Thursday, July 30, 2009

I heart shawarmas

Habashi House

Ever since I lived in Ukraine, I've had a weakness for shawarmas (or shaormas, or however you happen to spell them). These Turkish burritos sold by street vendors composed approximately 30% of my meals, and I still think they're delicious. However, ever since coming back to the US I've had difficulty finding a good one. But then I found Habashi House at 309 Main in the River Market.

Like I said, I ate a lot of shawarmas in Ukraine. To me, they're tortilla-like bread stuffed with lamb meat, pickles, onions, cabbage and a spicy sauce, wrapped like a burrito, then grilled on a flat iron. Unfortunately hygiene for foodservice workers isn't held in particularly high regard in former Soviet republics, so you may catch the vendor smoking a cigarette. He's not gonna wash his hands before going back to work, but if you've had enough vodka, you won't care anyway. With that said, they were delicious.

As such, I had high expectations from the shawarmas at Habashi House. Run by Middle Easterners (I hate to say Arabs lest they're Turks or Persians, or something else, in which case it's offensive to call them Arabs, you wouldn't call someone from Peru a Mexican would you?), I imagine that their product is much truer to a real shawarma than what I'm used to. Plus they offer kabobs, gyros and a host of other Middle Eastern fare, so I'm assuming it's the real deal.

For the shawarma, the lamb is shaved off of a spit, topped with onions and pickles, then wrapped up in a tortilla (okay, not a real tortilla, but some equivalent to it), and served with your choice of pita bread with hummus, salad or rice.

Overall it's pretty good. Like I said, it's probably closer to a real Turkish shawarma than what I'm used to, but without being grilled on the outside, it was slightly disappointing for me. But on the upside, the lamb is flavorful and generously provided, and the pickles and onions are nice counterpoints. As for the sides, the hummus is good, but really, hummus is hummus. I did like the rice the time I had it. I've never had the salad, but as it seems to be primarily iceberg lettuce (aka the nutritionally devoid, tasteless lettuce) I doubt I'd like it.

I did like the baklava. Sweet and moist, not dry like it is a lot of places, I thought it was delicious. Plus the portion was nice, not too large, but big enough to share.

Prices are good and the service is always great at Habashi House, as it is in the grocery store next door, which is owned by the same people. It really has a great atmosphere, decorated in that Arab-influenced style with beautiful verses from the Quran decorating the walls (written Arabic is beautiful, but always amazes me that it's an actual alphabet). The whole place, like virtually everything in the River Market, has lots of character, and personally I like that in a restaurant.

In closing, if you like Middle Eastern foods, Habashi House is a pretty good place to eat.

    Food: 4
    Atmosphere: 4.5
    Service: 5
    Menu: 2.5
    Price: 4.5
    Total: 21.5
    Average: 4.3

Habashi House on Urbanspoon

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