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El Sham - middle eastern - Hamilton (Mercer Co) NJ

This new middle eastern restaurant http://www.elshamrestaurant.com/Site/... opened yesterday on S. Olden Ave near I-295. We were there for lunch today and not disappointed. A storefront strip mall restaurant with a counter and about 8-10 tables. Excellent food served on plastic plates after ordering at the counter. We tried the vegetarian mixed platter (hummus, grape leaves, and very, very good falafel served with bulgar wheat & onions [rice also an option]) and the lamb shish kebab combo with rice, tabouleh & yogurt salad. All very good. The lamb was tender and spiced in some way I can't describe but enjoyed. Hot tea was only lukewarm, the only disappointment. The desserts are to die for: top quality baklavah, basbusa & kahnafea! Not at all a fancy place, but very clean, and the food is quite good

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  1. Do any of the posters know how this place compares to other middle eastern restaurants like Marhaba in Lambertville or Ibby's in Freehold?

    2 Replies
    1. re: glutton

      Anyone remember what their hours are, I didn't see them on the web site?

      1. re: glutton

        I answered my own question by eating at El Sham last night with my wife and friend. It is definitely not on par with Marhaba or Ibby's. In fact, it was all in all a pretty lousy meal. I say that for two reasons:

        Food: We ordered hummus, baba ghannouj, stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, falafel, and chicken shawarma. The hummus and baba ghannouj were fine, but honestly not much different than what I could buy at a grocery store. The grape leaves came out of a can. The tabbouleh was different, and not as good, as what I've eaten at other restaurants -- it was more of a pasta dish and less of a salad of parsley, etc. The falafel was pretty good. The chicken shawarma was terrible -- dry, overcooked, bland.

        Value: This is not a fancy restaurant and that's fine. You order at the counter, the food is served on styrofoam plates, and there's little to no ambiance. All of that does not bother me in the least. However, the prices they charge are more expensive than places with waiter service, linens, ambiance, etc. The combo plates were $15 and we got some lousy chicken shawarma and two sides (hummus, tabbouleh, etc.). The sides were tiny. To charge fifteen bucks for that is highway robbery. I'm not usually the guy that complains about value at restaurants -- it's a tough business to make a nickel, so I'm usually content to pay a bit extra to keep a good restaurant in business -- but this was over the top.

        I don't think we'll give this a second chance. We've got Marhaba and Ibby's close enough and if we're looking for great middle eastern food, we can head up to Patterson (as we did today, in a desperate attempt to erase bad memories of subpar baba ghannouj).

      2. After reading the reviews on Chowhound, we decided to try El Sham today for lunch. We both took the day off from work today, and it was very fitting being our anniversary. After watching the Rick Steves episode on Iran this morning, I was craving some middle eastern cuisine, and this was th perfect fit for my cravings!

        El Sham is just a 10 minutes drive or so for us, so it was nice and close. The place is in a strip mall, and I have no idea if this is a new strip mall, or if it has been there for a while. As you walk in, the counter where you order is tucke into the back ledt hand corner. In the front of the restaurant, 8 tables occupy the open space. The walls are a light blue color, and the restaurant is trimmed out in yellow. The place may not be fancy or romantic, but I can tell you that it is clean! You can eat off the floors in here, and it just loks pristine. They also have nice dark colored tables, and the place is no frills.

        For lunch, we started out with the hummus, that was served with a nice light oil on top, some green herbs, and 4 fresh pita slices. This was very nice, and I could eat a ton of it. For an appetizer, it is the perfect portion, and I actually left a little on the plate to use on my sandwich.

        Zelda opted for the falafel sandwich, which was a nice sized portion, with lettuce, tomato, and a tahini sauce served in a pita. She said that this was much better than the last one that she had at Moustache in Lambertville before they closed. From the bite that I had, the spices were very nice, and this had some damn good flavors to it!

