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Yalla Eat!*

Middle Eastern Food main 2

By Alexa Stanard • photos by Cybelle Codish (unless otherwise noted)

*Yalla is a popular term originating from Arabic, meaning “Let’s go,” “hurry up” or “ come on.”

Looking to explore Middle Eastern culture? There’s no better place to start than with the cuisine — and nowhere in the United States are you likely to find a range of Middle Eastern dining options on par with metro Detroit’s.

Middle Eastern food is heavy on vegetarian dishes, marinated and grilled meats and legumes such as lentils and chickpeas. It also depends on a liberal use of yogurt, sauces and spices including cumin, cardamom, nutmeg and turmeric.

If you don’t know your kibbeh (balls/patties of fried bulgur, onion and ground meat) from your kafta (Lebanese beef kebobs), we’re prepared to help. Visit any of the restaurants featured here, and we promise you’ll enjoy eating your way up the learning curve.

Najeeb Kabob House
Warren (Macomb)

This authentic, unprepossessing spot located in a tiny strip is a find. Step inside and be greeted by an immaculate dining area, friendly staff and Arabic music wafting through the speakers. The menu’s prices can’t be beat, and the portions probably can’t be, either. Be warned: You’ll have a hard time not filling up on the fresh, delicious flatbread before your food arrives.

Dish to try: The flatbread, more of the flatbread and an Iraqi salad. Plus a chicken cream chop sandwich for $2.99.

4076 E. 14 Mile Road, Sterling Heights, 48092; 586-274-0500

 

Najeeb 2

Bucharest Grill
Detroit (Downtown)

This spot inside the Park Bar is an easy walk from Comerica Park — so plan ahead if you want to dine on a Detroit Tigers game day. Bucharest bills itself as a Romanian restaurant, but its menu offers a handful of Middle Eastern options, including a falafel wrap, stuffed grape leaves and a fattoush salad. A second location, in Detroit’s Corktown, is takeout-only. Visitors to the downtown location order at a counter and then eat at one of the Park Bar’s tables.

Dish to try: After eating what some say is the best chicken shawarma sandwich ever, try an order of the stuffed grape leaves, made with beef, not lamb.

2040 Park Ave., Detroit, 48226; 313-965-3111 or bucharestgrill.com

 
 
Bucharest Grill 1

M&M Cafe
Dearborn (Dearborn/Wayne)

If you’re looking for a hidden-gem experience, head to M&M. This Dearborn mom-and-pop spot is cash-only, closed on weekends and doesn’t even trouble itself with a website (though it hardly needs one, given the streams of effusive online reviews). It’s also easy to miss on Michigan Avenue; one online reviewer aptly described it as “dressed in urban camouflage.” But those who make the effort to find it will be glad they did. M&M is Lebanese-influenced; among its specialties is a delectable lemon chicken, and other menu items include grilled kafta and kabobs. And while its Mediterranean-spiced Maurice burger is a diner favorite, the menu offers vegan options, too. Don’t dawdle waiting for your bill. M&M runs on the honor system, so just tell the cashier what you ordered on your way out.

Dish to try: Super hard to pick ... the Mediterranean-spiced Maurice burger or the lemon chicken, and be sure to add any of the homemade soups.

13714 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, 48126; 313-581-5775

 
 
MandM Cafe 1

2Booli
Farmington Hills (Greater Novi)

The menu at this bright, colorful restaurant is rooted in recipes passed down through the Ansara family, the restaurant’s proprietors whose earlier generations arrived in the United States from Lebanon in the mid-20th century. The house specialty is the lemon oregano chicken, marinated kabobs sautéed in an oregano reduction sauce. Try one of 2Booli’s inventive fish options, including a delicious blackened salmon pita and a grilled tilapia pita. The restaurant also offers several Italian dishes. A second location recently opened in Troy.

Dish to try: Lemon oregano chicken, hands down.

