Basmati rice, hummus, and shish kabobs — oh my. The Valley's Middle Eastern restaurants are like the box of Honey Bunches of Oats your mom used to hide from you as a kid: they're around somewhere, you just have to look for them. From Lebanon to Yemen, Iraq to Iran, these 10 Middle Eastern restaurants are dishing up the best the region has to offer.
Nestled inside Baiz Market, Al-Hana has three Valley locations — two in Phoenix and one in Mesa — where you can stock up on Mediterranean staples like rose water, henna, baklava, and Persian pickles, or grab a whole roast chicken with freshly baked pita. Dine in at this unfussy mecca for plates like shish kafta (freshly ground beef with spices and diced onions) over a bed of basmati rice with mixed veggies, pickles, pita bread, and spinach and cheese pie with feta and fragrant herbs.
AZ Kabob House7000 East Mayo Boulevard, #1060
Located off the Loop 101 and Mayo Boulevard, AZ Kabob House makes all the classics: shawarma, kabobs, falafel, and of course, hummus. Offering counter service in a bright airy space, the interior is cheerful, but not lavish. The Persian specialties here (tender ground beef kubideh kabobs served over saffron rice; a salted, homemade mint and yogurt drink called doogh; and gormeh sabzi, a lamb and herb stew) are some of the best versions of those classic dishes you'll find anywhere in the Valley. This is also one of the only places in town where you can taste the northern Iranian dish dizzi — a luscious, mashed, meat-and-potato stew served with a rich bone broth and warm, fresh-baked bread.
Eden's Grill13843 North Tatum Boulevard, #29
Venture into Eden's Grill at Tatum Boulevard and Thunderbird Road, where owners Marcus and Shalem Narsa have been plating heavenly Middle Eastern cuisine for more than a decade. Grab a filling lunch that's easy on the purse strings — $7.95 for a wrap (choose between gyros, chicken, falafel, and others), Greek salad, fries or basmati rice, and a soda. For dinner, keep the paradise vibes strong with the Adam and Eve, a combination of chicken and beef kabobs served atop "Mom's rice" — saffron-infused basmati with toasted raisins and almonds, and roasted veggies. No rookies to the culinary game, the Narsas ran a Mediterranean restaurant and bakery in Chicago for 25 years prior to coming out west.
Haji-Baba1513 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe
If you ever attended (or partied at) Arizona State University, and have yet to try Haji-Baba — first of all, what are you even doing with your life? Second of all, head directly to the charming grocery store in an unassuming Tempe strip mall that's home to this eatery, which serves some of the most affordable Middle Eastern food in the Valley. Despite its hearty chunks of tender lamb, the shish kabob sandwich is a mere $6.69, while the falafel wrap can sate hungry vegans for just $3.99. The chicken shawarma, shaved off a revolving rotisserie, is flavorful and moist. Or try the plate with rice, hummus, and tabbouli (a salad made with finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, onions, and bulgur wheat) — and don't forget the garlic sauce.
Persian Garden Cafe1335 West Thomas Road
Run, don't walk, to Persian Garden Cafe at 15th Avenue and Thomas Road. The restaurant is quaint but culturally bountiful, with Persian rugs and votive candles setting the stage for the satisfying food. A glorious menu serves carnivores and herbivores alike; dishes include the spudburger (braised potatoes with Persian spices, carrots, celery, and mushrooms, topped with tomatoes, feta cheese, and cucumber yogurt) and the Sultani kabob combination (beef shish kabob and chicken kabob with rice, grilled tomato, and freshly baked naan).
Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli3052 North 16th Street
The name isn't overly imaginative, but when the food is this good, it doesn't have to be. Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli is centrally located at 16th Street and Earll Drive and is home to a grocery store in addition to the cafe. Find all the usual suspects, like fresh-baked pita, shish kabob, and baba ghanouj (a yummy dip made of roasted eggplant), plus goodies like avgolemono soup (made with chicken, plenty of lemon, and rice) and award-winning lemonade. Buy a hookah to take home, then explain to all of your friends that it is not a bong. Trust us, we've been there.
Pars Persian Cuisine11144 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, #11144, Scottsdale
A bit fancier than some of the other hole-in-the-wall options listed here, Pars Persian Cuisine has some of the fluffiest rice in town. It's also a place where vegan and vegetarian options share top billing with the usual meaty fare. Start with the appetizer platter for an assortment of veggie-friendly goodies like shirazi (diced cucumber and tomato) salad, maust' khiar (homemade yogurt with cucumbers), hummus, olivieh salad (Pars' take on a potato salad), dolmeh (rice- and herb-stuffed grape leaves), and Persian pickles. Then go for a combination plate to share with the fam. You can't go wrong here.
Yusef's Middle Eastern Restaurant15236 North Cave Creek Road
Think of Yusef as the Arab equivalent to Smith — to say it's a common surname in the Middle East would be an understatement. Yusef's Middle Eastern Restaurant, at Cave Creek and Greenway roads, is a modest grocery store with a counter offering Mediterranean dishes like gyros; crispy, made-from-scratch falafel, and fan-favorite lentil soup. The hidden gem is popular with locals for its friendly, mom-and-pop vibe and authentic eats. Stock up on Mediterranean staples like fresh pita and feta cheese while you're there, and grab some homemade hummus for the road on your way out.
Persian Room17040 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
We've often thought about filling a bathtub with Persian Room rice and diving in, just to see what it's like. The dilemma would be choosing which rice from this high-end (the dining room includes a staircase and a fountain) restaurant to fill it with — the zereshk polo with barberries and saffron and the baghala polo with dill and fava beans are just two of many options. Come with a group and order one of the combination platters, various concoctions of chicken and steak kabobs with the aforementioned euphoric rice. Or go it alone with the vegetarian gheimeh bademjan — tomato stew with sauteed eggplant, onions, yellow split peas, served with (you guessed it) delicate grains of basmati rice.
Phoenicia CafeMultiple Locations
Phoenicia Cafe has Tempe and Gilbert locations, and the former is near Arizona State University's main campus. Go with the hummus deluxe to start, with almonds and lamb, chicken, or gyros, and don't feel bad if you order a second round — Phoenicia serves some of our favorite hummus in town. A solid lunch spot, $6.75 gets you a chicken pita wrapped and stuffed with chicken shawarma, garlic, and tahini sauces. If veggies are more your thing, go for the fattoush, a classic Middle Eastern salad with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and fried pita, with a zesty lemon garlic dressing that'll have you coming back for more.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on July 6, 2016. It was updated on January 27, 2020. Lauren Saria, Felicia Campbell, and Natasha Yee contributed to this article.