        I opted for the shish kabob sandwich, which was a nice grilled lamb cubed and seasoned. Let me tell you that this was awesome! The lamb was hot off the grill, and when I say hot, I mean hot! It was served with a nice lettuce, tomato, onion, and tahini sauce. The seasonings on this were absolutely perfect, and I love the hot temp on the lamb. It was cooked perfectly, and was just damn tasty. I added some hummus to the sandwich, and I recommend doing the same. It makes for a nice combo.

        All in all, for $20 with a couple of sodas, this made for a bargain lunch! The ambiance isn't the fanciest, but what is important is that the food is authentic, and damn good! We definitely plan on going back and I look forward to trying one of their many different platters, and Zelda looks forward to tryng their falafel plater or vegetarian mixed platter!

        It's nice to have a new place like this in the area, with goo service, and great food! Kudos to the crew at El Sham!

        El Sham
        1641 South Olden Avenue
        Hamilton, NJ 08610
        Phone: (609)931-0513
        Fax: (609)931-0514


        2 Replies
        1. re: njfoodies

          Do they make their own pita? Is it anything like Aladdin's pita back when it was under the old management? I could've made a meal just out of the pita and hummous or fuul. I miss it! But, anyway, to my point, is it like that at all or more like regular sized pita from the store?
          brownie (who should be called hotbreadfanatic, I think!)

          1. re: brownie

            They serve the same pita you could buy in a store. They could at least warm it up, but no such luck.

        2. Finally got to this place... my take:

          The good:
          - Falafel - very flavorful, delicious
          - Foul Mudammas - Also delicious, could be a Tuscan bean dish
          - Baklava - Extremely fresh, not drowned in sugar syrup, nice and crispy
          - Hummus - Also extremely fresh, with very nice olive oil

          The not-so-good:
          - Shwarma - Both lamb and chicken had too much nutmeg for my taste
          - Kababs - Chicken & lamb were both a bit dry, Kofta was good

          All in all, very nice. I'll definitely be back for the vegetarian options.

          2 Replies
          1. re: JoJo1880

            I understand that I might have gotten a bad meal when I was there -- that happens sometimes, even to the best of restaurants. However, I am very surprised that nobody else thinks that $15 for a skimpy "platter" is too much. Their version of a "platter" is just one of those styrofoam plates that is divded into three sections -- just like what you buy at the grocery store. Put a little scoop of hummus in one section, a scoop of baba ghanouj in another section, and finish it with a big pile of rice and a small handful of chicken shwarma sprinkled on top. That's what they're calling a combo platter and they want $15 for that. Compare that to what you get at Ibby's in Freehold, Marhaba in Lambertville, or any of the places in Paterson and I think you'd agree that it's overpriced.

            1. re: glutton

              Yeah Glutton. The prices of the combos strike me as a bit on the high side. I went back: lentil soup was a bit thin. Falafel still very good.

          2. I've eaten there twice. I live close to Norma's, but now make the drive to El Sham because the food is better. They have the best Lamb Shawarma I've had (moist and juicy). Also excellent hummus, babaganoush, tabouli, and falafel. Only disappointment is the grape leaves and pita which taste storebought, but I can live with that. I highly recommend this restaurant.

            1. Been wanting to try El Sham and got the chance this afternoon on the way back from Lambertville. Let me give you the summary first. This is the real deal. Everything we had was first rate.
              As mentioned before, its a small restaurant and spotless. The owner Mohammed is as nice and engaging a person as you will ever meet.

              We wanted to sample several items so we went the combo route. The quality is excellent and the portions large.
              I had the lamb Shawarma combo which came with a full fresh salad dressed with tahini which was a great start. No skimpy salad under warm food. The large plate was full of tender, beautifully seasoned lamb over tender rice with some tahini on the side. Also had that lethal pepper on top. Best Lamb Shawarma I've had and that includes all the restaurants mentioned in this thread. Comes with two sides, the hummus was very good, Baba Ganoush was excellent. Smooth but having a bit of texture. Pita was just OK.
              DW had the Chicken Kabob combo which was again a large plate of very tender well seasoned chicken over that tender rice. Her two sides were that fabulous Baba Ganoush and a tasty yogurt salad with cucumbers and mint. Helped cool the effects of those peppers. Her combo also started with the same salad as mine.

