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Al Bawadi Grill
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12 Terrific Middle Eastern Restaurants in Chicago

Where to find crowd-pleasing falafel, shawarma, and everything in between

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Al Bawadi Grill
| Al Bawadi Grill/Facebook

Middle Eastern cuisine is a diverse collection of flavors that spans across a vast region. While many people are familiar with falafel, hummus, and shawarma, there are also other specialty dishes worth seeking out from countries like Turkey and Lebanon. Whether it’s carving meat off the spit or baking minced meat “pizzas,” these following 12 spots are the best at what they do. So the next time a craving hits, here’s where to go to satisfy it.

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Taza Bakery

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Head up north to West Rogers Park for terrific Middle Eastern baked goods. Chicagoans can stock up on samoon, tandoor, and pita breads from this casual restaurant and bakery or try specialties like spinach pie, beef shawarma sandwiches, and lahembajin, a Lebanese meat pizza.

Leaving hungry isn’t an option at Andersonville’s busy Persian restaurant. The kebabs are the star of the show and come in hefty portion sizes, whether they’re of the chicken, beef, lamb, or quail variety. If that’s not enough food, lunch and brunch buffets feature the aforementioned meats as well as salads, stews, omelets, vegetarian items, and more.

Middle East Bakery & Grocery

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It’s hard for most customers to resist walking out of this Middle Eastern grocery store with an armful of goodies, especially after catching a whiff of the smells coming from the attached kitchen. Visitors will find all of the usual suspects — hummus, chicken and beef shawarma, falafel, fattoush — on the restaurant’s menu. In addition, the shop sells breads, spices, rice, dips, savory pies, sweets, and much more to take home.

Taste of Lebanon

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For a quick, cheap, and hearty Middle Eastern meal, this no-frills Lebanese storefront is the place to go. Bring cash and create stomach space for creamy lentil soup and lavash wraps stuffed with falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves, lamb kebabs, beef shawarma, and more. Those with a sweet tooth save room for a piece of baklava, too.

Noon O Kabab

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Like the name suggests, skewers of lamb koobideh, rib eye, chicken, and shrimp are among the best sellers at this Persian eatery. But the extensive menu also includes classic dishes like adas polo (rice with lentils), fessenjan (pomegranate and walnut stew), and shirin polo (Persian sweet rice). There’s a separate, more casual location next door for pick-up and delivery orders.

Semiramis

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Embroidered pillows, decorative rugs, and a warm, cozy atmosphere all help to make Semiramis an essential Lebanese dining destination. The falafel is a favorite, while the lamb/beef and chicken shawarma are marinated for 24 hours in a blend of herbs and spices. For pure value, though, the whole roasted chicken priced at $10 is tough to beat. Maamoul cookies and cups of Arabic coffee provide the finish.

Turquoise Cafe & Restaurant

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This Roscoe Village café delivers a bevy of Turkish delights. Many diners rave about the complimentary bread service but don’t fill up on carbs because the lahmajoun (Turkish pizza), zucchini pancakes, doner kebabs, and rack of lamb are likewise crowd pleasers.

The Gundis

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Chicago’s first and only dedicated Kurdish restaurant arrived on the scene in 2017 and brought with it a new and eclectic mix of dishes. The food leans heavily on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors so expect a range of choices like grilled octopus, eggplant stew, lamb shank, and sac tava — a traditional stir-fry. During morning hours, folks can start the day with a breakfast spread full of egg scrambles, an assortment of side dishes, and bottomless Kurdish tea.

Sultan's Market

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The Ramli family opened this beloved Wicker Park staple in 1995 and today it remains one of the most popular places for delicious and affordable Middle Eastern fare. The crispy falafel — priced at only 50 cents a piece — are paragons of the form and best enjoyed in a spicy pita sandwich stuffed with hummus, tomatoes, and Jerusalem salad. The salad bar is also a vegetarian’s paradise, stocked with more than 30 ingredients for $5.99 per pound. A second Sultan’s Market is located in Lincoln Park and the Ramlis also own the full-service restaurant and nightlife spot Masada in Logan Square.

Zaytune Mediterranean Grill

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Middle Eastern options are scarce in Bridgeport so it’s fortunate that Zaytune checks off all the boxes of a good kitchen. Owner Daniel Sarkiss prides himself on made-from-scratch dishes using fresh produce and herbs. Guests can build platters, wraps, or salad bowls with falafel, shawarma, kebabs, and other proteins. The herbed fries are a crowd-pleaser as well, served with Kalamata aioli.

The Nile of Hyde Park

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Located near the University of Chicago, The Nile is popular with students, staff, and anyone looking for a cheap and filling meal. Chow on solidly-executed staples like hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and shawarma or shish kabob sandwiches.

