Middle Eastern Restaurant and Grocer in the city?
I've always been a big fan of good cheap authentic middle eastern food (egyptian, lebanese, iranian, ect.). But there seems to be a serious lack of that type of food in Philadelphia, I'm hoping to find a few hole in the wall spots.
I'm also wondering if there are any middle eastern grocers in the area. More specifically I'm looking for some place to find the spice mixture za'atar. If you havn't eaten it before, go buy some pizza dough or make your own ofcourse, and rub za'atar that you have mixed with olive oil and turned into a paste. Its incredible, easy, and flavorful.
I'm going to check the spice shops in the italian market this weekend for za'atar but any advice as to where I could find it would be great.
The first place that comes to mind is Bitars corner of 10th and Federal in South Philadelphia. They definitely have zaatar. www.bitars.com.
You may or may not think of it as cheap but it is certainly authentic. Cedars restaurant on 2nd street south of south street is good Middle Eastern/Lebanese food.
There was also a kabab house that laban reviewed in south philadelphia whose name escapes me that he liked a lot. Have not been. I am sure others will chime in with other options.
You should be able to find zaatar (and a vast array of other Middle Eastern/Balkan items) at the Makkah Market, 4249 Walnut in University City. The prices will be much better than in Center City. I used to go here all the time when I lived in the neighborhood. They have great spices, cheeses, halal meats, prepared foods, etc.
You can get za'atar at Spice Corner in the Italian Market. The spices there in general are very good, but the za'atar is just ok.
For middle eastern groceries, Bitar's, as mentioned, is a good little Lebanese grocer; they make sandwiches too. The Queen Village Convenience store at 4th & Bainbridge also has a huge selection of Turkish but also Middle Eastern groceries, mainly imported packaged stuff.
For casual and cheap Middle Eastern food I like Alyan's on 4th below South Street. Mama's vegetarian at 20th & Ranstead has excellent Israeli falafel; good fried eggplant and burekas, too. The coffeeshop on 10th St between Washington & Christian, I can't remember the name now, has Egyptian dishes. There's also Sahara Grill in Center City.
In West Philly there is a new Labanese bakery that is getting a lot of good revews, Manakeesh. If you google you will find them.
Penzey's in Chestnut HIll has AWESOME zatar spice...really really good! Also available on their online site
I get my za'atar in Reading Terminal at Kamal's Middle Eastern - they look like a sandwich place, but they also sell middle-eastern groceries. Just go around to the side with the display case of pastries and prepared foods.