              Its BYO, we enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner but a full range of beverages are offered.
              With all the food served, we put up the white towel when offered the dessert menu. Mohammed insisted and gave us a portion of baklava to try. It was delicious, flaky pastry and tasty filling.
              It was our first time here and we will be back for sure.

              5 Replies
              1. re: tom246

                Great review tom246! Sounds like we need to make a trip back as it has been several months for us! Was hoping we might run into you Saturday night at Under the Moon by chance. First time we've been back there in a while, and as always, it too was wonderful! Hope you guys are well! -mJ

                1. re: njfoodies

                  Your report was one of the reasons why I wanted to get there. Very good experience. Need to get back and try the falafel and a bunch of other stuff.
                  The Lamb Shawarma was excellent, for us the best we have had.

                  1. re: tom246

                    I really enjoyed my lamb when we were there. I actually suggested it to Zelda a couple weekends ago, but she wasn't in the mood for anything fried with the heat. I really can't blame her, and being the non-meat eater she is, that didn't leave many options. Hope to get back soon though. Just might have to figure out what kind of vino to bring! ;-)

                    1. re: njfoodies

                      I'm sure there are many opinions on this but I equate the spices used at El Sham and similar restaurants to BBQ. Bold but not hot at all. Because of that I like a hearty zinfandel with the food.

                      Of course, a cold beer is also a great choice :)

                      1. re: tom246

                        Couldn't agree with you more on the zinfandel tom246, and I would also throw some rose in there, and maybe some riseling or tokai! Damn I wish this place was close enough for lunch....minus the vino of course! -mJ

              2. We had an urge for Middle Eastern food today and got our fix from El Sham. Just a quick update since most of what we ordered was the same as last time.
                Every bit as good as last time, the salads with tahini, my platter of lamb shawarma and the hummus and baba ganoush were delicious.
                DW changed from the chicken kabobs to chicken shawarma and it was moist and had great flavor. She had the yogurt cucumber salad along with the baba ganoush. Leftovers will make a nice lunch for her tomorrow.
                Split an order of baklava to finish the meal.

                The food is wonderful and the value is excellent. Will try some new items next time, including the falafel which I was too stuffed to try.
                Friendly warm greeting from the owner-chef, you feel like your eating in his house and our young server was also very helpful.
                If your in the area, El Sham is well worth a visit.

                1. My friend and I lunched at El Sham today and it was wonderful! We shared a delicious vegetarian platter and a platter with chicken, lamb and beef. All absolutely scrumptious. Cucumber and yogurt salad with mint, pita bread, sweet iced tea, hummus, grape leaves--we feasted! Wonderful spot. Hope they have much success. We'll definitely be back!

                  1. Three of us ate dinner here tonight.
                    We really enjoyed it, especially because the owner spent a lot of time talking to us and helping us coordinate sharing three dinners. the hummos and baba ganoush were the best I've had in the area, and I particularly liked the lamb shawarma. For dessert we liked the kataiff(?) shredded phyllo and nuts. It's really nice to see someone making authentic food, and not dumbing it down .

                    1. I can't believe everyone likes this place. It stinks. The place is small, clean, the owner is nice, nice location, but the food is just so so, bland, nothing pops in it. I make better everything than they do in their own kitchen. We went with a coupon and won't go back even with one.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: JLawrence

                        That was certainly my experience when we went a year ago. I have frankly been amazed at the steady parade of good reviews. At first, I thought the reviews were being written by shills because it was often the first post from that person. Then I thought people were being swayed by the seemingly constant offerings of free baklava at the end of every meal. Now, I just think the good reviews are a reflection on the generally poor middle eastern dining options in the area. This could indeed be the best in the area (Marhaba is better, but let's ignore that fact for a moment). However, I thought Chowhound was intended to talk about good food, not the best food. Relativist evaluations of food just don't do much good for anyone. We want to know about good food, objectively evaluated. Taco Bell might be the best Mexican food in North Dakota, but that doesn't mean that it's good or even Mexican.