37610 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, 48331; 248-994-0614 or 2booli.com

 
 
2Booli 1

CK Mediterranean Grille
Detroit (Downtown)

CK Mediterranean Grille is a favorite of the downtown work crowd. Its extensive menu is about two-thirds vegetarian and almost entirely gluten-free; its garlic sauce and shawarma combo both have loyal followings. CK is a fast-casual restaurant, making it easy to grab a healthy entrée and go. But an outdoor patio, available in the warm-weather months, makes a leisurely meal a pleasurable option. (The downtown restaurant is closed on weekends. Check out other locations in Berkley and Southfield.)

Dish to try: A large order of the roasted red pepper hummus (see the recipe below)

119 Monroe St., Ste. D-7, Detroit, 48226; 313-496-6666 or ckgrille.com

 
 
CK Mediterranean Grill 1

La Saj Lebanese Bistro
Sterling Heights (Macomb)

La Saj is a good option for groups that need to please a variety of palates. The menu offers some Italian-inspired dishes and a variety of creative vegetarian options. But for those who want true Middle Eastern fare, La Saj won’t disappoint. The saj is a modern update of an old-time method of cooking: Food is placed on a metal dome, which is heated from below and maintains a cooking temperature of 500 degrees, searing food quickly. La Saj prides itself on its light, thin, seasoned bread, which is combined with various dishes. Among the specialties is saji kafta — skewers of ground beef, lamb, parsley and onion. Hummus can be ordered with toppings including chicken tips, fresh vegetables and ground beef.

Dish to try: Nothing beats food served on a stick, so sample the saji kafta (skewers of ground beef, lamb, parsley and onion). It comes with seasoned rice and saj-fried veggies.

13776 Southcove Drive, Sterling Heights, 48313; 586-566-6600 or lasaj.com

 
 
LaSaj 1

Anita’s Kitchen
Ferndale (Oakland)

Anita’s, a popular Lebanese restaurant, has drawn a loyal crowd since opening more than 30 years ago (the original Troy location is now closed). It manages to be a good option for both those looking for a nice evening out and those seeking a quick, casual meal. Anita’s offers outdoor seating and inviting décor; a distinctive wine menu, with many options coming from the Middle East; daily features such as lamb with green beans; an addictive eggplant salad and several creative pita pizzas (the Zaatar is topped with garlic, dried thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, labneh, goat cheese and kalamata olives).

Dish to try: Poke your fork into the eggplant salad — roasted eggplant, tomato, red onion, parsley, garlic, lemon and olive oil

22651 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, 48220; 248-548-0680 or anitaskitchenonline.com

 
Anitas Kitchen 1

 

Chicken Shawarma Sandwich
3 ways

The chicken shawarma sandwich is to Middle Eastern food what the taco is to Mexican cuisine — a dependable, tasty staple that you can grab and go. In its most basic form, it’s marinated grilled chicken strips, garlic sauce and tangy dill pickles wrapped tightly in a pita. Like the taco, however, it can be reimagined in a variety of ways. Here are three variations you can find in metro Detroit.

1. Najeeb Kabob House in Warren:
Chicken, garlic sauce, red cabbage, yellow peppers, tomato, pickles, black olives
  shawarma 1 Najeeb

2. Bucharest Grill downtown:
Chicken, cabbage, tomato, pickles, fries, garlic sauce

  shawarma 2 Bucharest

3. The Jefferson House in the
Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront hotel:

Chicken, garlic spread, dill pickle, lettuce, tomato

  shawarma 3 Jefferson

Shawarma sandwiches by Bill Bowen

 


 

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

If you’re ready to try making a Middle Eastern dish at home, check out this twist on hummus — a spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.

Ingredients:
2 red peppers
12 ounces chickpeas
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 ounces tahini
Juice of half a lemon
Salt to taste

Directions: Grill the peppers and allow to cool. Place the peppers and the remaining ingredients in a food processor and process for about 3 minutes. Stir, then process for another 3 minutes. We suggest tearing apart some original pita from Dearborn’s Yasmeen Bakery for dipping.

