Category Archives: Middle-Eastern Food

House-made Pita Highlights Calgary Shawarma Spot

Beirut Street Food

At Beirut Street Food, pretty much everything is made in house, including the pita breads

There are perhaps a couple of dozen shawarma restaurants in Calgary, including the iconic Jimmy’s A&A Deli and the fast-expanding Jerusalem Shawarma. To stand out among the city’s Middle Eastern grilled-meat joints, you need something different.

The excellent Beirut Street Food, which opened in southeast Calgary in 2017, does just that. First, owner Ramzal Salem and her staff roll out and grill their pita wraps throughout the day, guaranteeing a flavourful freshness that’s miles ahead of bagged pitas. Second, unlike the standard shawarma setup—vertical spits of slowly-rotating, stacked meat slices—Beirut cooks its marinated beef and chicken over a horizontal bed of burning charcoal, providing a unique, smoky flavour.

Beirut Street Food (1)

Another unique feature: a horizontal spit over a charcoal fire

Add your choice of made-in-house veggies and sauces—hummus, garlic and a weeping hot sauce—and you’ve got a healthy-sized shawarma ($11 regular, $13 large) that ranks amongst the best in Calgary. You can pair your wrap with other fine Lebanese standards such as tabouli or fatoush salad or falafel balls, chased with a honeyed square of baklava.

Beirut Street Food (2)

Adding veggies and sauces to the shawarmas

In a crossover nod to a great Canadian tradition, you can get your shawarmas served over poutine: fries, cheese and gravy. Me, I’m going for another puffy piece of pita bread, hot off the rounded grill.

Beirut Street Food (3)

Beirut Street Foods is a bright spot in southeast Calgary

Beirut Street Food
Bay C, 7220 Fairmount Drive S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Thursday 10 am-6:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 10 am-7 pm. Closed Sunday.


Swarms of Shawarma at this Calgary mini-chain

Jerusalem Shawarma 11

Assembling a massive beef shawarma wrap at Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma

On the menu of Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma are listed several family plates. Here’s a tip: Just order a one-person serving, and you might still feed a small family.

My chicken shawarma plate ($13.95) arrives with an alarming quantity of food. There’s about a pound of delectable, slow-marinated and shaved chicken served on a bed of rice. Filling out the oversized platter are wedges of garlic potatoes, healthy scoops of creamy, fresh hummus and garlic sauce and a choice of salad: Greek, Russian, corn or fatuch. After five minutes of feasting, I come up for air, scarcely putting a dent in my dinner.

Jerusalem Shawarma 13

Here’s my single chicken shawarma plate, with hummus and garlic sauce

My companion’s bountiful falafel plate is weighted down by six sizable falafel balls, deep fried to order. “The best I’ve ever had,” she says between mouthfuls.

Jerusalem Shawarma 14

Massive falafel balls, cooked to order

While waiting, we watch shawarma and donair wraps ($11-12) being assembled. Here, copious amounts of meat and toppings—including tahini, red cabbage, parsley, banana peppers and pickles—are loaded aboard a large pita, rolled and heated in a press. The resulting logs are bigger than any burrito I’ve ever seen, easily feeding two moderate appetites.

Jerusalem Shawarma 16

The takeout box is almost obligatory

Whatever you order, odds are good you’ll be asking for a leftovers box. Though I notice plenty of folks heading back to the counter, post feeding, to toss down a honey-laced piece of baklava.

Jerusalem Shawarma 17

Folks were scavenging this delectable container of baklava

Jerusalem Shawarma is a fast-casual joint, where you order at the counter and then retire to a row of booths, unless you’re getting takeout. Owned and operated by five Abufarha brothers originally from Jerusalem and using their grandfather’s recipes, their mini chain has expanded in a few years to six Calgary locations. Growing almost as fast as my belly.

