? Have you tried Babylon on Damen? It's definitely above average and better than most. Everything is incredibly fresh.

                  1. re: jonesybot

                    i tried this one out as my first arab retaraunt here and it was good. all the ingredients were very fresh. i had the chicken shawarma and it was good but not rediculous or anything. it doesnt compare to the schawarma i had in dubai 2 weeks ago but maybe thats an unrealistic comparison.

                  2. Many thanks for all of the suggestions. Was able to take the
                    Brown Line out to the Kedzie stop on Friday afternoon before the show started. Saw Semirami's and Salam and what could have been a handful of similar places judging by the signage.

                    Ended up at Salam, largely chosen because of the minimalist decor and a fair scattering of consistently Middle Eastern clientele (which seemed like a good real-time endorsement to me).

                    Tried the chicken shawerma, and while the pita and fixings were good (esp. the onion), the chicken itself was on the dry side -- I worry I came late-in-game, as the chicken rotating on the spit looked close to depleted, suggesting maybe I was coming in after the tail end of the lunch crowd (circa 3 PM).
                    Still, this certainly had potential, and would've been solid had the chicken not dried out.

                    The hummus was very good however -- very vibrant chick pea flavor, with fresh whole chick peas served as a garnish in the center (I'd never seen this presentation before). And the
                    baba ghanoush was _phenomenal_. Really smooth with a great crisp smokey flavor. BG was hands-down the high point of the meal.

                    This Kedzie-area (Albany Park?) appears to be a great neighborhood for food; we don't have any similarly concentrated Middle Eastern fare in San Francisco. May have targetted Al Khayyam-eh for the chicken shawerma had the rec come in time for my trip, but hopefully I'll get to try it next time!

                    Again, many thanks to all for the suggestions. Also spoke to a couple of folks at the show who recommended Sultan's Market
                    on North Ave (fairly close to The Hideout, I was told).
                    But their description seemed to _praise_ the fact that the chicken shawerma was soaking wet with tahini, and I usually consider that a fatal flaw (common in SF shawerma too).
                    Who wants to eat a cold homogenous mess? And while I enjoyed our conversation otherwise, they kinda lost credibility on the
                    shawerma. Not sure if anyone here has any additional comments about whether Sultan's Market is worth trying.

                    Am looking forward to referencing this material again the next time I visit! Thanks again!


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jflesh

                      Hi J,

                      as I said in your other thread, it's wonderful to get a report back from a visitor. Thanks! And I'm glad you made the trek out to Albany Park and had a good meal at Salam. So much of the great food in Chicago is in the outlying neighborhoods like Albany Park, and it's a shame that most visitors to the city don't explore them.

                      Re Sultan's Market, here's something to confirm your intuition:
                      (perhaps the author of that post will add further comments here :-)?


                      It was funny, when I read your report I thought, "Oh, CHICKEN shawerma??" It made me realize that when I think shawerma I have beef or beef/lamb in mind. I suppose this fits the stereotype of Chicago as a red meat kind of town!