Recipe courtesy of CK Mediterranean Grille in downtown Detroit

Red Pepper Hummus Ingredients

 

Sooo many more Middle Eastern dining options in The D

Al-Ajami in Dearborn • Al-Ameer in Farmington Hills • Amani’s in Dearborn • Assaggi in Ferndale • Beirut Garden in Southgate • Beirut Palace in Sterling Heights • Brigette’s Café in Clinton Township • Elie’s Mediterranean Grill/Bar in Birmingham • Fattoush Village in Livonia • Grape Leaves in Troy • Hazim Kabob House in Sterling Heights • Honey Tree in Ferndale • La Palma in Detroit’s Midtown • La Oasis in Taylor • Le Chef Bistro in Farmington Hills • Le George Mediterranean Bistro in Northville • Lebanese Grill in Troy • Olga’s in various cities in metro Detroit • Ollie’s Lebanese Cuisine in Dearborn • Phoenician in Birmingham • Sahara Restaurant in Oak Park • Sinbad’s Grand Cafe in Dearborn • Steve’s Backroom in St. Clair Shores


 

Eat On The Go

Dearborn offers so many wonderful places to sample Middle Eastern food, it’s nearly impossible to choose just one. Fortunately, you don’t have to on the Yalla Eat! Culinary Walking Tour. Hosted by the Arab American National Museum, these 2.5-hour tours explore the restaurants and shops along Warren Avenue. A second tour explores the Middle Eastern grocers and butchers in Eastern Market. Tours include an overview of the history of Arab-Americans in metro Detroit.
arabamericanmuseum.org/yallaeat

   Najeeb 1

 


 

Day Trippin’ In Dearborn

Metro Detroit is home to one of the world’s largest Arab populations outside of the Middle East. Arab-Americans and recent arrivals live throughout the region, but the ethnic community’s stronghold is Dearborn. That makes for a bounty of themed grocers, bakeries, restaurants, shops and cultural attractions. The city’s chief attractions are located along three main drags: Warren Avenue, Schaefer Road and Michigan Avenue. You’ll need a car to explore the full range.

Start the morning with a visit to the Islamic Center of America (icofa.com), the oldest Shia mosque in the United States. Group tours can be arranged. If you plan to drop in, be mindful of prayer times.    Islamic Center of America 1
 

Head up to Warren Avenue for lunch at one of its many Middle Eastern restaurants; Hamido, Tuhama's, Cedarland and Al-Ameer are all good bets. Save room for dessert and check out Shatila Bakery or Yasmeen Bakery, both also on Warren. (At the bright, gleaming Shatila, you can choose a traditional French pastry if the Middle Eastern varieties are too daunting.) Then pop into Kitchenware, an Arabic home goods store loaded with tea sets, hookah pipes, wall hangings and more.

  Middle Eastern treats 

Spend the rest of the afternoon at the Arab American National Museum (arabamericanmuseum.org), the nation’s first museum dedicated to Arab-American history and culture. Try L.A. Bistro on Michigan Avenue for dinner. If it’s a Friday, return to the museum for Global Fridays, a concert series featuring music from around the globe. If you’ve still got steam, head to Sky Lounge Restaurant and Café, a hookah bar on Warren that often features live entertainment on weekends.

 
  ArabAmerMuseum 6678 1 
 

Get gifty. Looking for a distinctive gift for a friend? The Arab American National Museum’s shop offers some truly lovely items, including Jerusalem pottery handcrafted in Palestine and colorful, handwoven keffiyehs (a traditional Middle Eastern headdress that can be worn as a scarf). store.arabamericanmuseum.org

   Keffiyah Red

 


 

GETTING THERE


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Travel Tip

If you’re interested in an entertaining lesson in Arab-American culture and history, visit the Arab American National Museum.

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