Jerusalem Shawarma
Unit 111, 722 85 Street SW (and five other Calgary locations)
Daily 11 am-10 pm

Fast, Middle-Eastern Chicken in Los Angeles

Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles is moist, garlicky nirvana

Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles is moist, garlicky nirvana

It’s not KFC (a lesser man might have added, “thank God”). But in the greater Los Angeles area, Zankou Chicken may well be more celebrated than the fast-food giant. Indeed, there’s a road map on Zankou’s walls showing all eight of the scattered locations of this mini empire.

If anything, you could call it fast Middle-Eastern chicken. There are rotating spits of shawarma chicken, grilled kabob plates and wraps. But the signature dish is fall-off-the-bone rotisserie chicken, available in half ($10.50) or quarter ($8, white or dark) sizes. Each plate comes with creamy hummus, pickled veggies, a couple of pitas for scooping and a little dish of Zankou’s not-on-a-first-date garlic sauce.

I rarely frequent fast-food chains of any size, especially in generic, fairly sterile surroundings. But when the food’s this good, quick and affordable, I’m happy to make an exception.

Zankou Chicken
Eight locations, mostly concentrated in the north Los Angeles metro area
Daily 10 am-11 pm

Fantastic Falafels at Thirsty Camel in Nanaimo, B.C.

Ilan Goldenblatt makes his fantastic falafels to order at  The Thirsty Camel in Nanaimo, B.C.

Ilan Goldenblatt makes his fantastic falafels to order at The Thirsty Camel in Nanaimo, B.C. Photo: Helen Corbett

Customers sometimes tell Ilan Goldenblatt about the best falafels they’ve ever eaten… elsewhere. But once they’ve sunk their teeth into the tender falafel pitas he painstakingly makes from scratch at little The Thirsty Camel Cafe, in Nanaimo, B.C., they invariably revise their opinions.

It starts with the oil. Most falafel-frying joints change their cooking oil every now and then, perhaps filtering it more frequently. But Ilan begins each day with new oil. He wants it this fresh because his chickpea-based balls are only formed (with a custom, Israeli-made device) when ordered. Into the virgin oil they are briefly plunged, emerging slightly green, from the parsley and cilantro, and with just enough surface crunch to mask the silky tenderness inside. No dry, stale falafel balls these. No siree.

The Thirsty Camel's falafels are smothered in house-made tahini

The Thirsty Camel’s falafels are smothered in house-made tahini and sauce

The six warm falafel balls are then stuffed into a thick pita fold, along with cool cucumber, house-made tahini and a sauce that’s got a camel’s kick if you think medium heat is just that. Ilan and his staff have been pouring love into their falafels and other Middle Eastern fare for 10 years. You can taste it with every mouthful.

The Thirsty Camel Cafe
14 Victoria Crescent, Nanaimo, B.C.
Monday to Wednesday 11 am-3 pm, Thursday-Friday 11 am-7 pm, Saturday noon-4 pm. Closed Sunday
Thirsty Camel on Urbanspoon

If you have a hankering for sourdough bread, best make a beeline for Bodhi’s Artisan Bakery, on a leafy Nanaimo street. They make a good half-dozen varieties of sourdough, including a garlic asiago and an olive. They also produce fine cheese scones, pumpkin muffins and dripping cinnamon buns, if you’d like a sumptuous treat to go with an excellent espresso, crafted from Cowichan Valley Peaks Coffee beans. It’s all best enjoyed on a shady patio, where a half hour slips by as smoothly as the coffee goes down.

The cinnamon buns go down nicely with excellent coffee at Bodhi's Artisan Bakery

The cinnamon buns go down nicely with excellent coffee at Bodhi’s Artisan Bakery

Bodhi’s Artisan Bakery
5299 Rutherford Road, Nanaimo, B.C.
Tuesday to Friday 8 am-4:30 pm, Saturday 8 am-6:30 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Bodhi's Artisan Bakery on Urbanspoon


Of course, no Nanaimo food review would be complete without the iconic Nanaimo bar

Of course, no Nanaimo food review would be complete without the iconic Nanaimo bar, this delectable one served by Bistro at Westwood Lake