                        1. re: glutton

                          Speaking of middle eastern dining, my new favorite in the area is Sahara in New Brunswick. Ate there for the first time this past weekend and it was pretty spectacular. Baba ghanouj was yummy, and had an extra dimension due to the added scallions. The red lentil soup was flavorful, with a wonderfully subtle spicy kick. And my shish kebab featured tender chunks of lamb with no gristly bits, a yummy pickled cabbage slaw and two pilafs. I'm ashamed to say that I hoovered the entire meal, and I think it would have fed 3 people. But OMG it was good.

                          I still miss Aladdin's Palace, and I really like Marhaba. But I'd been meaning to get to Sahara for years, and I was pleasantly surprised. My only complaint was that they don't appear to make their own pita (though it was definitely above average). In any case, I'm generally disappointed by pita now that Aladdin's has closed.

                          1. re: Heatherb

                            Do you know how Sahara compares to the Turkish restaurants in Paterson? Whenever we get a serious hankering for baba ghannouj and the like, we just make the drive up to Paterson. But if Sahara compares favorably, that would save us the long drive up north.

                            1. re: glutton

                              Unfortunately, I've never even been to Paterson:( I'm based in Hamilton, and there hasn't been a lot of Middle Eastern type food in the area for me to really be the best judge. I thought the baba ghanouj at Sahara was quite good though - like I said, the addition of scallions was really unusual (in my view) and it was a nice touch. I'd say it's worth a try. If you go, definitely get the lentil soup too:)

                          2. re: glutton

                            El Sham has been a reliable and friendly place for us since it opened a year ago. It was good then and has steadily improved. The appetizers are colorful, aromatic and fresh, and the meats are flavorful, lean and served in good portions. I always feel well-taken care of when I eat there. I hope the place survives and prospers. Aladdin's Palace was a memorable place for us: we were addicts and we still miss the place. El Sham is a good substitute, eventhough the food is different. (Bring on Aladdin's home-made bread!)
                            I never got free baklava at either AP or El Sham, and I'm not a shill. I have eaten Middle Eastern food at the homes of my friends and I find El Sham equal to, or better than, anything I have tasted there.

                            1. re: carl555

                              I stopped in for lunch and was greeted promptly by the owner, who was very friendly. The place is definitely no frills, but clean and comfortable. I wasn't too hungry so I just had a falafel sandwich ($4.00) with optional baba ganoush (.50 extra). The wrapper was more like lavash than pita, not bad. The sandwich is pretty basic, tahini/lettuce/tomato/onion. I would have liked some pickles to dress it, but they have hot sauce if you ask. The falafel was tender and moist, freshly prepared. There were two of them smooshed into the sandwich.
                              I hope to get back for dinner to try more items on their menu, they are nice people and it would be good to support someone who makes an effort in a tough market.

                        2. wow! ...........it was my daughters birthday last sunday and it was our first time eating middle eastern food but my wife had it before but not here ,she would go to afghan kebob house and then we herd of this place we went to go check it out ........................this place was fanominal,the waiter/waitress were very friendly but most of all the food was really good ,i had the protien platter and my wife and daughter had the chicken shawarma platter . The kebabs were really nice and juicy and the shawarma was like non-other.........................PUT IT THIS WAY IF I HAD TO RATE THIS PLACE FROM 1-10 -----------------ITS A 10 ,Thank you elsham

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: antmess1

                            We hadn't been here since a visit in August, but someone on Yelp mentioned new owners, so we checked it out. Seems like the original owner has taken on a partner. The baba ganoush was still terrific. We shared a delicious mousaka with lamb, a grilled half chickenwhich was surprisingly well seasoned and moist, and lamb kabobs which were good sized chunks of marinated meat. For dessert we got the baklawa, semolina cake and the mamoul with dates. One of the owners brought our desserts which included 2 more pieces of Baklawa and the mamoul with walnuts as well as our 3 desserts. Somehow the 3 of us ate them all. I like their pita bread, as well. I know it isn't baked there, but it is the type of pita you find at middle eastern markets, and it was very fresh. They are on restaurant.com,and I actually felt a liitle guilty using the coupon- It's such a nice little spot. I hope they are able to keep it going.

