Review: Shawarma King

About a year ago, this Middle Eastern spot took over a tiny storefront on the block where Seoul Taco opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant. It’s modest but mighty in flavor, and it has attracted lots of foodie attention since opening.

The menu is small, centered around two proteins: chicken and beef shawarma. Owner Mohammed Alsalem shaves slices of the delectable pressed meats from massive boulders suspended around two big spits. It’s fascinating to watch as he builds your meal—shawarma sandwiches and platters—filling orders one at a time. The food tastes fresh and comes served with savory touches that make each order a treat.

A Chicken Shawarma Arabi platter ($11.99) had the slices of meat rolled into ‘shrak,’ or thin, Jordanian, unleavened wheat bread. Served with the meat were a rich, mayonnaise-like garlic sauce and diced, fermented pickles. Rather than serving the dish as a wrap, Alsalem slices the rolled food into 2-inch roulettes, making it easier to enjoy. In its entirety, the combination was outstanding. The meal came with creamy coleslaw (which tasted a little tired) and french fries, an incongruous Western touch.

But diners have plenty of opportunities to enjoy more authentic sides here. We started our meal with Lentil Soup ($2.99), which was thin but tasty. It was served in a tin ‘to-go’ container that was off-putting but not a deal-breaker. We also ordered the Veg Platter ($11.99), which I highly recommend if you’re interested in sampling all of the authentic starters. Served with a pile of pita were Baba Ganoush, Hummus, Falafel, Tabbouleh and Warak Inab, or stuffed grape leaves. Each had its own distinctive flavor.

The Baba Ganoush was creamy with a wonderful smokiness, and the Hummus, whipped to a creamy consistency, had a strong lemon flavor. The Tabbouleh, my least favorite, was dominated by tangy, fresh lemon and mouth puckering parsley. The grape leaves came with an appealing, soft rice stuffing and plenty of oil on the leaves. The Falafel were crisp, not at all greasy and very tasty. A side of Cucumber Yogurt ($4.99) was also quite good, with diced cucumbers massed inside a large serving of creamy yogurt.

The Falafel Sandwich ($7.99) was similar to the chicken shawarma roll, and every bit as tasty. It had the mayonnaise and pickles, along with smashed falafel, a combination of crisp crust and moist chickpea interior all rolled up in that delicious shrak ($1.50 extra). I wasn’t as enamored with the Beef Shawarma, which I ordered as a platter with rice ($11.99). The meat, most likely stewing beef, was a little dry and could have benefited from the mayo and pickles rolled with the sandwich version. It did come with yellow rice and a tasty Arabic salad of diced cucumbers and tomatoes. If you like tea or coffee with your meal, I recommend the Arabic versions served here, laced with cardamom and a little sugar.

amuse bouche
the scene | Modest, ethnic family restaurant in The Loop
the owner | Mohammed Alsalem
the prices | $2.99-$5.99 appetizers, $7.99-$11.99 platters
the favorites | Chicken Shawarma, Veg Platter, Falafel Sandwich

food • ŏ • lō • gy
shawarma | Meat, or a combination of meats, stacked and grilled on a rotating, vertical spit. It is shaved into long ribbons for sandwiches or eastern Mediterranean platters.
shrak | Unleavened bread cooked over a large dome to yield a paper-thin disk for sandwiches
falafel | Balls or patties made from mashed chickpeas and sometimes other beans, spiced and deep-fried to yield a crisp, crusty and delicious vegetarian protein

571 melville ave. | 314.261.48336

pictured at top: mix shawarma & rice – succulent layers of beef and chicken served with rice, tahini and garlic sauce, and Arabic salad