Al Bawadi Grill

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It’s located just outside city limits but Bridgeview’s Al Bawadi is certainly worth a trip to the suburbs. The space, which used to be home to an Arby’s, is decked with Arabian décor while servers also wear traditional outfits. Diners start with complimentary eggplant dip before moving onto the signature wood-fired meats and seafood selection. Afterwards, cap the meal off with a cup of cardamom-spiked coffee.

Taza Bakery

Head up north to West Rogers Park for terrific Middle Eastern baked goods. Chicagoans can stock up on samoon, tandoor, and pita breads from this casual restaurant and bakery or try specialties like spinach pie, beef shawarma sandwiches, and lahembajin, a Lebanese meat pizza.

Reza's

Leaving hungry isn’t an option at Andersonville’s busy Persian restaurant. The kebabs are the star of the show and come in hefty portion sizes, whether they’re of the chicken, beef, lamb, or quail variety. If that’s not enough food, lunch and brunch buffets feature the aforementioned meats as well as salads, stews, omelets, vegetarian items, and more.

Middle East Bakery & Grocery

It’s hard for most customers to resist walking out of this Middle Eastern grocery store with an armful of goodies, especially after catching a whiff of the smells coming from the attached kitchen. Visitors will find all of the usual suspects — hummus, chicken and beef shawarma, falafel, fattoush — on the restaurant’s menu. In addition, the shop sells breads, spices, rice, dips, savory pies, sweets, and much more to take home.

Taste of Lebanon

For a quick, cheap, and hearty Middle Eastern meal, this no-frills Lebanese storefront is the place to go. Bring cash and create stomach space for creamy lentil soup and lavash wraps stuffed with falafel, hummus, baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves, lamb kebabs, beef shawarma, and more. Those with a sweet tooth save room for a piece of baklava, too.

Noon O Kabab

Like the name suggests, skewers of lamb koobideh, rib eye, chicken, and shrimp are among the best sellers at this Persian eatery. But the extensive menu also includes classic dishes like adas polo (rice with lentils), fessenjan (pomegranate and walnut stew), and shirin polo (Persian sweet rice). There’s a separate, more casual location next door for pick-up and delivery orders.

Semiramis

Embroidered pillows, decorative rugs, and a warm, cozy atmosphere all help to make Semiramis an essential Lebanese dining destination. The falafel is a favorite, while the lamb/beef and chicken shawarma are marinated for 24 hours in a blend of herbs and spices. For pure value, though, the whole roasted chicken priced at $10 is tough to beat. Maamoul cookies and cups of Arabic coffee provide the finish.

Turquoise Cafe & Restaurant

This Roscoe Village café delivers a bevy of Turkish delights. Many diners rave about the complimentary bread service but don’t fill up on carbs because the lahmajoun (Turkish pizza), zucchini pancakes, doner kebabs, and rack of lamb are likewise crowd pleasers.

The Gundis

Chicago’s first and only dedicated Kurdish restaurant arrived on the scene in 2017 and brought with it a new and eclectic mix of dishes. The food leans heavily on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors so expect a range of choices like grilled octopus, eggplant stew, lamb shank, and sac tava — a traditional stir-fry. During morning hours, folks can start the day with a breakfast spread full of egg scrambles, an assortment of side dishes, and bottomless Kurdish tea.

Sultan's Market

The Ramli family opened this beloved Wicker Park staple in 1995 and today it remains one of the most popular places for delicious and affordable Middle Eastern fare. The crispy falafel — priced at only 50 cents a piece — are paragons of the form and best enjoyed in a spicy pita sandwich stuffed with hummus, tomatoes, and Jerusalem salad. The salad bar is also a vegetarian’s paradise, stocked with more than 30 ingredients for $5.99 per pound. A second Sultan’s Market is located in Lincoln Park and the Ramlis also own the full-service restaurant and nightlife spot Masada in Logan Square.

Zaytune Mediterranean Grill

Middle Eastern options are scarce in Bridgeport so it’s fortunate that Zaytune checks off all the boxes of a good kitchen. Owner Daniel Sarkiss prides himself on made-from-scratch dishes using fresh produce and herbs. Guests can build platters, wraps, or salad bowls with falafel, shawarma, kebabs, and other proteins. The herbed fries are a crowd-pleaser as well, served with Kalamata aioli.

The Nile of Hyde Park

Located near the University of Chicago, The Nile is popular with students, staff, and anyone looking for a cheap and filling meal. Chow on solidly-executed staples like hummus, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and shawarma or shish kabob sandwiches.

Al Bawadi Grill

It’s located just outside city limits but Bridgeview’s Al Bawadi is certainly worth a trip to the suburbs. The space, which used to be home to an Arby’s, is decked with Arabian décor while servers also wear traditional outfits. Diners start with complimentary eggplant dip before moving onto the signature wood-fired meats and seafood selection. Afterwards, cap the meal off with a cup of cardamom-spiked coffee.

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