                          2. Hearing that El Sham had a new partner and menu and being in the area prompted us to stop in. The dining room is freshly painted and decorated and the feel of the place is much more inviting than before.
                            Menu has been broken up a bit, appetizers are now separate, platters come with rice and either soup or salad.
                            The preparation of the dishes has also changed but for us, if anything are better than ever.

                            Started with the hummus which is a large yummy portion that we shared. Pita are now lighter and warmed before serving.
                            I had the soup which was chicken vegetable, good flavor, nice amounts of fine textured pasta, vegetables and chicken. Wife had the salad, now almost a Greek salad in appearance and very tasty.
                            Entrees also had different preps. My favorite, Lamb Shawarma was as flavorful as ever and had even more aromatics than the previous prep.
                            Chicken kebobs were moist, tender and tasty. Both entrees now come with tender yellow rice instead of white rice along with the long hot pepper and an additional cherry pepper. Going by memory, I think this also had more aromatic flavor.
                            We split a Mamoul with walnuts and were also given a complimentary Baklawa, yet another new preparation, unconventional as it is now rolled up but also delicious.
                            Our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant is better than ever!

                            1. Recent review by the New York Times of El Sham. They liked most of the menu and gave it a "Worth It". Matches our experiences at El Sham.
                              Here is the link to the review.


                              2 Replies
                              1. re: tom246

                                Went to El Sham tonight with my husband and another couple. We had been once before and liked it. We all agreed this evening that the food was great. The lentil soup was really good, my mousaka (made in a non-traditional way without the heavy bechamel sauce) was outstanding, and my husband's lamb kabob was great, my friend said that her felafel was better than at the place in New Brunswick (Sahara) (which I have not been to). I know other people have not liked this place, but I have to say I strongly disagree based on the 2 times we have been. (an no, not a shill! We really exist!).

                                1. re: LoriJP

                                  Nice report Lori, we go to El Sham often and always have a very good meal. Lots of favorites on the menu for us but I'm stuck on the lamb shawarma platter.

                                  I think you will find many more positive reviews of El Sham than negative and don't worry if your called a shill. The same people who make that accusation forget that they also had a first post at one time :)

                              2. This is a great little place. I have been going there for the past year and they have table service and serve meals on cermic plates; perhaps the counter service and styrofoam plates were from long ago. I think the meals are fairly priced, most dinners under $15, and I have tolerated the recent price increase under the new owner. I wrote a detailed review of El Sham under "hot tips." You can read it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/825851

                                Happy eating!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: CherylAnnBorne

                                  Oh I HOPE I'm wrong... but tonight a friend and I went to El Sham and it was closed. No signs of life at all. And it looks like their website's been taken down too. I'll try to call tomorrow, but this doesn't look good. If anyone knows anything about this, please post here.

                                  1. re: CathyR

                                    Yup, the El Sham owner just up and ran away according to one of the other restaurants in that mall. It was so odd. I had been there a few days prior and he told me. In great detail about the new expanded menu that he was launching in the next week or so.

                                    1. re: CherylAnnBorne

                                      Wow--sorry to hear it--I think it was a tough location for people to get to - I think 2 or 3 families attempted to make it work over the last couple of years. I understand that Efes, which just opened in a tiny space in Princeton, is packed every night. And we thought that El Sham was better, just not in as conveniently located area.

                                      1. re: stillnotdon

                                        Yes, very sorry to hear that. Our favorite ME place. Location was a problem being tucked away in that mall. Super friendly people, hopefully they will open somewhere else.